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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids

Three years early, Trump to host campaign rally in Florida

02/16/17 11:22AM

Donald Trump loved running for president. The Republican reveled in the parts of the campaign that included applause, fawning audiences, bright lights, and plenty of cameras, each of which made Trump feel very good about himself.

It's probably why, after the election, the president blew off many of his transition duties and hit the road for a series of self-indulgent campaign rallies -- exclusively in red states -- giving Trump an opportunity to celebrate himself before taking office and getting to work.

At least, that was the idea. Now that he's been in the White House for a few weeks, it appears Trump is eager to go back to the parts of the job he actually liked.
In an extraordinarily swift return to politicking after a tumultuous first month in office, the White House on Wednesday said President Trump will hold the first campaign rally of his four-week-old administration on Saturday.

The rally, to be held in an airplane hangar in Melbourne, Fla., is an indication that Mr. Trump, who has sometimes felt isolated in the White House, is eager to get outside of Washington and relive the rapturous reception that greeted him during the presidential campaign.
I heard some jokes yesterday that Trump really just wanted to go back to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the third consecutive weekend, and tacked on a rally nearby to help justify his peripatetic habits, but I think there's more to this.

For one thing, it's a reminder that Trump continues to prefer being a candidate to being a president. Leading the executive branch of a global superpower is incredibly difficult; celebrating one's self before adoring followers is easy. The former is grueling; the latter is fun. Is it any wonder Trump is already eager to bask in the cheers of a crowd again?

The New Republic's Alex Shephard put it this way in December: "Donald Trump, a man who has a very short attention span and requires instant gratification more or less constantly, loves campaigning because he has a very short attention span and requires instant gratification more or less constantly."
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Behind his bluster, Trump seems to fear major news organizations

02/16/17 10:52AM

Over the last week, Donald Trump held three brief press conferences alongside a foreign leader. In all three instances, the Republican and his team chose which American reporters would ask questions, and in each case, Trump called on folks from a specific kind of outlet. As TPM explained:
President Donald Trump called on exclusively conservative news outlets for his third press conference in a row on Wednesday, leading CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta to comment afterward: "The fix is in."

Over three press conferences with world leaders -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Trump called on two outlets in each, respectively: the New York Post and Fox Business; Sinclair Broadcasting-owned WJLA and the Daily Caller; and Christian Broadcasting Network and Townhall.com.
Before Trump fans say, "Everybody does it," let's note for the record that everybody doesn't do this. NBC News' Carrie Dann compiled a list of outlets Barack Obama and George W. Bush called on during their first press conferences with foreign leaders, and while the list included Fox News, it also included a variety of major, independent journalistic giants: AP, Reuters, NBC News, CNN, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

You'll notice, the Christian Broadcasting Network, a project of crazed TV preacher Pat Robertson, didn't make the cut.

This comes alongside news that the Trump White House has extended press credentials to truly ridiculous fringe websites known for publishing bizarre hoaxes.

I can appreciate why media coverage of the media can be off-putting for some news consumers, but we're learning something important about Trump World and its approach to the free press.
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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Democrats push creative maneuvers to obtain Trump's tax returns

02/16/17 10:23AM

As the political process strays further from traditional norms, rarely seen legislative maneuvers, usually familiar only to those who follow Congress at a granular level, start to become more familiar.

In recent years, for example, chatter about "discharge petitions" became far more common. More recently, Democrats added "resolutions of inquiry" to the political conversation. This week, USA Today noted an obscure 1924 law related to tax returns that's suddenly significant.
A New Jersey congressman says a rarely invoked 1924 law could be used to examine President Donald Trump's tax returns for possible conflicts of interest and Constitutional violations.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, has asked the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, to order the Treasury Department to provide tax returns to the committee. Brady's office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

After privately examining returns -- Pascrell is seeking 10 years' worth -- the committee could decide to share them with the full House, which would in effect make them public. The 1924 law gives congressional committees that set tax policy the power to examine tax returns.
A day later, the Ways and Means Committee voted on a measure that would require the Treasury Department to provide the panel with the president's returns. Predictably, the vote didn't go the Democrats' way: there are 23 Republicans on the committee, and each of them voted not to take advantage of opportunity available under the law, helping shield Trump from scrutiny.

Making the case against the idea, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters, "If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans? Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them."

And if Congress had oversight authority over average Americans, this might actually make some sense.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Trump pursues the wrong kind of 'extreme vetting'

02/16/17 09:20AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump routinely boasted about his ability to "hire the best people." The Republican made it sound as if it were some kind of innate superpower.

But when it comes to actually vetting people for high-ranking government posts, "best" isn't exactly the adjective that comes to mind. The New York Times' Frank Bruni put it this way yesterday:
Donald Trump's zeal for extreme vetting has one glaring exception, one gaping blind spot: his own administration.

