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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.14.17

09/14/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* DACA politics: "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), in his first public comments since Trump met with Democrats the previous night, agreed in broad strokes with his goal of protecting 'dreamers' and toughening U.S. border security. But Ryan dismissed the possible deal as preliminary discussions and insisted any agreement must have buy-in from GOP leaders."

* On a related note: "Staunch conservative allies of President Trump have erupted in anger and incredulity after Democrats late Wednesday announced that the president had agreed to pursue a legislative deal that would protect thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation but not secure Trump's signature campaign promise: building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border."

* Constant clean-up work: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will resume his role as the reassurer for American allies this week when he heads to Mexico, where he will try to mend relations after President Trump failed to quickly offer condolences for the earthquake on Friday that killed at least 96 people and severely damaged thousands of homes."

* Competing versions: "President Trump met Wednesday with Sen. Tim Scott, the upper chamber's only African American Republican. Exactly what was said and by whom was the source of some disagreement afterward."

* In case you missed Rachel's segment on this: "Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN."

* Naturally, this leaked: "The top US national security official has directed government departments and agencies to warn employees across the entire federal government next week about the dangers and consequences of leaking even unclassified information."

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The scope of Trump's humiliation of Sessions comes into focus

09/14/17 04:53PM

Donald Trump is accustomed to a specific professional dynamic in which he's the boss, he barks orders, and those orders are carried out. Those who fall short of the boss' expectations are upbraided and replaced.

Trump, the nation's first amateur president, may not fully appreciate how useless this approach is in national politics.

When Trump expected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to shield him from inquiries related to the Russia scandal, and the GOP leader did not, the president "berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match." Soon after, when Trump was disappointed after an August political rally, he "lashed out" at White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who "later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country."

And then there's Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a New York Times report published today on how Trump has treated the nation's top law enforcement official.

Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said the attorney general should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.

The president blamed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on Mr. Sessions's decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation — a move Mr. Trump believes was the moment his administration effectively lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Mr. Sessions of "disloyalty," Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.

According the Times' reporting, following Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel, Trump blamed Sessions for the political crisis, described Sessions' nomination as one of his worst decisions, and called him an "idiot."

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Image: Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer

Why Democrats are more than happy to negotiate with Trump

09/14/17 01:00PM

For much of 2017, Donald Trump's principal complaint about Democrats was simple: they were "obstructionists" who refused to even consider working with him. "The Democrats have become nothing but obstructionists, they have no policies or ideas," the president tweeted in June. "All they do is delay and complain."

In Trump's mind, congressional Dems were, for all intents and purposes, acting like congressional Republicans did in the Obama era, slapping away an outstretched hand. No matter what the White House tried, Trump assumed, Democratic leaders would simply refuse to work with him -- just as GOP leaders refused to work with Obama, even when the Democratic president was prepared to give Republicans some of what they wanted.

If Barack Obama was for it, the GOP was reflexively against it, even when he agreed with his adversaries. Many Republicans, including the president, expected a continuation of this style of politics.

Trump's assumptions, however, were completely wrong. Dems such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi hadn't really considered maximalist partisanship -- like a batter waiting for a pitch to swing at, they were simply waiting for an offer they could accept.

With apparent progress on DACA negotiations, this led The Daily Beast's Matt Lewis this morning to raise an important observation:

"Slightly surprised Dems are working with Trump -- even to advance their own agenda. Their attitude might have been: 'Why give him ANY wins?'"

In other words, Lewis is slightly surprised Democrats aren't acting like Republicans. When it comes to protections for Dreamers, Pelosi and Schumer could've taken a specific, GOP-like posture: rail against the White House's position, refuse to negotiate, turn the issue that cuts Democrats' way into a political cudgel, and use it to beat Republicans for months heading into the 2018 midterms.

But they're doing the opposite, and it's important to understand why. Indeed, this is one of the defining differences between the major parties, which is often underappreciated.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.14.17

09/14/17 12:00PM

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

* With two months remaining in New Jersey's gubernatorial race, the latest Quinnipiac poll show shows Phil Murphy (D) with a big lead over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R), 58% to 33%.

* An interesting observation about this year's special elections thus far: "According to data assembled by Daily Kos and mapped by Daniel Donner, Democrats have performed better than Hillary Clinton in 27 out of 35 congressional and state-legislative special elections held this year. And they've done better than President Barack Obama's 2012 margins in 25 out of 35."

