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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pauses as he speaks about the Iran nuclear agreement at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C. Sept. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Poll answers the 'What happened to Lindsey Graham?' question

03/21/19 10:13AM

It wasn't long after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was elected to the Senate in 2002 that he positioned himself as one of the chamber's more constructive lawmakers. It's not that Graham was a moderate on the major issues of the day -- he's always been a rather staunch conservative -- but he demonstrated a willingness to forge relationships and work on bipartisan agreements.

The South Carolinian also occasionally expressed concern about the future of his Republican Party, warning that too much radicalism and too little interest in broadening the GOP's appeal would lead to electoral setbacks. Even here, the senator's concerns seemed rooted in pragmatism.

That version of Lindsey Graham is gone. The senator who condemned Donald Trump's rise now carries the president's water. The lawmaker who believed in partnering with Democrats now prefers bitter partisanship to cooperation. Graham's eagerness to pass bills has been replaced with a desire to impress his party's far-right base.

There's no shortage of speculation as to what caused Graham's metamorphosis, and as we recently discussed, there are even occasional conspiracy theories about Trump having something damaging on the senator, which the president uses to extort Graham into compliance.

The truth is simpler.

Regarding U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, his approval rating among Republicans has continued to rise, it now stands at 74% in the Winthrop Poll. Only 25% of Democrats polled support Graham.

"Graham's approval has benefited from his defense of, and alignment with, President Trump. While Graham's numbers used to lag those of other Republicans among GOP identifiers, since he has taken up the President's banner on most every issue, his approval among Republicans in South Carolina has steadily risen," [Dr. Scott Huffmon, Winthrop poll director] said.

A year ago, Graham's approval among South Carolina Republicans was 51%, and there was a very real chance the senator would face a primary rival ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.

Today, his approval among South Carolina Republicans is 74% -- and the chatter about a primary challenge has disappeared.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Trump's line on the Mueller report takes a confusing turn

03/21/19 09:20AM

About a month ago, asked about a possible report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Donald Trump said he was eager to read the findings. "I look forward to seeing the report," the president told reporters.

Last week, however, the Republican dramatically switched gears. During a rather manic Twitter tantrum, Trump not only called Mueller's investigation "illegal," the president said there never should have been a special counsel, and as such, "there should be no Mueller Report."

Yesterday, during a brief Q&A, Trump flipped back to his original position, telling reporters, "I look forward to seeing the report." And while the reversal was notable on its own right, part of what made this interesting was the rhetorical journey the president took before arriving at this point.

Q: Do you know when the Mueller report will be released, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I have no idea. No collusion. No collusion. I have no idea when it's going to be released. It's interesting that a man gets appointed by a deputy; he writes a report. You know -- never figured that one out. A man gets appointed by a deputy; he writes a report. I had the greatest electoral victory -- one of them -- in the history of our country. Tremendous success. Tens of millions of voters. And now somebody is going to write a report who never got a vote.

Much of this is gibberish. Trump seems to believe that Mueller shouldn't be able to write a report (a) because he was appointed by a deputy attorney general; (b) because of the size of Trump's victory; and (c) because Mueller "never got a vote."

On the first point, I have no idea why that's relevant. On the second, Trump's election victory was smaller than most modern presidents' victories. And on the third point, I have no idea what Trump was trying to say.

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump's acting Pentagon chief faces new ethics probe

03/21/19 08:40AM

When Defense Secretary James Mattis announced his resignation in December, the retired four-star general envisioned a fairly long transition period. As regular readers know, the then-Pentagon chief intended to stay on through the end of February, allowing Donald Trump time to nominate a successor, and the Senate time to evaluate him or her ahead of a confirmation vote.

At least, that was the plan. Eventually, Trump, who didn't read Mattis' page-and-a-half resignation letter, learned from television what the secretary had written -- at which point the president directed another cabinet official to tell Mattis he'd have to leave before the new year began. The smooth transition the White House promised wouldn't exist because Mattis hurt Trump's feelings.

Three months later, the president still hasn't nominated a new Defense secretary. The acting Pentagon chief, Patrick Shanahan is the longest acting Defense secretary in American history.

And while that raises a series of difficult questions about the president's approach to governance, a new and related problem has risen to the fore.