If you're a bedraggled sixth grader from a beleaguered country where the Quran is a popular text, he will stop you at our border. If you're a retired lieutenant general who hallucinates an Islamic terrorist behind every last garden shrub in America, he will welcome you to the White House.
Quite right. Trump clearly believes in a strenuous and comprehensive vetting process -- for everyone except the top officials who'll work in his administration.

This came to mind yesterday, of course, when Andrew Puzder, the president's choice to lead the Labor Department, was forced to quit in the face of bipartisan opposition. Everything that brought Puzder down could've been uncovered in advance by the White House, but by all accounts, Trump World doesn't particularly care for this kind of scrutiny.

The same is true of Vincent Viola, Trump's choice for Army Secretary, who quietly ended his own nomination late on a Friday night two weeks ago. Viola's troubles could've been uncovered before the president nominated him, but the White House was careless in following through on its due diligence.

This same dynamic applies to Michael Flynn. And Monica Crowley. And Tom Price, Betsy DeVos, and Steve Mnuchin -- each of whom likely would've been rejected under a cloud of controversy were it not for compliant Senate Republicans, eager to carry Trump's water. In every instance, the White House was caught completely off guard by controversial revelations because Trump World simply chooses not to do its homework.
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S.

Some intelligence officials don't trust Trump with sensitive info

02/16/17 08:41AM

The day after his inauguration, less than 24 hours into his presidency, Donald Trump traveled to Langley to deliver an odd, rambling speech to the Central Intelligence Agency. Early on in his remarks, the new president made a point to explain why he was there.

"The reason you're my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media," Trump said. "They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you're the number-one stop is exactly the opposite -- exactly."

In reality, of course, Trump's feud with the intelligence community wasn't a media creation; it was a real problem that the Republican created, seemingly on purpose, over the course of many months. Trump, before and after the election, publicly attacked the intelligence community's integrity, accuracy, and reliability in unprecedented ways.

If this Wall Street Journal report is any indication, it's safe to assume intelligence professionals noticed.
U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. [...]

In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
The article added there have been instances in which intelligence officials have withheld select information when "secrecy is essential for protecting a source," but these latest developments are different. In those previous instances, "the decision wasn't motivated by a concern about a president's trustworthiness or discretion."

Matt Yglesias joked last night that if the intelligence community really wanted to keep information from Trump, officials could just "submit it to him in writing" -- knowing that the president is so averse to reading reports, he'd never actually see the sensitive materials.
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

White House struggles to keep its story straight on Michael Flynn

02/16/17 08:00AM

On Monday afternoon, the White House was dismissive of the controversy surrounding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, insisting that Donald Trump still has "full confidence" in Flynn. A few hours later, Trump World reversed course, saying the president was actually "evaluating the situation" surrounding the controversial NSA.

On Tuesday afternoon, following Flynn's resignation, the White House line changed again, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters that the president forced Flynn out because Trump could no longer trust his National Security Advisor.

Yesterday, Trump publicly addressed the Flynn scandal for the first time this week, and changed the White House's position once more. From a brief press conference:
"Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media -- as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think, in addition to that, from intelligence -- papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It's criminal actions, criminal act, and it's been going on for a long time -- before me. But now it's really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

"I think it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally -- I stress that -- illegally leaked. Very, very unfair."
So, the president believes the man he fired was "treated so badly"? And that the conspiracy isn't related to Russia, but rather, to Hillary Clinton fans?

It's not a good sign that the White House can't keep its story straight, but it's equally unsettling that Trump believes "what's happened to" Flynn is "very, very unfair" -- despite the fact that Trump was responsible for what's happened to Flynn.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.15.17

02/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump thought this wouldn't happen under him: "Four Russian aircraft flew in an 'unsafe and unprofessional' manner near a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, according to the Pentagon."

* California: "After a mandatory evacuation was reduced to a 'warning' around Lake Oroville, California, many residents are still wary Wednesday about returning home as days of rain still threaten to compromise the spillway of America's tallest dam."

* Israel: "President Donald Trump said he would support the peace agreement Israel and Palestinians 'like the best' in a joint press conference during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed against Palestinian efforts to reach a deal."

* ACA: "Humana announced on Tuesday that it would no longer offer health insurance coverage in the state marketplaces created under the federal health care law, becoming the first major insurer to cast a no-confidence vote over selling individual plans on the public exchanges for 2018."

* In related news: "The Trump administration has canceled plans to tighten enforcement of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. The Obama administration's plan was designed to strengthen the law. The Trump administration's decision could weaken it."

* NATO: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued an ultimatum Wednesday to allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, warning that if they do not boost their defense spending to goals set by the alliance, the United States may alter its relationship with them."
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Image: Andrew Puzder, chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants In

Trump cabinet nominee withdraws under a cloud of controversy

02/15/17 04:42PM

The question in recent weeks surrounding Donald Trump's cabinet nominees has been simple: Will Senate Republicans confirm literally anyone? Or more to the point, do standards for cabinet posts still exist in any meaningful way?

