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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's EPA clears pesticide tied to children's health problems

07/19/19 08:00AM

We learned a few months ago that senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency rejected calls to ban asbestos, despite the advice of EPA scientists, and opened the door to new uses for the known carcinogen. It was a rather startling example of the Trump administration doing a potentially dangerous favor for the chemical industry.

This week, as the New York Times reported, we learned about Team Trump doing another potentially dangerous favor for the chemical industry.

The Trump administration took a major step to weaken the regulation of toxic chemicals on Thursday when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would not ban a widely used pesticide that its own experts have linked to serious health problems in children.

The decision by Andrew R. Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, represents a victory for the chemical industry and for farmers who have lobbied to continue using the substance, chlorpyrifos, arguing it is necessary to protect crops.

Let's circle back to our earlier coverage, but it's worth appreciating how we arrived at this point.

The Obama administration originally proposed banning the pesticide's use on food in October 2015. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded. "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neuro-developmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

By all appearances, this wasn't an especially tough call. There was, after all, "extensive scientific evidence" that even tiny levels of exposure to this pesticide "can harm babies' brains."

And then Donald Trump took office.

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Trump campaign hush money scam appears to have worked

Trump campaign hush money scam appears to have worked

07/18/19 09:23PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the revelations of unsealed documents in the Michael Cohen case showing that the plan to insulate Donald Trump from payments made to silence women claiming to have had affairs with him so they wouldn't hurt his election chances appears to have worked out for everyone involved except Michael Cohen even though he was... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.18.19

07/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The final vote on this was 231 to 199: "House Democrats approved legislation Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, to $15 an hour, but the bill has almost no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate."

* SDNY: "The FBI believed then-candidate Donald Trump was closely involved in a scheme to hide hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, court documents from the closed campaign finance case against former Trump-fixer Michael Cohen show."

* Flight risk: "A New York federal judge on Thursday ordered Jeffrey Epstein held without bail, siding with prosecutors who argued the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker posed a flight risk."

* It's a shame that when Trump makes an announcement like this, there's a temptation to wait for some kind of official confirmation: "President Donald Trump on Thursday said that a U.S. Navy ship 'destroyed' an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz -- the latest in a series of tense incidents between the U.S. and Tehran."

* In related news: "The United States is sending hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia in what is intended as the latest show of force toward Iran, two Defense Department officials said Wednesday."

* DHS: "Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told members of Congress on Thursday that migrant children are only separated from their parents at the border under rare circumstances."

* Contempt: "The House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for obstructing a probe into the administration's failed bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Despite reality, Trump suggests he tried to stop 'send her back' chant

07/18/19 02:23PM

It was as chilling a moment as any in recent American political history. Just days after Donald Trump called on four Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back" to a foreign country, the president hosted a campaign rally in North Carolina where he lied about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Trump's followers responded by chanting, "Send her back," in reference to the lawmaker.

This afternoon, the president tried to put some distance between himself and his supporters' rhetoric.

President Donald Trump on Thursday attempted to distance himself from a boisterous "send her back" chant aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that occurred at his campaign rally Wednesday night.

"I was not happy with it -- I disagree with it," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding, "I didn't say that, they did."

As a literal matter, that last part is true. The president himself never used the words, "Send her back." He just paused to allow his supporters to make the chant themselves.

Asked why he didn't ask the crowd to stop, Trump told reporters today, "I think I did. I started speaking very quickly."

That's not what happened. After already having called for the congresswomen to "go back" to a foreign country, Trump proceeded to peddle false and inflammatory comments about Omar. When the audience broke into its chilling chant, Trump briefly nodded his head, stepped back from the microphone, and remained silent for nearly 14 seconds.

If, as he claimed today, the president "disagreed" with what he heard, he had plenty of time to say so. Trump did the opposite, allowing the chant to go on, basking in his followers' anger -- which the president was responsible for stoking in the first place.

The Republican then proceeded to attack the Minnesota congresswoman some more.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Lindsey Graham suggests Trump cares about praise, not race

07/18/19 12:55PM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), well positioned as one of Donald Trump's most notable cheerleaders in the Senate, was asked about the president's latest attacks against four congresswomen of color. The Republican senator, up for re-election next year in a ruby-red state, made the case that Trump is only attacking "the squad" because they criticized him and the administration's agenda.

"I don't think a Somali refugee embracing Trump, would not have been asked to go back. If you're racist, you want everybody from Somalia to go back because they are black or they're Muslim. That's not what this is about to me. What this is about to me is that these four congresswomen, in their own way, have been incredibly provocative. [...]

