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The deadly ambush Donald Trump hasn't yet acknowledged

10/16/17 10:00AM

It's been nearly two weeks since U.S. forces were ambushed in Niger, an attack that left four American servicemen dead. If it seems like this story hasn't generated much in the way of national news, it may be because Donald Trump hasn't said a word about it.

CNN had a report the other day on the president's silence.

On Saturday October 7, the day the body of 25-year-old Army Sgt. La David Johnson was returned to Dover Air Force Base after he was killed in an ISIS ambush in Niger, President Donald Trump was golfing. It's not known if the President ever planned to attend the return of remains ceremony at Dover as he has in the past. But since the ambush on October 4 in Niger, he has not commented publicly on the deadliest combat incident involving US troops since he took office. [...]

The Pentagon has not provided a detailed accounting of the ambush by 50 ISIS affiliated fighters which left four US soldiers dead and two wounded and has said the incident remains under investigation. But CNN has talked to half a dozen US officials who describe details of the chaos and confusion which led to the troops being left on the ground for nearly an hour before help could get to the remote area of southwestern Niger where they were operating.

In fairness, the White House hasn't been completely silent on the matter. Ten days ago, a reporter reminded Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "The body of another U.S. soldier has just been discovered by local forces in Niger, which brings to four the total number of Green Berets that were killed on Wednesday in Niger. So far there's been no response to this by the president, no tweet from the president, no statement from the president."

Sanders responded, "Obviously, anytime one of the members of our great military are injured, wounded, or killed in action, that is certainly something that we take very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals. We're continuing to review and look into this. And as we have more details, we'll certainly let you guys know."

Since then, there's been nothing from Trump World on the deadly incident.

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Image: President Trump Discusses His Plan For The Iran Nuclear Deal

On the Iran nuclear deal, Trump finds the truth isn't good enough

10/16/17 09:30AM

One of the hallmarks of Donald Trump's presidency is the frequency with which he finds reality politically inconvenient. If the Affordable Care Act were really imploding, for example, the Republican White House wouldn't find it necessary to sabotage it. If the tax code were truly in desperate need of a dramatic overhaul, Trump wouldn't find it necessary to constantly remind us how great the economy is.

And if the international nuclear agreement with Iran were really a disaster, Trump wouldn't find it necessary to lie about it. The New York Times  reported:

President Trump declared his intention not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal in a forceful speech on Friday. But the rationale he provided includes several misleading or incomplete statements about the terms of the deal, what he considers a violation of the agreement and Iran itself.

Slate ran a related analysis, marveling at Trump's staggering dishonesty.

President Trump’s statement Friday on the Iran nuclear deal may be the most dishonest speech he has ever given from the White House -- and, depending what happens next, it could be his most damaging. It flagrantly misrepresents what the deal was meant to do, the extent of Iran’s compliance, and the need for corrective measures. If he gets his way, he will blow up one of the most striking diplomatic triumphs of recent years, aggravate tensions in the Middle East, make it even harder to settle the North Korean crisis peacefully, and make it all but impossible for allies and adversaries to trust anything the United States says for as long as Trump is in office.

The Washington Post had a piece of its own, fact-checking Trump's speech, highlighting some of the president's most glaring errors -- of which there were many.

To a certain extent, this may seem like a classic dog-bites-man story -- "Trump says a bunch of untrue things about a policy he pretends to understand" -- but given the seriousness of the situation, that doesn't seem like a satisfying response.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump is convinced he's always 'ahead of schedule'

10/16/17 09:00AM

Nine months into his first year as president, Donald Trump still doesn't have any meaningful accomplishments, but don't worry, he's certain he's "ahead of schedule." This was the point Trump seemed eager to emphasize in his speech to the Values Voter Summit's audience on Friday.

"I'm here to thank you for your support and to share with you how we are delivering on that promise, defending our shared values, and in so doing, how we are renewing the America we love.

"In the last 10 months, we have followed through on one promise after another. I didn't have a schedule, but if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule."

This is an underappreciated staple of the president's rhetorical repertoire. As regular readers may recall, Trump has said, for example, that construction of a border wall is "way ahead of schedule." He's said his plans to overhaul veterans' care are "ahead of schedule." He's insisted that his proposed far-right changes to Americans education are "ahead of schedule."

And in late May, Trump boasted that his tax-cut plan is "actually ahead of schedule."

