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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump not above using his notoriety to reward allies, punish critics

01/12/17 10:54AM

The New York Times had an interesting article this week about the health care industry and its anxieties surrounding the changes Donald Trump and congressional Republicans intend to impose on the system. The piece, however, was a little short on quotes, and as it turns out, there was a specific reason for that.

"Some companies, anxious about changes in health policy, said they were afraid to speak out because they feared that Mr. Trump would attack them on Twitter, as he has badgered Boeing, Ford, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Toyota," the Times explained.

President Obama spoke at MacDill Air Force Base last month, where he celebrated one of the great American freedoms: we can "criticize a president without retribution." Evidently, that freedom is a little less secure in the Trump era.

Indeed, the New York Times' report followed a related piece on tech companies on the West coast adjusting their schedules, making sure "someone is up at 3 a.m. local time to catch the [president-elect's] tweets out of fear that a Trump tweet could crash their stock and put their company into a frenzy."

As it turns out, the president-elect isn't just intimidating potential critics; as he demonstrated on Twitter this morning, he also wants to use his notoriety to reward allies.
"Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean."
Apparently, Linda Bean, the granddaughter of L.L. Bean's founder and a member of the company's board of directors, made an illegally large campaign contribution to a pro-Trump political action committee. This prompted some on the left to announce they'll no longer buy from the national retailer.
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Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) speaks during the DC March for Jobs, July 15, 2013.

Defending Sessions, GOP congressman sees a 'war on whites'

01/12/17 10:05AM

Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) nomination to be the next Attorney General is facing considerable pushback from civil-rights organizations, and for good reason. By any fair measure, the Alabama Republican's record on race and civil rights is deeply controversial.

But for some of his allies, this isn't a legitimate subject of inquiry. Indeed, as CNN reported, one of Sessions' Alabama congressional colleagues believes the GOP senator is a victim -- facing discrimination because of the color of his skin.
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said in a radio interview on Tuesday that criticism of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Donald Trump's pick to be attorney general, is part of an ongoing "war on whites" by Democrats.

"It's really about political power and racial division and what I've referred to on occasion as the 'war on whites.' They are trying to motivate the African-American vote to vote-bloc for Democrats by using every 'Republican is a racist' tool that they can envision," the Republican congressman said on "The Morning Show With Toni & Gary" on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. "Even if they have to lie about it."
Brooks, a far-right congressman with an unsettling record of rhetorical and political excesses, is considered a top contender for Sessions' Senate seat if his nomination is confirmed.

And if Brooks' concerns about a "war on whites" sounds familiar, there's a good reason for that.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Trump's ACA claims descend deeper into incoherence

01/12/17 09:20AM

With congressional Republicans divided over how best to proceed on health care, Donald Trump talked to the New York Times this week about his own preferred roadmap -- which didn't make any sense.

At yesterday's press conference, the president-elect was asked about his replacement model for the Affordable Care Act, and Trump's answer was amazing in its incoherence. It's worth unwrapping:
"They can say what they want, they can guide you anyway they wanna guide you. In some cases, they guide you incorrectly. In most cases, you realize what's happened, it's imploding as we sit."
It's always fun when a politician argues that "they" may provide facts that the politician finds inconvenient, but Americans should ignore the facts and believe what the politician wants you to believe.
"Some states have over a hundred percent increase and '17 and I said this two years ago, '17 is going to be the bad year."
He didn't explain what "a hundred percent increase" referred to -- I suspect even he doesn't know -- but if the president-elect was referring to premiums, he's mistaken. As for the idea that 2017 is going to be the "bad" year for premiums, the evidence points in the opposite direction.
"We're going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary's approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan."
That's news to congressional Republicans, who thought they were responsible for finishing the plan they started working on seven years ago, and were never told about Trump's intention to present his own blueprint.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Congressional GOP has a (health care) bridge it wants to sell you

01/12/17 08:43AM

Senate Republicans did not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act overnight, but they did take the first important step down that road. If you're wondering what's at the end of that road, you're not alone.

Following the so-called "vote-a-rama," in which senators considered a series of amendments in rapid secession, the chamber voted 51 to 48* in support of something called a budget resolution. How does this affect "Obamacare"? Substantively, it doesn't. Last night's vote was largely about process: the Senate got the ball rolling on giving itself the ability to use reconciliation to repeal key parts of the ACA with 50 votes instead of 60.

The bill now heads to the Republican-led House, which will almost certainly approve it tomorrow. Because it's a legislative blueprint, the bill does not go to the White House for a signature. (This is effectively an outline Congress is creating for itself.)

Of course, for the GOP, this was the easy part. The party still has no health care blueprint, despite seven years of effort, and Republicans remain divided over their legislative strategy. In an instantly memorable line, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) said overnight, "We're loading a gun here. I want to know where it's pointed before we start the process."

But at least for now, most Republicans are content to worry about where the bullet will end up later.
Republicans say the 2016 elections gave them a mandate to roll back the health care law. "The Obamacare bridge is collapsing, and we're sending in a rescue team," said Senator Michael B. Enzi, Republican of Wyoming and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "Then we'll build new bridges to better health care, and finally, when these new bridges are finished, we'll close the old bridge."
Congratulations, America. You've elected a Congress that actually has a bridge it wants to sell you.
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Donald Trump holds a press conference with his VP Choice, Gov. Mike Pence, July 16, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Even now, Trump struggles to understand the basics of unemployment

01/12/17 08:01AM

Towards the beginning of his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump boasted that he's been "quite active ... in an economic way." Taking credit for some recent announcements from auto makers, the president-elect said positive economic news in recent months is the result of the "great spirit" tied to his election.

