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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.16.17

08/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I hope everyone saw Heather Heyer's mother: "'They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her,' said Susan Bro, pointing a defiant finger as her audience gave her a standing ovation."

* Baltimore: "It was 'in the best interest of my city,' Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday, as she explained why she ordered Confederate monuments removed under the cover of darkness, days after violence broke out during a rally against the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia."

* It's almost as if the president is dishonest: "As F.B.I. director, James B. Comey had widespread support from his agents, according to internal survey data released Wednesday that contradicts President Trump's claim that he fired Mr. Comey in part because agents had lost confidence in him."

* Seems important: "That a hacking operation that Washington is convinced was orchestrated by Moscow would obtain malware from a source in Ukraine -- perhaps the Kremlin's most bitter enemy -- sheds considerable light on the Russian security services' modus operandi in what Western intelligence agencies say is their clandestine cyberwar against the United States and Europe."

* Good for them: "Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are now counted among the cacophony of Republican voices speaking out to reject racism in the wake of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one dead."

* The Taliban almost seemed to be trying to flatter Trump: "The Taliban have sent an 'open letter' to President Donald Trump, reiterating their calls for America to leave Afghanistan after 16 years of war. In a long and rambling note in English that was sent to journalists on Tuesday by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, the insurgents say Trump recognized the errors of his predecessors by seeking a review of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan."

* North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is ready to remove Confederate monuments from his state.

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Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

GOP senator ready to 'move beyond' Trump's racially charged comments

08/16/17 04:53PM

In the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) condemned white nationalism as a "completely evil ideology." As the Cap Times reports today, however, the Republican senator is less firm when it comes to Donald Trump's defense of racist activists.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson grew visibly annoyed with questions about President Donald Trump's perceived tolerance of white nationalism, telling reporters on Wednesday he would like to move beyond the issue to focus on things like tax reform and regulatory relief.

"You tell me what he needs to say so we can move beyond this," the Republican senator said when asked by reporters in Madison what the president should say about the violent white nationalist rally that took place in Virginia last weekend.

Asked if he's comfortable with what the president said yesterday, the conservative senator said, "Not entirely, no."

But Johnson's concerns were apparently limited. Talking to reporters this morning, the Republican added, "We can continue to harp on President Trump's reaction to Charlottesville, but from my standpoint, I'm concentrating on finding areas of agreement and doing everything I can under my committee's jurisdiction and what I can do to improve the situation."

Hmm.

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Image: Trump Attends the National Governors Association Meeting

With business leaders fleeing, Trump pulls the plug on CEO councils

08/16/17 03:03PM

Soon after taking office, Donald Trump seemed eager to demonstrate his ties to the nation's private-sector leaders. Whether they're equally eager to be tied to him is another matter entirely.

In late January, for example, the president unveiled the names of his White House American Manufacturing Council, featuring 28 members, many of whom led some of America's largest companies. A week later, Trump was proud to launch his 19-member White House Strategy and Policy Forum, which included another group of powerhouse CEOs.

It all sounded quite nice: the president, after promising voters he'd bring private-sector know-how to government, had assembled an impressive and successful team, whose members would help guide the administration's thinking on helping American businesses and workers. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, plenty. Once Trump started defending racist activists, his private-sector partners started looking for a way out. As CEOs started resigning from the White House panels, the president saved himself further embarrassment and pulled the plug on the entire endeavor.

President Donald Trump dissolved two of his economic advisory councils Wednesday after a rash of CEOs resigned in the wake of his response to a white nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, that occurred Saturday.

"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both," Trump tweeted. "Thank you all!"

Just so we're clear, today's move almost certainly had nothing to do with relieving "pressure" on private-sector leaders.

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Image: President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

Why top members of Trump's team still haven't resigned

08/16/17 01:02PM

On "NBC Nightly News" last night, Chuck Todd expressed a sentiment that was very much in line with my own thinking. Reflecting on Donald Trump's depraved press conference, Todd said, "This is so bad that I think John Kelly, the chief of staff, is going to have more than one phone call trying to talk staffers or administration officials from resigning."

And that would certainly make sense. The president of the United States yesterday had just defended racist activists and equated opponents of racism with white supremacists. Trump publicly insisted that some of the torch-wielding extremists are "very fine people" who've been treated "unfairly" by journalists.

Of course this would lead some White House officials to walk away in disgust, right? Who'd want to be associated with an unhinged leader expressing such ugliness?

Apparently, all of them.

There have been plenty of pieces published since the president walked away from podium yesterday afternoon, featuring quotes from members of Team Trump distancing themselves from their boss. Staffers were reportedly "frustrated," "startled," and "stunned." A New York Times reporter said Gary Cohn, the chair of the White House Economic Council, was "disgusted" by Trump's comments.

Whether these accounts are true or not is hard to say. It's awfully easy for various officials -- many of whom are unnamed -- to quietly tell reporters that they're uncomfortable with their boss' racist display. It's less easy to do something meaningful, such as typing a resignation letter.