The trouble, of course, is that none of these claims are true. In fact, when it comes to passing massive tax breaks, the Trump administration expected the entire endeavor to be done by August -- suggesting Team Trump is pretty far behind schedule.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

Even Republicans aren't happy with Trump's health care gambit

10/16/17 08:30AM

One of the oddities of Donald Trump's decision to cut off cost-sharing reduction payments to private health insurers is that literally no one benefits from the move. Usually, at least someone benefits from Republican health care measures, even if the underlying idea is misguided, but in this case, everyone loses from the president's gambit on CSRs.

It takes effort to come up with a policy proposal this foolish. In one move, Trump has managed to hurt consumers, hurt insurers, hurt the health care market, and raise the deficit, creating a bizarre dynamic in which the country will pay more and get less. What's more, the Associated Press found that 70% of those who benefit from cost-sharing reduction payments live in red states.

In other words, the White House is not only making the health care system worse on purpose; it's also hurting parts of its political base.

The question, of course, is why. Steve Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, said over the weekend that Trump's goal is to "blow up" insurance markets, which is an amazing thing for him to admit out loud.

The president had a different explanation.

REPORTER: You promised that you would help people who are struggling. The CSR payment looks like it will hurt low-income people.

TRUMP: The CSR payments, if you take a look at CSR payments, that money is going to insurance companies to prop up insurance companies.

REPORTER: To help lower-income people.

TRUMP: That money is going to insurance companies to lift up their stock price, and that's not what I'm about. Take a look at who those insurance companies support, and I guarantee you one thing: It's not Donald Trump.

The president is badly confused about his own actions. The money goes to insurers to cover out-of-pocket costs for lower-income Americans. Ending the CSR payments may hurt insurers stock prices -- something Trump was especially excited about over the weekend for reasons he didn't explain -- but it also directly hurts those who benefit from the payments, while indirectly hurting everyone through increases in premiums.

The list of critics of the president's ridiculous decision isn't short -- and it includes plenty of Republicans.

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Image: Trump Announces Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act

Team Trump faces subpoena over sexual misconduct allegations

10/16/17 08:00AM

Though the story largely faded after last fall's election, Donald Trump was recorded in 2005 bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive -- "I don't even wait," Trump claimed at the time -- which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

"When you're a star, they let you do it," Trump said on the recording. "You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p---y."

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, 11 women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct -- one of whom, Summer Zervos, is currently suing the president for defamation, after Trump insisted each of his accusers is a liar.

BuzzFeed reported yesterday the latest development in this ongoing litigation.

A high-stakes legal showdown is brewing for President Donald Trump, as a woman who said he groped her has subpoenaed all documents from his campaign pertaining to "any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately." [...]

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice, accused Trump of kissing and grabbing her when she went to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 to discuss a possible job at the Trump Organization.... As part of that suit, her lawyers served a subpoena on his campaign, asking that it preserve all documents it had about her.

Note, while the lawsuit isn't new, we weren't aware of the detail highlighted by BuzzFeed. The subpoena was entered into the court file on Sept. 19, nearly four weeks ago.

The article added that Zervos and her lawyer have asked for "all documents" related to the president's other accusers.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.13.17

10/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* U.S. allies are outraged by this, while Iranian hardliners are thrilled: "President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to terminate the Iran nuclear deal if Congress doesn't strengthen it, warning the agreement was merely a 'temporary delay' in Tehran's quest to obtain nuclear weapons."

* Wildfires: "Some of the worst wildfires ever to tear through California have killed 31 people and torched a vast area of the state's north this week, but the reach of the blazes is spreading dramatically further by the day, as thick plumes of smoke blow through population centers across the Bay Area."

* I get the feeling the picture out of Las Vegas is growing murkier, not clearer: "The chronology of events in the Las Vegas music festival shooting shifted again Friday when authorities said a hotel security guard injured by the gunman was struck just as the massacre unfolded, and not minutes earlier."

* It's Trump's party now: "A state lawmaker in Indiana has drafted a measure to require licenses for journalists akin to those that pertain to handgun owners, a proposal legal experts says directly violates the First Amendment."

* Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "has no plans to fill the No. 2 slot in his department after two candidates for the job dropped out of the running. The department made the surprising announcement after Brian Brooks withdrew from consideration for deputy Treasury secretary, according to several people familiar with his decision. In May, Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan dropped out due to family concerns."

* Keep an eye on this one: "Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran. The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess -- not to mention how long he'll be able to continue leading a high-profile committee or even remain in the Senate."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump loves to hate the Iran deal, despite not knowing what it is

10/13/17 12:56PM

There's never been any ambiguity about Donald Trump's disgust for the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- to my mind, perhaps the most impressive U.S. diplomatic achievement since the end of the Cold War. There's quite a bit of uncertainty, however, as to whether he knows what the Iran deal actually is.