* It's still unclear whether Sen. Bob Corker (R) will seek re-election in Tennessee next year, but if he does, the incumbent will have at least one primary rival: conservative activist Andy Ogles, who heads the state chapter of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, announced his candidacy this morning.

* Nearly 12 full months since the first presidential debate last fall, Donald Trump declared on Twitter last night that he still believes Hillary Clinton "lost the debates."

* No one seriously doubted her intentions, but Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) made it official yesterday, announcing that she will seek a second term next year. Given North Dakota's political leanings, Republicans have made Heitkamp one of their top 2018 targets.

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Image: Trump speaks before departing Washington for Florida

Trump pretends his tax plan won't be a giveaway to the wealthy

09/14/17 11:20AM

I don't honestly expect Donald Trump to be familiar with the nuanced details of his tax-reform plan because, at least at this point in the process, his plan doesn't exist. But if the president genuinely believes his eventual proposal won't deliver a windfall to the wealthiest Americans, he's badly confused.

Mr. Trump, speaking before a meeting with a bipartisan group of House members, said he expects wealthy Americans "will not be gaining at all" under the tax overhaul he wants Congress to pass with a view toward creating new jobs and helping middle-class taxpayers.

"The wealthy will be pretty much where they are," Mr. Trump, a Republican, said. "If we can do that, we'd like it. If they have to go higher, they'll go higher, frankly."

Let's put this in the "file away for future use" category.

It's difficult to say with confidence whether Trump is ignorant or mendacious, but the idea that the rich "will not be gaining at all" from the Republican tax plan is plainly ridiculous. We may not have the details of the proposal, but we've seen what the White House says it wants, and whether the president realizes this or not, Trump has already called for a massive tax break for those at the very top.

Indeed, this isn't just part of the plan; it's the point of the plan. The entire endeavor is based on a trickle-down model that serves as the foundation of Republican ideas on the economy: make sure those at the top have more money, and in time, wealth will trickle down to everyone else.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

The problem with anonymous gifts to White House legal defense funds

09/14/17 10:51AM

As the Trump-Russia scandal intensifies, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other investigators are eager to chat with a variety of people in Donald Trump's orbit. Just over the last week, we've learned about upcoming interviews with at least six current and former aides to the president, and just about every relevant player has lawyered up in order to protect their legal interests.

Of course, private counsel isn't cheap, and these members of Team Trump can expect to pay at least several hundred dollars an hour in legal fees, which is a considerable expense for almost everyone.

But rest easy, Trump aides, because it turns out you may not have to shoulder that burden alone. Politico had this report overnight [note the update at the bottom of this post]:

In a reversal of internal policy, the Office of Government Ethics says funds benefiting aides caught up in Russia probes may accept anonymous gifts from lobbyists.

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has quietly reversed its own internal policy prohibiting anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers who have legal defense funds.

The little-noticed change could help President Donald Trump's aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands -- but raises the potential for hidden conflicts of interest or other ethics trouble.

Ya think? White House aides, desperate to pay crushing legal bills, may have a conflict of interest when lobbyists quietly help pick up the tab with anonymous donations?

At issue is a position that was originally crafted in 1993 as an internal guidance, which said officials could solicit contributions to legal defense funds, but to avoid trouble, they couldn't know "who the paymasters are.”

But then things got a little tricky.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

What Republicans get wrong about the cost of single-payer

09/14/17 10:09AM

During Congress' summer break, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) hosted a series of town-hall events with his constituents, many of whom were, shall we say, displeased with Gardner's support for his party's regressive far-right health care plans. At one event, the Colorado Republican, recognizing the crowd's attitudes, asked his audience, "How many people support single payer healthcare?"

Many attendees raised their hands, prompting the GOP senator to respond, "Let me tell you what that would mean: this would cost the country 32 trillion dollars."

That number popped up again yesterday, when the Republican National Committee, responding to Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) new "Medicare for All" proposal, asked via Twitter, "Where does Bernie think the $32 TRILLION to pay for single-payer health care is coming from?" The Trump White House has been pushing the same figure.

Even some journalists have begun using that price tag as if it were an accepted fact -- which is a shame, because it's not a figure to be taken seriously.