The Pentagon's inspector general has formally opened an investigation into a watchdog group's allegations that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has used his office to promote his former employer, Boeing Co.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint with the Pentagon's inspector general a week ago, alleging that Shanahan has appeared to make statements promoting Boeing and disparaging competitors, such as Lockheed Martin.

Shanahan, who was traveling with President Donald Trump to Ohio on Wednesday, spent more than 30 years at Boeing, leading programs for commercial planes and missile defense systems.

This follows a Politico report from January, which alleged that Shanahan, before becoming acting secretary, used his previous DOD post to boost his former employer and disparage Boeing's competitors in high-level Pentagon meetings.

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U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attends the third day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Aug.. 29, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump's offensive against McCain isn't just ugly, it's also dishonest

03/21/19 08:00AM

In the wake of John McCain's passing, Donald Trump made no real effort to hide his contempt for the late senator, taking cheap and unnecessary shots at the Arizonan for months. This week, however, the presidential campaign against McCain took an even darker turn.

Over the weekend, Trump lashed out at McCain for his grades at the Naval Academy, his opposition to a far-right health care gambit, and his willingness to turn the Steele dossier over to the FBI -- which, incidentally, the president lied about. On Tuesday, Trump kept the offensive going during a White House visit with a foreign leader.

Congressional Republicans have reportedly begged the president to stop. Instead, yesterday, Trump did the opposite.

President Donald Trump hit the late Sen. John McCain with a fresh attack Wednesday, hammering the former prisoner of war as weak on veterans issues -- and griping about the Arizona Republican's funeral -- during a speech at an Army tank plant in Lima, Ohio.

The full transcript of the remarks is online, and even by Trump standards, the speech was bizarre. He whined, for example, that he wasn't thanked for McCain's funeral, which is staggering in its pettiness, and which rested on a wild exaggeration of the president's actual role in the services.

The president also suggested his Veterans Choice Act was proof that McCain "didn't get the job done" for veterans, despite the fact that the law was signed into law before Trump took office -- and was co-sponsored by McCain.

It's one thing for a president to lash out publicly at a dead man who can't defend himself; it's something else for the president to do so while lying.

The larger question, meanwhile, is why in the world Trump is doing this.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.20.19

03/20/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The right call: "A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in the West."

* Brexit: "Top officials of the European Union tossed Prime Minister Theresa May a life line on Wednesday, saying they would allow Britain to push back its departure date from the bloc, but only if Parliament endorsed her withdrawal plan."

* This is not a vote of confidence in the health of the recovery: "Not only did the Federal Reserve decide Wednesday not to raise interest rates, but it also indicated that no more hikes will be coming this year."

* Mueller probe: "Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates -- a central cooperating witness for special counsel Robert Mueller -- has been advised by prosecutors not to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee's broad investigation of President Donald Trump, his lawyer told lawmakers in a recent letter obtained Wednesday by POLITICO. But Gates' lawyer, Thomas Green, left open the possibility of assisting the panel 'in the coming months.'"

* In related news: "Prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's team on Tuesday cited the 'press of other work' in asking a judge to give them until April 1 to respond to the court about a request from The Washington Post to unseal records in Paul Manafort's criminal case."

* Keep an eye on this one: "A confidential government report has provided President Donald Trump with a legal rationale to impose heavy new tariffs on foreign cars as soon as this spring, a prospect fiercely opposed by White House officials and congressional Republicans alarmed by its enormous economic and political stakes."

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

White House concedes Trump's economic promises come with fine print

03/20/19 12:55PM

Kevin Hassett, the White House's chief economist, insisted this week that the economy will grow at or above 3 percent for the next several years -- a highly dubious belief that undergirds Donald Trump's entire budget plan for the near future.

"Some folks have said, 'Oh, sure, we did have 3 percent growth [in 2018], but that was a sugar high,'" Hassett told reporters yesterday. "Our view is that's really not a sugar high at all."

The truth is a little more complicated. For one thing, we didn't quite reach 3 percent growth in 2018, at least if we measure GDP the way it's supposed to be measured.

For another, as the White House quietly conceded yesterday, Team Trump's growth projections come with some important fine print. The Washington Post explained:

President Trump has promised an economic boom that will last for years to come, but he's unlikely to get one without the help of Congress to pass major new legislation, according to estimates by Trump's own economic team.

