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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.19.17

04/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Prepare a back-up plan: "Top generals have been insisting for years that if North Korea launched a missile at the United States, the U.S. military would be able to shoot it down. But that is a highly questionable assertion, according to independent scientists and government investigators."

* The story at the intersection of other stories: "Exxon Mobil is pursuing a waiver from Treasury Department sanctions on Russia so it may drill in the Black Sea in a venture with the Russian state oil company Rosneft, a former State Department official said Wednesday. An oil industry official confirmed the account."

* He was rewarded with a seat on the dais, which is unheard of for a donor: "Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino magnate and stalwart Republican donor, gave $5 million to support the festivities surrounding President Trump's inauguration, according to federal election filings."

Interesting case: "Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed sympathetic to a Missouri church that claimed its exclusion from a state playground improvement program was a violation of constitutional rights."

* Occasional criticism shouldn't bother him quite this much: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly offered a sharp rebuttal to critics of his department on Tuesday, challenging lawmakers who dislike its approach to immigration enforcement to change the law or 'shut up.'"

This guys later said he meant "no disrespect," which only made this more ridiculous: "Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles dropped the n-word to a pair of African-American colleagues in private conversation Monday night -- after calling one of them a 'f**king a**hole,' a 'b***h' and a 'girl,' the two senators said."
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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.

Sean Spicer's newest trick: debating the meaning of the word 'is'

04/19/17 04:42PM

Donald Trump's White House has already struggled with tough questions about its credibility, but yesterday brought a rather brutal turn of events. Press Secretary Sean Spicer's efforts to clean up the mess aren't going well.

Let's quickly review. Last week, Donald Trump said he's "sending an armada" to the Korean peninsula, in response to rising tensions with North Korea. He wasn't alone: Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Sean Spicer all said publicly, over the course of a few days, that the United States had dispatched an aircraft carrier and its support ships -- the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group -- to head towards the Korean peninsula.

That didn't happen. The USS Carl Vinson was actually 3,000 miles away, headed in the opposite direction. This raised a variety of questions, including some obvious ones: did the Trump administration simply lie? Was the aircraft carrier supposed to head towards North Korea but fail to do so? Did the Trump administration lose track of this aircraft carrier strike group?

Today, after having a chance to think about it, Spicer rolled out his best defense. The Huffington Post reported:
Spicer ... denied that Trump misspoke when he talked about the ships. "The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact, it happened," Spicer said.

But then Spicer corrected himself, noting that it had not in fact happened. "It is happening, rather," he said.
Oh dear, we're headed into a debate over the meaning of "is."
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Image: Vienna

Trump's newest foreign policy challenge: the Iran deal is working

04/19/17 12:57PM

Donald Trump may not know what the international nuclear agreement with Iran is or what it does, but he knows he hates it. 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."

It therefore must have been terribly disappointing for the Trump administration to declare that the dreaded deal is ... working.
The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.
Oh. That's probably not quite what Trump expected to say about the agreement he loves to hate.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.19.17

04/19/17 12:00PM

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

* In a surprise move, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has decided not to seek re-election next year, and he won't run for any other office in 2018. It's the first big retirement announcement of this Congress.

* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Alabama's U.S. Senate special election will be held this year, instead of next year as originally scheduled. That's not good news for  Sen. Luther Strange (R), whose ties to former Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who appointed Strange to the post, are likely to be a problem.

* On a related note, AL.com reported last night, "Rep. Ed Henry, the lawmaker who launched the move to impeach former Gov. Robert Bentley last year, announced today he will run for the U.S. Senate." It's a safe bet Henry won't be the last Republican to enter the primary.

* The Virginia Republican Party has scheduled a big fundraiser for next month, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially notable except in this case, (a) the featured speaker is White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer; and (b) the event will be held at a Trump-owned property.

* The latest national poll from the Pew Research Center shows Trump with a 39% approval rating, which appears to be taking a toll on support for Republicans overall.

* The far-right 45Committee, financed in large part by Sheldon Adelson and the wealthy Ricketts family, is apparently starting a feud with the far-right Club for Growth, using Georgia's congressional special election as a proxy fight.

* In Missouri, where Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is likely to be a key Republican target, Majority Forward, the non-profit tied to the Democratic Senate leadership's Senate Majority PAC, is investing $500,000 in new radio ads in support of the incumbent senator.
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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Prominent GOP senator expresses concern over Trump's 'flaws'

04/19/17 11:36AM

Three months into Donald Trump's presidency, congressional Republicans tend to offer their public support for the White House in practically every instance, which makes it all the more interesting to find exceptions. TPM reported yesterday:
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Tuesday said she wishes President Donald Trump "would spend more time in Washington, D.C." and host state leaders there rather than at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

An audience member at a town hall in Wall Lake, Iowa, asked Ernst about Trump's "weekends in Florida, costing us $3 million-plus in 100 days." [...]

"I agree with you," Ernst said. "I do wish that he would spend more time in Washington, D.C." Ernst said she has "had the same concerns."
She added that this has been "bothering not just me but some other members" of the Senate Republican caucus. Ernst told the audience, "We would love to see more of those State Department visits in Washington, D.C. I think it's smart that he does business in Washington, D.C. That's what we have the White House for."

Asked at the same event of accusations surrounding the president's mistreatment of women, the Iowa Republican said, "I think that we have a president that has a number of flaws."