"I'm very proud of what we've done," he added.

The problem, of course, is that Trump hasn't actually done anything. The jobs he took credit for yesterday had literally nothing to do with him. Either the president-elect doesn't understand that, in which case he's struggling to grasp current events, or he's trying to deceive the public about one of the nation's most important issues.

But later in the press conference, Trump made matters worse when he declared there are "96 million really wanting a job and they can't get." Apparently referring to unemployment, he added, "You know that story. The real number -- that's the real number."

No, it's not.
It is unfortunately very far from the real number. There are in fact 96 million Americans age 16 and older who are not in the labor force. Of this, just 5.4 million, or 91 million fewer than the number cited by Trump, say they want a job. The rest are retired, sick, disabled, running their households or going to school. (This number is 256,000 fewer than last year and 1.7 million fewer than the all-time high for the series in 2013.) [...]

A more charitable explanation for Trump would expand the number to include those people who are working part time because they can't find full-time work, all the unemployed and those marginally attached to the workforce. This broader measure of slack in the economy, known as the U6, is about 14.7 million. It's the lowest since May 2008, and has come down by nearly 12 million since the worst of the job market effects of the financial crisis in 2010.... If that's what the president-elect means, he's then only off by 82 million.
As CNBC's report makes clear, this isn't just an academic exercise. If policymakers, starting with an incoming president, don't understand the nature of American unemployment, they won't be able to "get economic and monetary policy right."
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.11.17

01/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Powerful testimony: "Evoking memories of segregation-era marches for equality in Selma, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and other prominent Democrats within the Congressional Black Caucus testified against Sen. Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, staking a clear opposition to the Alabama senator's appointment as attorney general."

* Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of State, did not have an easy day: "After prodding, he acknowledged during Wednesday's confirmation hearing that [Russia's] cyber intrusion would not have happened without Putin's sign off. But the longtime Exxon Mobil CEO told the committee he has not yet spoken to Trump about one Russia, one of the top foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. 'That's pretty amazing,' Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said."

* More on this story tomorrow: "President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he has tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is currently serving in the Obama administration as VA undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs."

* Asia-Pacific: "Taiwan scrambled F-16 fighter jets and dispatched a frigate to the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday after China sent its sole aircraft carrier into the waterway, Taiwan's official Central News Agency reported."

* The VW scandal isn't over: "U.S. officials indicted six executives at German automaker Volkswagen on Wednesday in connection with the company's scheme to deliberately deceive U.S. regulators about the emissions standards of its diesel-engine vehicles and sell those cars illegally to American drivers."

* Texas' latest execution: "A Texas man who claims his lawyers did a bad job of defending him against charges he callously murdered two men could become the first prisoner executed this year if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't call off his Wednesday night lethal injection."
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Obama, Trump, and a tale of two appearances

01/11/17 04:54PM

Farewell addresses offer outgoing presidents a special opportunity, not only to reflect on their tenure, but to look ahead to future challenges. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, famously used his farewell address to warn Americans about the dangers of the "military industrial complex."

Last night in Chicago, President Obama spoke only briefly about his many accomplishments, instead investing the bulk of his time on issuing a warning of his own about the health and vibrancy of American democracy.

About 12 hours later, his successor appeared behind a podium -- and proceeded to prove that Obama's fears are well grounded.

Obama's farewell address included a variety of messages and themes, but what Americans saw was a leader who seemed eager to credit his fellow citizens and encourage them to keep moving the country forward.
"You were the change. You answered people's hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started. [...]

"I do have one final ask of you as your president -- the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I'm asking you to believe -- not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours."
These comments -- a leader crediting his supporters instead of himself -- came to mind during Donald Trump's press conference this morning. At one point, for example, the president-elect said he wants recognition for having effectively been a freelance tech consultant during the presidential campaign: "We were told that they were trying to hack [Republicans], but they weren't able to hack. And I think I get some credit because I told Reince, and Reince did a phenomenal job, but I said I want strong hacking defense [on RNC computers]."

The idea that Trump actually gave the RNC advice about cyber-security is very hard to believe, but what struck me as significant about this throwaway line is the president-elect's preoccupation with self-aggrandizing claims.

The result was a pair of bookend speeches in which Americans saw two very different kinds of leaders. One urged the electorate to keep believing in the core strengths of our political system; one made those appeals quite difficult to accept.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Donald Trump sidesteps key question on Russia scandal

01/11/17 02:29PM

Did Russian officials communicate with members of Donald Trump's team during the presidential campaign? Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says yes; the Republican transition team says no. One of them isn't telling the truth.

CNN reported yesterday, meanwhile, that part of the intelligence dossier on the Russian hacking scandal "included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government."

Trump was offered an opportunity to clear this up during this morning's press conference, but his response fell short.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign. And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

TRUMP: He shouldn't be doing it. He won't be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I'm leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn't have done it. I don't believe that he will be doing it more now. We have to work something out, but it's not just Russia....
At that point, the president-elect changed the subject and, soon after, ended the press conference without taking any additional questions.

After the event, an NBC News reporter repeated the unanswered question to Trump as he approached an elevator to exit the room. The president-elect responded, "No."

He didn't elaborate.
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