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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.17.19

10/17/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A giant exits the stage: "Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, the sharecroppers' son who fought for racial justice in his beloved Baltimore and in recent years took on the Trump administration, died Thursday. He was 68."

* I'll have more on this in the morning: "Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the United States reached a cease-fire agreement with Turkey to suspend its military operation in Syria to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone."

* Will Parliament approve? "The United Kingdom and the European Union announced Thursday they had agreed to a new Brexit divorce deal, a potentially key breakthrough ahead of the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the bloc."

* Oh, Rudy: "In the spring of 2017, former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey met with representatives of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization until 2012. Mukasey wasn't alone. Joining him at the meeting was another high-profile American political figure: Rudy Giuliani."

* Keep an eye on the Halkbank story: "After repeated appeals to President Trump by Turkey's president to avoid charges against a state-owned Turkish bank, Attorney General William P. Barr oversaw an effort earlier this year to negotiate a settlement with the bank, two people with knowledge of the matter said."

* A Trump target: "U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan plans to retire in January, officials said Wednesday, following months of complaints from President Trump that the Postal Service was losing too much money and should be charging retail giant Amazon more for package delivery."

* Not great: "American shoppers pulled back on spending in September, signaling a key support for the U.S. economy this year could be softening amid a broader global economic slowdown."

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White House's Mulvaney admits there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine

10/17/19 03:53PM

For weeks, Donald Trump's White House and its allies have downplayed the Ukraine scandal by insisting there was no quid pro quo. Yes, the Trump administration held up military aid for a vulnerable ally, and yes, the Republican president pressed Ukraine to pursue partisan conspiracy theories, but Trump didn't necessarily draw a connection between the two.

That argument has always been ridiculous. As of this afternoon, it's also been rejected -- by the Trump White House.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has a message for those concerned that President Donald Trump held up military aid to Ukraine until they moved to investigate a conspiracy involving the 2016 U.S. election -- "Get over it."

In speaking with reporters Thursday at the White House, Mulvaney acknowledged Trump held up Ukraine aid partly for political reasons. "Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy," he added.

By Mulvaney's telling, Trump specifically wanted Ukraine to explore questions "related to the DNC server" -- a line of inquiry most fair-minded observers recognize as a crackpot conspiracy theory -- as part of a White House quid pro quo. That, of course, is a quid pro quo that Republicans just spent weeks denying the existence of.

When a reporter explained to the acting White House chief of staff that he'd "just described a quid pro quo," Mulvaney replied, "We do that all the time with foreign policy."

It was moments later when the South Carolina Republican added, "I have news for everybody. Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), "Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse."

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White House picks Trump's struggling Florida business for G7 gathering

10/17/19 02:15PM

In late August, Donald Trump made an announcement that seemed brazen, even by his standards: the president liked the idea of having the next G7 summit at one of his own businesses. Specifically, Trump talked up the possibility of hosting the event at his Doral, Florida, golf resort, not far from Miami International Airport.

As the Washington Post reported at the time, "If Trump does choose Doral, he would be directing six world leaders, hundreds of hangers-on and massive amounts of money to a resort he owns personally -- and which, according to his company's representatives, has been 'severely underperforming.'"

Take a wild guess what happened next.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday that next year's Group of Seven summit meeting of world leaders will be held at President Donald Trump's Miami-area resort. [...]

"This is the perfect physical location to do this," Mulvaney told reporters Thursday, adding that the White House advance team visited multiple potential locations and reported back that it was "almost like they built [Doral] to host this type of event."

Just so we're all clear, world leaders who wish to participate in the G7 gathering will now have no choice but to spend considerable funds at the American president's own struggling business. It's a recipe for an Emoluments Clause nightmare.

This is, of course, the same American president who claims to be deeply concerned about "corruption," even as his own White House awards a lucrative contract to one of his failing enterprises.

Indeed, the resort has been in "sharp decline" for a while: "At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort's net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69 percent."

The venue has especially struggled in the summer months, when it's "usually empty."

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Trump does no favors for his own delegation in Turkey

10/17/19 12:42PM

As expected, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are leading a U.S. delegation to Turkey, where American officials hope to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to implement a cease-fire in Syria. It is, by any fair measure, a White House attempt to clean up Donald Trump's mess: the Republican's decision to remove troops from northern Syria unleashed no small amount of hell in the region.

Whether the American president appreciates this or not, the administration isn't speaking with one voice. NBC News' report on the talks touched on an underappreciated point.

...Pence's meeting with Erdogan comes hours after Trump dismissed Turkey's invasion and said the fight was over land that "has nothing to do with us."

"If Turkey goes into Syria, that's between Turkey and Syria," he said to reporters in the Oval Office. "It's not between Turkey and the United States."

The point Trump went to great lengths to drive home yesterday was that he does not care about the violence or its effects. Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, the American president dismissed our Kurdish allies, insisting they're "no angels," and suggesting at least some Kurds are dangerous terrorists. Trump added, in apparent reference to Turkish and Kurdish forces, "There's a lot of sand that they can play with."

The Republican added on Twitter this week, "The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years.... Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them!"

So much for the White House's commitment to a cease-fire.

The result is a contradiction for which there is no obvious resolution: the American vice president is in Ankara, eager to make clear that the United States cares, but his message is at odds with the American president's explicit indifference.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.17.19

10/17/19 12:00PM

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

* Following a well-received debate performance, Sen. Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign reportedly raised $1.1 million in less than a day, which was her best day for online fundraising since her campaign launch. The Minnesota Democrat will, however, still need increased poll support in order to qualify for next month's primary debate.