For a while, the answers to those questions were not encouraging. Senate Republicans confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos despite her overt hostility towards public schools and complete lack of familiarity with the basics of education policy. They confirmed HHS Secretary Tom Price despite his investment scandals, radical ideology, fringe associations, and repeated falsehoods during his confirmation hearing. They confirmed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin after he failed to disclose millions of dollars he parked in the Cayman Islands.

Is there any limit as to who GOP senators will support? Apparently, yes.
Andy Puzder, President Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary, withdrew his nomination on Wednesday amid growing questions about his business record and scrutiny from senators on both sides of the aisle.

The head of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr., came under harsh criticism from Democrats and liberal groups for his opposition to raising the minimum wage, past controversial comments, and the racy ads his properties have used to promote the fast-food chains.
Puzder was less a Labor Secretary nominee and more a caricature of what a ridiculous cabinet selection looks like. Even by contemporary Republican standards, his overt hostility towards working people stood out as breathtaking.

But what ultimately derailed his nomination was the lengthy list of controversies, including allegations of domestic abuse, hiring undocumented workers, and multiple unresolved controversies surrounding his own businesses. The fact that Puzder's confirmation hearings were delayed multiple times, in part because he seemed reluctant to provide the Senate with his background materials, didn't help.
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump's preoccupation with his election does more harm than good

02/15/17 03:57PM

At a brief White House press conference today, standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump fielded a question from an Israeli journalist who asked about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. "I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones," the reporter asked.

The American president's reaction was .... unexpected.
"Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had -- 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there's no way to 270. And there's tremendous enthusiasm out there."
Trump went on to say national divisions contributed to his victory, and then pointed to Jewish members of his family.

In other words, asked about anti-Semitic incidents, Donald Trump immediately thought of how cool it was that he won the presidential election.

This followed a press conference on Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which Trump, in response to a question about Syrian refugees, noted that he won "a very, very large electoral college vote."

This, of course, came on the heels of a series of bizarre claims in which Trump claimed to have secretly won the popular vote, a recent interview in which he described his 2016 win as "one of the greatest victories ever," and a recent conversation between the president and the Australian prime minister in which Trump reportedly "boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win."

Part of the problem with Trump's unhealthy preoccupation is that it's factually incorrect. He earned 306 electoral votes, and he received 304. Neither number is especially impressive: Trump's tally was well below the historical average, and ranks among the lowest in American campaign history.
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File Photo: Rhino 500 handguns are on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images, File)

Senate Republicans vote to expand gun access for mentally impaired

02/15/17 02:14PM

Following up on our previous coverage, congressional Republicans have made a specific gun measure one of their early priorities. As of this morning, it's on its way to becoming law.

Under the status quo, when an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.

They also can't buy a gun. Last week, the GOP-led House passed a measure to expand these Americans' access to firearms, and as the Huffington Post noted, the GOP-led Senate did the same this morning.
Congress took its final step Wednesday to repeal a Social Security Administration rule that was written to prevent mentally incompetent people from buying guns. [...]

Republicans, who frequently assert that the way to deal with gun violence is to deal with mental illness, in this case argued that the regulation mistreats disabled Americans.
The Senate roll call is online here. Note that literally every Senate Republican voted for it, as did four red-state Democrats and one independent who caucuses with Dems.

As always, the specific substantive details matter. The Social Security Administration reports the names of those who receive disability benefits due to severe mental illness to the FBI's background-check system. The Republicans' bill intends to block that reporting, making more people eligible to legally buy a firearm.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

With the pressure on, Trump thinks a Twitter tantrum will help

02/15/17 12:57PM

Nearly a month into his presidency, Donald Trump is failing by practically every metric. His White House is facing a deeply serious scandal; his National Security Advisor has been forced out; members of his campaign team are facing a counter-espionage investigation; and polls show the American mainstream rejecting what they're seeing out of the West Wing.

The result is something of a test for the new president. How does Trump respond under pressure? Can he show grace under fire? President Obama excelled at keeping his cool -- in ways that often seemed to annoy pundits -- and current conditions offer his successor an opportunity to show he can do the same.

So far, it's not going well.
President Donald Trump blamed "conspiracy theories and blind hatred" — and an attempt to "cover-up" for Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign — in a series of tweets Wednesday morning as he tried to distance himself from any links to Russia.

Trump tweeted that the "fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred," and added that "this Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign."
Yes, the president, who loved leaks when they related to Hillary Clinton, had quite a series of angry missives this morning, starting early with complaints about the media and "conspiracy theories" -- this from a man who's been largely defined by his bizarre affection for ridiculous and racially charged conspiracy theories -- which was followed by a torrent of related tweets.

Of particular interest was Trump's complaints about "classified information" from intelligence agencies being shared "illegally" with major news organizations. It creates an interesting contradiction: the information can either be "fake news" or it can be classified materials from official sources, but he really ought to pick one or the other.

At another point, the president raised concerns about the FBI possibly intervening in politics -- which was ironic given James Comey's role in helping Trump win the election.

But aside from the specifics of his social-media tirade, this morning seemed to also offer the public a peek into the president's internal monologue.
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