This comes on the heels of Ernst calling on Trump to release his tax returns.
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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Trump admin pursues law-enforcement goals without U.S. attorneys

04/19/17 10:40AM

It's been more than a month since Donald Trump fired dozens of U.S. Attorneys, without having others lined up to take their place. As the Washington Post reports, the White House still hasn't even tried to fill those prosecutorial vacancies.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making aggressive law enforcement a top priority, directing his federal prosecutors across the country to crack down on illegal immigrants and "use every tool" they have to go after violent criminals and drug traffickers.

But the attorney general does not have a single U.S. attorney in place to lead his tough-on-crime efforts across the country. Last month, Sessions abruptly told the dozens of remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations immediately -- and none of them, or the 47 who had already left, have been replaced.
For those who may need a refresher, let's recap how we got to this point. On Friday, March 10, 46 Obama-era federal prosecutors were told to submit their resignations and clean out their offices before close of business. These federal prosecutors weren't given advance notice or any kind of explanation.

To be sure, they knew this was a possible outcome -- they were appointed by a Democratic president who was no longer in office -- but these U.S. attorneys had been working under the Trump administration for nearly two months, overseeing a series of ongoing federal cases. At least one of these prosecutors, New York's Preet Bharara, was specifically told he could keep his job, before the White House ousted him.

At the time, we knew Trump had no one lined up to take these U.S. attorneys' place. What we didn't know is that the president still wouldn't have new prosecutors in place nearly six weeks later.
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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump's inauguration fundraising adds to his disclosure troubles

04/19/17 10:02AM

In late November, Donald Trump's inaugural committee started selling "exclusive access" to the president-elect and his team "in exchange for donations of $1 million and more." Apparently, some folks took advantage of the opportunity.
President Trump raised twice as much money for his inauguration festivities as any previous president-elect in history, pulling in tens of millions of dollars from wealthy donors and large corporations eager to woo the nation's new chief executive in the days after his unexpected victory.

Disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday showed the contributions from corporate executives, lobbyists and businesses, as well as small donors, totaled $107 million. The previous record was held by President Barack Obama, who raised $53 million for his 2009 inauguration.
As the New York Times' report added, Trump's inaugural committee has not disclosed how the money was spent, how much was unspent, or where those funds may end up. The committee said yesterday it's "still identifying charities toward which it would direct leftover money."

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold noted that the inaugural committee's members "said they'd tell us about their donations when they released fundraising numbers. They didn't."

When we talk about Team Trump's transparency troubles, the problem isn't limited to tax returns and White House visitor logs.
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Image: President Trump meets With Prime Minister Of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen In The Oval Office

The wrong messenger for a 'Buy American, Hire American' message

04/19/17 09:22AM

For many years, reporters have received press releases from the White House touting various initiatives with "what people are saying" collections. It's a straightforward exercise: the White House will collect praise from various corners, package it together, and send it out as proof of a proposal's merit. The goal is to convince others in media that an administration's idea has been well received and is generating positive "buzz."

And while this has been a common tool for Democrats and Republicans alike, Donald Trump's White House did something yesterday that no one's ever seen: it sent out a press release touting praise from itself. The headline read: "Senior Administration Officials Praise President Donald J. Trump's 'Buy American, Hire American' Executive Order." It proceeded to quote four members of the president's team saying nice things about the president's latest executive order.

Let that sink in for a minute: White House officials alerted the media to the fact that other White House officials praised a new White House policy.

Evidently, Team Trump couldn't find praise from anyone else, so it was compelled to highlight positive remarks from itself. That's probably because the president's "Buy American, Hire American" executive order isn't especially compelling.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at reducing the number of lower wage foreign hires in the U.S. workforce and bringing job opportunity back to American employees -- a key campaign promise.

The signing of this order, Trump told the Kenosha, Wisconsin crowd, will "defend our workers, protect our jobs, and finally put America first."
That's pleasant sounding rhetoric, and it's possible the president actually believes he's just done something of great significance, but his executive order really just asks various agencies to look for fraud in guest-worker programs, while beginning "an interdepartmental review" of the H-1B visa program." At some point in the future, various agencies will report back to the White House with some suggested changes.

Groundbreaking, this isn't.

What stood out as important, though, was just how poor a messenger Trump is for this specific message.
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Trump celebrates after his unpopularity puts red seats in play

04/19/17 08:40AM

Georgia's 6th congressional district has long been a GOP stronghold, represented in recent decades by a pair of high-profile, far-right Republicans Tom Price and Newt Gingrich. When Price gave up the seat to join Donald Trump's cabinet, the question wasn't whether he'd be replaced by a Republican, but rather, which one.

And yet, in the first round of balloting, a first-time Democratic candidate very nearly took the seat -- and still might.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker who shattered fundraising records, finished well ahead of his challengers -- but came just shy of the 50% threshold necessary to win the closely watched race outright, according to the Associated Press, which called the race just before 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Ossoff, who finished with about 48%, will now head to a runoff on June 20 against Republican Karen Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State, who bested 10 other GOP hopefuls with about 20% of the overall vote in the unusual all-party primary.
Obviously, Ossoff and his allies hoped to cross the 50% threshold yesterday and avoid a runoff, but the fact that he earned 48% of the vote is an impressive feat for a Democrat in a Republican district in a Republican state. What's more, with another round of balloting on the way, Ossoff still has a chance to flip the seat from red to blue.

A GOP state senator in Georgia recently said the 6th district's lines "were not drawn" to elect a Democrat, and yet, there was Ossoff, forcing Republicans to spend millions of dollars they didn't expect to invest in order to barely keep him below 50%. Yesterday was emblematic of a fact that should make much of the right quite nervous: if Democrats can seriously compete in Georgia's 6th, it opens up all kinds of opportunities nationwide.

All of which makes it kind of ridiculous to see Trump pat himself on the back.
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