* Barack Obama occasionally weighs in on international campaigns, and yesterday, the former Democratic president threw his support behind Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

* The Club for Growth, a far-right advocacy group, is launching a new attack ad targeting Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), accusing him of being a "Democrat secret asset" who is "plotting to take down President Trump with impeachment." The commercial will reportedly run online and on Fox News in Utah.

* In Kansas, state Sen. Barbara Bollier recently made headlines by leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat, and yesterday she made headlines again: Bollier launched a U.S. Senate campaign, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R). She'll have a few primary rivals, including former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, who entered the race earlier this year.

* Among the notable tidbits in the latest campaign finance filings: Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, and a largely unknown presidential candidate, raised just $5 in the third quarter of the year. No, that's not a typo.

* Speaking of presidential hopefuls facing long odds, South Carolina's Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor, held a press conference in Philadelphia as part of his 2020 kickoff. Only four people were there: the candidate, two of his aides, and one reporter.

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Latest impeachment polling paints a bleak picture for Trump

10/17/19 11:20AM

About a week ago, Donald Trump published a tweet that claimed, "Only 25 percent want the President Impeached, which is pretty low considering the volume of Fake News coverage, but pretty high considering the fact that I did NOTHING wrong."

Each of the claims in the tweet was absurd, but it was the specific polling statistic that stood out: the president wants the public to know that impeachment currently polls at only 25%. If that were true, it'd create a difficult political dynamic on Capitol Hill.

Except, it's not at all true. Trump has a curious habit of simply making up numbers in his mind, pretending they're real, and asking everyone to play along, but in this case, public support for impeachment is roughly double what the Republican said it was.

Consider the latest Gallup poll, for example.

Public opinion on whether Trump should be impeached remains mixed, but Americans now lean slightly more in favor of impeachment and removal from office compared with where they stood in June.

Currently, 52% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% say he should not be. This is roughly the opposite of what Gallup found in June when asked in the context of special counselor Robert Mueller's investigation.

The same results found that 55% of self-identified independents support impeaching the president and removing him from office, while 89% of Democrats agree. (Only 6% of Republican voters feel the same way.)

And while these results are interesting in their own right, one of the things that make the figures especially notable is the pollster that released them: Gallup is one of the nation's oldest pollsters, which makes it possible to do some helpful historical comparisons.

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Image: Lindsey Graham; Donald Trump

Trump reminds Lindsey Graham, 'I am the boss'

10/17/19 10:40AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) probably assumed that if he showed sycophantic loyalty toward Donald Trump, he'd be rewarded for his servility. The South Carolina Republican almost certainly knew that his toadying posture would make him the target of ridicule, especially given the severity of his pre-election condemnations of Trump, but Graham was willing to pay the price because he expected to have the kind of access and influence others lacked.

For his trouble, the GOP senator has very little to show for his efforts. When Trump settled on a disastrous new policy in northern Syria, not only was Graham's advice ignored, but the White House didn't even bother to give him a heads-up on the president's decision.

Graham, not surprisingly, is furious. Trump, as the Associated Press reported, is indifferent to the South Carolinian's dissatisfaction.

The golf-and-politics alliance between President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham frayed Wednesday over Syria, with the South Carolina Republican threatening to become the White House's "worst nightmare" unless more is done to protect Kurdish fighters against Turkish attacks.

Trump, in turn, suggested Graham focus on his job leading the Senate Judiciary Committee and reminded him who's in a position to threaten whom.

"I am the boss," Trump said.

Exactly. What Graham may not have fully appreciated is the fact that the president effectively sees him as an employee. The senator, in Trump's eyes, is the help, and the president expects Graham to follow the boss' lead.

The relationship is based on loyalty, but as Trump has demonstrated on multiple occasions, he sees loyalty as a one-way street: it's something he expects to receive, not bestow.

The question now is what the Senate Republican is prepared to do about it.

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House delivers the most bipartisan rebuke of Trump's presidency

10/17/19 10:07AM

Donald Trump has long seen support from his Republican allies in Congress as a pillar of his entire presidency. So long as the GOP is united, and so long as Republican lawmakers are willing to stand behind him, Trump believes his position is strong.

And for the last 1,000 days, the president has had reason to be pleased with his party's fealty. There have been some exceptions, but they've largely been limited to a modest number of senators.

Yesterday, however, was something altogether new.

The House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn President Donald Trump's withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria.

Despite stark divisions over Democrats' Trump impeachment inquiry, Democrats and Republicans banded together and approved a nonbinding resolution by 354-60 vote.

The resolution states Congress' opposition to the troop pullback and says Turkey should cease its military action in Syria. And the measure says the White House should present a plan for an "enduring defeat" of the Islamic State group.

In all, 192 House Republicans voted on the resolution, and 129 of them sided with Democrats against the White House's position. The president has convinced himself that his policy in Syria was "strategically brilliant," but it appears even GOP lawmakers know better.

Trump has seen votes go against him on Capitol Hill, but he's never seen such a lopsided defeat in the House.

There were no hysterical presidential tweets on the vote -- at least not yet -- but there's reason to believe yesterday's outcome on the House floor contributed to Trump's meltdown during a meeting with congressional leaders.

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