"If you think he's as racist, that's up to you. I don't.... If you embrace his policies, it doesn't matter where you come from. He probably likes you."

By this reasoning, Graham sees Trump as a narcissist, not a racist.

This is, of course, a rather dramatic departure from the South Carolinian's 2015 assessment of the future president: Graham described Trump four years ago as "a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot" who should be told to "go to hell."

But even if we put that aside, the broader question is whether Graham's latest defense for his Oval Office ally is accurate. In a way, I wish it were. It would be preferable to believe Trump isn't a bigot and that he simply lashes out irresponsibly at anyone who dares to hurt his feelings, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. By this reasoning, recent events are largely coincidental: the president is attacking four women of color because they're liberal critics, not because they're women of color.

The problem, of course, is that Graham's defense is literally unbelievable.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.18.19

07/18/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) argued yesterday that she intends to pursue a Medicare-for-All plan if elected president, but she won't support a "middle-class tax hike" to pay for it. Her financing model isn't yet clear.

* In February, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he'd "ruled out" the possibility of running for Kansas' open U.S. Senate seat next year. Yesterday, however, in response to a question about his possible campaign plans, Pompeo said he "leaves open the possibility" of a new professional path.

* We're still about two weeks out from the next round of Democratic presidential primary debates, but yesterday, CNN announced the 20 candidates who'll participate. The list is similar to the line-up from the first debates, except Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) is out and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is in.

* Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was scheduled to speak at the Palm Beach County Republican Party's annual fundraising event, but after he offered some mild criticisms of Donald Trump's recent racist tweets, the GOP disinvited him.

* On a related note, Arizona Republican Chairwoman Kelli Ward realizes that appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) occasionally disagrees with Trump, but Ward wants McSally to "just be quiet" about it.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate race, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill complained this week that Americans' interest in "homosexual activities" has contributed to what he sees as the country's moral decline. The GOP official was apparently bothered by, among other things, coverage of the U.S. Women's National Team's World Cup victory.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

Embattled GOP rep receives cease-and-desist letter from the Marines

07/18/19 11:20AM

When we last checked in with Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), things weren't going especially well for the GOP congressman. Hunter has been indicted for allegedly stealing campaign funds and clumsily trying to cover it up. As part of the case, prosecutors also alleged he illegally used contributions to help finance his extramarital affairs, including some with lobbyists.

The fact that the California Republican's wife has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors didn't help matters.

Two weeks ago, Hunter and his lawyer asked a federal judge to either relocate or dismiss the charges because prosecutors attended a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. A judge balked after "it was revealed that Hunter's lead attorney had attended the same Democratic fundraiser he said biased prosecutors."

The same judge ruled that evidence of the congressman's adulterous relationships can be used against him in his criminal trial.

It was against this backdrop that Hunter decided last week to try to save himself -- by sending out bigoted campaign mailings.

Indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter is sending Islamophobic mail pieces to voters in his Southern California district, attacking his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, for his deceased grandfather alleged ties to a 1972 terrorist attack.

The mailers show a photo of one of the terrorists involved in an attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics wearing a ski mask on one side, and photos of Campa-Najjar and Muslim Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, on the other. Campa-Najjar is Christian.

Hunter pushed a very similar smear last fall. CNN's Andrew Kaczynski noted at the time that the California Republican was "running one of the most openly anti-Muslim campaigns we've ever seen, with shameful smears of his opponent.... It's an anti-Muslim campaign against a person who isn't even Muslim."

Yesterday, in case Hunter weren't in enough trouble, he received a cease-and-desist letter from the Marines.

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A registered nurse demonstrates putting on personal protective equipment (PPE) during an Ebola educational session for healthcare workers in New York in 2014. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

As Ebola threat becomes more serious, how prepared is Team Trump?

07/18/19 10:41AM

The World Health Organization does not declare global health emergencies often. But in light of the conditions in central Africa, that's exactly what the WHO did yesterday.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency, citing the virus's recent spread into Goma, one of the country's most densely populated cities.

Two million people reside in Goma, which sits just south of the epicenter of the outbreak, near the border with Rwanda.

In recent years, there have been related outbreak threats, including one around this time a year ago, but they did not prompt the WHO to make an emergency declaration.

Obviously, the hope is that international public-health officials will be able to respond to the Ebola outbreak effectively, though if conditions become even more serious, it's going to be difficult to have confidence in the Trump administration.