The Republican has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible.” As a candidate, Trump declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal “poses a direct national security threat.” Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement “will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country.” After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to “lead to nuclear holocaust.”

As president, Trump has gone into "meltdown" mode when his own team has told him that the policy is actually working as intended, because the facts were simply inconceivable to him. He knows the policy is a disaster, so when reality points in a different direction, Trump finds it necessary to reject reality.

I can't help but wonder, though, if maybe Trump would like the policy if he took the time to get to know it better.

This week, for example, the president made his case to Fox News, explaining why he hates the international agreement so much.

"It's no secret, I think it was one of the most incompetently drawn deals we've ever seen. $150 billion given, we got nothing. They got past the nuclear weapons very quickly.

"Think of this, $1.7 billion in cash. This is cash out of your pocket. I do know how many airplane loads that must be? For they have $1 million? This is $1.7 billion. Who would be authorized to do it and who are the people to deliver it? You may never see them again. Right? This is the worst deal. We got nothing."

This is not something a knowledgeable person who understands the basics of the debate would say out loud.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.13.17

10/13/17 12:01PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Susan Collins (R) announced this morning that she's remaining in the Senate and will not run for governor in Maine next year. All things considered, this makes sense: she'd probably struggle in a GOP primary, and is likely to have more power and influence on Capitol Hill.

* In California, on the heels of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announcing she'll seek another term in California next year, state Senate President Kevin de Leon (D) is reportedly launching a campaign of his own. (Note, California has a jungle primary with all of the candidates from different parties competing on the same ballot, not a traditional intra-party primary.)

* In Alabama's Senate special election, the latest statewide poll shows Roy Moore (R) with an eight-point advantage over Doug Jones (D), 49% to 41%. This is very much in line with the other recent surveys in the state.

* On a related note, Moore's campaign isn't pleased with reports about the generous salaries he accepted from the non-profit group he helped create, but his aides aren't denying the accuracy of the reports.

* In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) will apparently face a Republican primary rival ahead of next year's election. This week, gun-range owner Jan Morgan, a Fox News contributor, formed an exploratory committee, and denounced the GOP incumbent as insufficiently right-wing.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

White House's boasts about preventing 'chaos' completely unravel

10/13/17 11:20AM

After Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) offered some pointed criticism of Donald Trump last week, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a reaction. This exchange from last Friday's press briefing was especially memorable:

REPORTER: I asked you about Senator Corker and some of the comments he made a few weeks back. Earlier this week, he said that Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and General Kelly are basically what's keeping the country separated from chaos. And he said there are other people in the White House that aren't putting forth policies in a coherent fashion. Do you have any response to Senator Corker's statement?

SANDERS: Look, I think that the president is the one that's keeping the world from chaos.

I really wish that were true. It's not.

Today, to the exasperation of American allies, Trump is putting the future of an international nuclear agreement with Iran at great risk -- which has the effect of creating more "chaos," not less. It comes on the heels of the American president withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), threatening the future of NAFTA, balking at implementing congressional approved Russia sanctions, and rejecting diplomatic solutions with North Korea.

The New Republic's Jeet Heer explained yesterday, "America's longtime allies and negotiating partners are facing a new status quo -- one in which they can never be certain where the United States stands on international agreements."

This chaotic environment isn't speculative. The Washington Post reported this week that some foreign diplomats now see the United States as an unreliable mystery.

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Why Trump's confusion about missile defense is so dangerous

10/13/17 10:40AM

During his latest Fox News interview, Donald Trump briefly addressed the burgeoning crisis with North Korea, and expressed confidence in the United States' position. "We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time," the president boasted on Wednesday, "and if you send two of them, it's going to get knocked down."

As the Washington Post explained this morning, this is plainly wrong.

The president speaks with confidence but descends into hyperbole. No single interceptor for ICBMs has demonstrated a 97-percent success rate, and there is no guarantee using two interceptors has a 100-percent success rate. Moreover, the military's suggestion that it could achieve a 97-percent success rate with four interceptors appears based on faulty assumptions and overenthusiastic math.

The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50, and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.

This is not, however, one of those "let's all laugh at the foolish man in the Oval Office" moments. Because if the president actually believes what he told a national television audience about the efficacy of the existing missile-defense system, his confusion may carry serious consequences.

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