And yet, at least as of this morning, that hasn't happened. It's worth considering why.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.16.17

08/16/17 12:00PM

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

* In Utah's 3rd congressional districts, Provo Mayor John Curtis won the GOP's special election primary yesterday, and given the district's partisan leanings, is now the favorite to succeed former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) in Congress.

* Despite the fact that his preferred candidate came in second in Alabama's Republican Senate primary yesterday, Donald Trump this morning took credit for Sen. Luther Strange (R) picking up "a lot of additional support" thanks to the presidential endorsement.

* It looks like some Texas lines will need to be redrawn: "Federal judges invalidated two Texas congressional districts Tuesday, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court. A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act."

* Trump's re-election campaign announced this morning that the president will host a rally in celebration of himself in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday. It's worth noting that Phoenix is in Maricopa County. I wonder if Joe Arpaio will be on hand to pick up a presidential pardon?

* A new national Marist poll shows the president's approval rating dropping to 35%, Trump's lowest support in this poll to date. He fared better in the latest Monmouth University poll, which put Trump's support at 41%.

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched a new ad campaign in Montana this week, attacking Sen. Jon Tester (D) for partnering with "ultra-liberal" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

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Trump claims with a straight face he needs 'facts' before speaking

08/16/17 11:20AM

It was hardly the most important thing Donald Trump said at yesterday's press conference, but when the president was asked why it took so long for him to denounce white supremacists after Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, he launched a rant about the value he places on accuracy.

"I didn't wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me. And it's a very important statement.

"So, I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.... When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn't even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts."

How reporters in attendance didn't burst into immediate laughter remains something of a mystery.

Look, I'm not even going to talk about the astonishing number of lies Donald Trump tells on a nearly daily basis, contradicting the idea that he "likes to be correct" when speaking. In this case, we can instead narrow the focus to instances in which the president rushed to make statements in response to violence and suspected attacks -- often without having any idea what he was saying, occasionally pointing to attacks that didn't actually happen.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un salutes during a visit to the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces on the occasion of the new year, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Jan. 10, 2016. Photo by KCNA/Reuters

Why the North Korean crisis has suddenly cooled

08/16/17 10:40AM

It was literally last week when the United States appeared to be confronting a nuclear crisis with North Korea. Sebastian Gorka, a top White House adviser on national security, told a national television audience, "This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis."

There were days last week that some of us woke up and quickly checked the news to see if any missiles had launched while we were sleeping.

And yet, North Korea is no longer front-page news. In fact, Donald Trump held a press conference yesterday, and no one thought to ask any questions about the burgeoning crisis, since it didn't seem especially important.

So how is it, exactly, that a week ago today a White House official compared the circumstances to the Cuban missile crisis, and now the story is an afterthought? Zack Beauchamp made a compelling case that the American president got distracted -- which turned out to be a very positive development for international stability.

Experts think this deescalation -- what analyst Robert Carlin calls "a decisive break in the action" -- happened in part because the president's focus has been on Charlottesville since Friday night.

"The media (and the president) was distracted over the weekend, which gave some breathing space for the situation," Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins, tells me.

It's important to understand what made last week scary. North Korean bluster wasn't new; Kim Jong-un's threats against Guam weren't new; and intelligence pointing to advances in the regime's nuclear capabilities weren't entirely new. As Rachel explained on the show last week, what changed the equation was Donald Trump and his alliterative tirades.

The more the American president threw around phrases about "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded," the more serious the crisis became. What everyone needed to improve the security environment was for Trump to simply stop talking.

Or in this case, to start talking about something else.

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Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla.  (Joe Raedle/Getty)

An important 'Obamacare' problem starts to disappear

08/16/17 10:00AM

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act thought they'd finally identified a serious problem with the current system: several U.S. counties found themselves without a private insurer participating in exchange marketplaces. Some began calling it the ACA's "bald spot" problem: consumers in those areas might be ready to buy coverage, but their options no longer exist.

As of yesterday, however, what was poised to be a big problem became a much smaller one. The New York Times reported:

A few months ago, it looked as if large swaths of the country might end up without any insurers willing to sell Obamacare insurance in 2018. But in the last few weeks the "bare county" problem, which President Trump had cited as a sign the markets were failing, has nearly solved itself.

On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada announced that Centene would offer insurance in 14 rural counties of Nevada that had been bare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation maintains a national map showing counties at risk of having no participating private insurer, and as of now, that map shows just two counties: one in Wisconsin and another in Ohio. The number of affected consumers is just 381 people.

This is not to say that those folks are unimportant. There are steps the states can and should take to help those areas, and I hope those 381 people get a hand, sooner rather than later.

But for months, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have pointed to the "bald spots" as evidence of a systemic crisis for "Obamacare." But in a country of over 3,000 counties, just two are now facing this problem -- not 2 percent, just two individual counties.

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