In May 2018, for example, the Washington Post reported that Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic, abruptly left his post.

The article added that there was no senior administration official "focused solely on global health security." What's more, the Post noted that Ziemer's team had been broken up, and thanks to John Bolton's reorganization plan, the admiral would not be replaced on the White House National Security Council.

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump's own record on the matter.

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A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump takes gaslighting on health care in a weird direction

07/18/19 10:03AM

A few months ago, then-White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders not only defended Donald Trump's health-care agenda, she insisted that the president has been "a hard-core advocate on protecting pre-existing conditions."

As transparent lies go, this was brazen, even by 2019 standards. After all. Trump is currently in the process of trying to get the federal courts to tear down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act -- including the protections in "Obamacare" for Americans with pre-existing conditions. The White House's line was the exact opposite of the truth.

And yet, at his campaign rally in North Carolina last night, the president managed to take the gaslighting campaign in an even weirder direction.

"Patients with pre-existing conditions are protected by Republicans much more so than protected by Democrats, who will never be able to pull it off."

Look, I realize Trump doesn't know or care about health-care policy. Or his own administration's agenda. Or current events. Or telling the truth. Or reality.

But Democrats already "pulled it off." Americans with pre-existing conditions have protections right now. We know this to be true because the Affordable Care Act -- the law the president is so desperate to destroy -- currently exists.

The idea that these same Americans will enjoy "more" protections under a Republican alternative to the ACA certainly sounds great, but Trump and his GOP brethren had two years to present their ideas on the subject, and each of their plans left people with pre-existing conditions worse off -- in some cases, vastly so.

There's everyday nonsense, and then there's head-spinning gaslighting. This clearly falls into the latter category.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

What the impeachment vote in the House means (and what it doesn't)

07/18/19 09:20AM

A couple of hours before Donald Trump's rally in North Carolina, the House held a procedural vote on presidential impeachment. Not surprisingly, it didn't go proponents' way.

The House voted on Wednesday to table a resolution from Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, to impeach President Donald Trump over racist comments he made about four Democratic congresswomen of color, effectively killing the measure.

The vote -- 332 to 95, with one lawmaker voting "present" -- marked the first time the Democratic-controlled chamber had weighed in on impeachment, an issue that has created a widening schism within the party. Progressive newcomers and several 2020 candidates have pushed for impeachment proceedings, but the House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has been resistant.

If you look at the roll call, you'll see 332 "yes" votes, but those were votes to table the measure, not the number of members who supported impeachment.

The president seemed eager to gloat about the results last night, pointing to the House vote as evidence of the impeachment effort's failure. Trump added on Twitter that the impeachment measure "is perhaps the most ridiculous and time consuming project I have ever had to work on." I have no idea what he's referring to -- and there's nothing to suggest he did any work on this at all.

Upon arriving in Greenville, he went on to say, in reference to the impeachment threat, "That's the end of it."

But it's really not, and the president shouldn't be too pleased about yesterday's developments, which were far less significant than he let on. Yes, this was an impeachment vote, but it wasn't the impeachment vote.

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Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana

'Send her back': Trump manages to take American politics to a new low

07/18/19 08:40AM

Shortly before Donald Trump left for a campaign rally in North Carolina, the president stopped for a brief Q&A with reporters, some of whom asked about his recent attacks on young congresswomen of color, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The Republican quickly set the tone for the rest of the day.

"Well, there is a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother," Trump said. "I know nothing about it. I hear she was married to her brother." (The Minnesota Democrat is on record calling these rumors "disgusting lies.")

A few hours later, the president took the stage in Greenville, where he continued his offensive against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Omar, Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), accusing them and their party of supporting "the destruction of our country."

The event devolved from there.

"Omar laughed that Americans speak of al Qaeda in a menacing tone," he said. "You don't say America with this intensity. You say al Qaeda makes you proud. Al Qaeda makes you proud. You don't speak that way about America," he added, referring to her remarks in a 2013 interview.

The crowd broke into a chant of "Send her back!"

Yes, this is American politics in 2019: a president eager to maximize division for his own purposes, lies about an elected congresswoman, and then basks in the adulation of rabid followers who chant in unison about deporting the American lawmaker.

I imagine that Trump's allies will argue today that the president did not personally say, "Send her back." That's true, though it doesn't make the display in North Carolina any less sickening: Trump peddled unsubtle lies, exploiting racism and fomenting hate, leading his base to his desired destination.

The president even paused to appreciate the chant, interrupting his remarks with silence, not to dissuade his followers, but to enjoy them.

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