There are legitimate criticisms of single-payer, but this isn't one of them. Indeed, Cornell's Robert Frank recently explained that the argument has it backwards: a "Medicare for All" system, with lower administrative costs, increased bargaining power, and lower advertising costs, would be considerably cheaper than our current approach.

The Washington Post's Paul Waldman also had a good piece on this:

Let's look at what we're paying now. In 2016, we spent $3.4 trillion on health care. That spending is projected to rise an average of 5.6 percent per year over the next decade. If you do the math, that means that between 2018 and 2027 we'll spend $49 trillion on health care in America. That's the current system.

That $32 trillion number the CNN folks are tossing around comes from an analysis of the Conyers bill, which is basically a placeholder -- it's only 30 pages long, which for bill texts is like an executive summary of an executive summary..... Nevertheless, Republicans have seized on the $32 trillion number to scare people into thinking that Democrats want to raise their taxes some insane amount.... But if we're going to spend $49 trillion under the current system, and single payer would cost $32 trillion, doesn't that mean we'd be saving $17 trillion?

The assumption behind the GOP talking point is that we're talking about investing additional money on top of what we're spending now. But that's completely wrong.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Trump's Treasury secretary requested government jet for honeymoon

09/14/17 09:20AM

In a normal administration, right about now, we'd be talking about how much longer Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will be in office before being forced to resign.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin inquired about the use of a military plane for his European honeymoon last month, the Treasury Department confirmed on Wednesday, a disclosure that comes as he is already under scrutiny for taking a government plane to Kentucky before viewing the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

The Treasury Department said Mr. Mnuchin had asked about the military plane so that he would have access to secure communications when he was abroad.

As it turns out, officials at Treasury identified an "alternative way to communicate about government matters securely," and Mnuchin, a multi-millionaire, did not make use of a government jet for his honeymoon.

But the fact that he tried seems politically problematic. Let's not forget what forced John Sununu to resign from George H.W. Bush's White House in 1991.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump's message on DACA, Dreamers loses its coherence

09/14/17 08:45AM

Last week, when Donald Trump's administration rescinded the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers, the New York Times noted an interesting behind-the-scenes detail: White House officials were reportedly worried that the president didn't "fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take."

The piece added that these same officials "privately expressed concern" that when Trump discovered the "full impact" of his policy shift, he might reverse course.

Keep this in mind when trying to make sense of the latest developments on DACA.

Last night, Congress' top two Democrats -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- issued a joint written statement that surprised much of political world, explaining that they'd reached some kind of agreement with the president "to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides."

The idea that there's a bipartisan deal to protect Dreamers, not surprisingly, delighted progressives and infuriated conservatives, but this morning, Trump seemed to walk back the news via Twitter:

"No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote."

It's not altogether clear what this meant -- any deal would obviously be subject to congressional approval -- but "no deal was made last night on DACA" seemed pretty unambiguous.

That clarity, however, quickly evaporated. Almost immediately after Trump said there was no DACA deal, he quickly proceeded to lay out a blueprint for a DACA deal -- which sounded an awful lot like the Democratic leaders' position from last night.

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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.

In the US, criticizing the president shouldn't be a 'fireable offense'

09/14/17 08:00AM

Jemele Hill, a prominent ESPN host, raised a few eyebrows this week with some fierce criticism of Donald Trump, and the issue reached the White House press briefing room yesterday, with this exchange between a reporter and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Q: Yes, you mentioned a couple times today -- you've sort of emphasized diversity in the West Wing. You talked about the President being very clear after Charlottesville in denouncing all hate. I just wanted to read a comment from an influential African American sportscaster from ESPN yesterday, who said, "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy, period. He's unqualified and unfit to be President." Why do you think -- do you have a reaction to that? And is the President aware of that comment?

SANDERS: I'm not sure if he's aware, but I think that's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.

At a certain level, rhetoric like this may seem predictable. Trump World is known for having a thin skin, and it's hardly surprising when the White House lashes out aggressively at the president's critics.

But it's worth pausing to appreciate just how extraordinary these circumstances are: the White House press secretary, from the briefing-room podium, argued that a major media company should fire an employee for criticizing the president.

And that's just not how the United States is supposed to operate.

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