To achieve about 3 percent growth for the next decade, Trump would need a big infrastructure bill, more tax cuts, additional deregulation, and policies that transition more people off government aid and into full-time jobs, according to the 2019 Economic Report of the President, released Tuesday by Trump's Council of Economic Advisers.

Oh. The original promise was that the Republicans' tax-cut package, approved in late 2017, would fuel economic growth for a long while. A little more than a year later, that promise apparently comes with a catch: the tax breaks will fuel economic growth just so long as policymakers approve a series of other economic measures -- including even more tax cuts.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.20.19

03/20/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly asking several key supporters for their help "lining up contributions from major donors so he can quickly raise several million dollars" after launching his likely 2020 presidential campaign.

* CNN yesterday released the results of new national poll of Democratic voters, which showed Biden leading the 2020 field with 28%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 20%. Two other candidates reached double digits: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 12%, and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) with 11%.

* Though there was some chatter about former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) possibly running for president, the 2018 gubernatorial nominee is actually launching a voter-registration group in his home state of Florida.

* In fundraising news, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took in $11.6 million in February, which made it the best February ever for the DCCC -- including those in election years.

* In a special election that generated some national attention, Eric Giddens (D) prevailed in an Iowa state Senate race yesterday. The seat was previously held a Democrat in a district that leans in a "blue" direction.

* The news for Republicans was better in Minnesota yesterday, where Nathan Nelson (R) won a state House special election, keeping the seat in the GOP's hands.

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

Trump reportedly tries to take control of North Korea negotiations

03/20/19 11:20AM

For reasons that are difficult to understand from a distance, Donald Trump has extraordinary confidence in his presidential abilities. As a candidate, the Republican assured voters, "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."

Two years later, the Washington Post reported that Trump didn't care about the dearth of qualified staff around him, "because he considers himself to be his own diplomat, negotiator and strategist."

In the wake of his failed summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, the American president is apparently taking this posture to new levels. Time magazine reported overnight that Trump has taken "increased control" of negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has meant "sidelining his own top negotiator."

In recent days, Trump shut down an effort by Stephen Biegun, nominally the Administration's lead negotiator with Pyongyang, to reestablish a back channel through the North's United Nations mission in New York, according to four U.S. and South Korean officials.

At the same time, Trump continues to dismiss the conclusions of the CIA, State and Defense Departments and other agencies that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons program, continuing to insist that he and Kim can negotiate a deal, according to two U.S. officials.

An unnamed U.S. official told Time that Trump's "constant refrain" is that the North Korean dictator is his "friend," which as far as the American president is concerned, creates an opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough -- even if he's the only one who sees it.

The article added, "Trump's insistence on serving as his own lead negotiator, concentrating decision making at the White House, has rattled not only U.S. officials outside the White House, but also their counterparts in South Korea and Japan, all the officials said."

That's an understandable concern. The United States' first amateur president, who knows effectively nothing about nuclear weapons programs and/or international diplomacy, has convinced himself that his entire team is simply getting in the way of a deal with North Korea.

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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)

On the electoral college, Trump dramatically changes direction

03/20/19 10:46AM

Around the time of Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, which the incumbent president won with relative ease, one of his high-profile hecklers denounced the system that helped keep the Democrat in office. "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy," Donald Trump declared on Nov. 6, 2012.

At the time, Trump thought that Obama had won a second term based on electoral votes, but would end up losing the popular vote. (Obama actually topped 51% of the popular vote, though that wasn't clear in the immediate aftermath of the election.) It was against this backdrop that Trump published a series of tweets about the need for a "revolution" to prevent the "disgusting injustice" of having an American president who only won thanks to the electoral college.

Trump added at the time that the electoral college is "phoney." (I assume he meant "phony," and was not trying to describing something related to phones.)

Oddly enough, the Republican continued to criticize the electoral college, even after he lost the popular vote in 2016. "I'm not going to change my mind [about the electoral college] just because I won," Trump said the week after his election.

As recently as last spring, he remained consistent on the issue, telling Fox News in April 2018 that he'd prefer a popular-vote system.

But as his own re-election campaign nears, and a variety of Democratic presidential candidates express their opposition to the electoral college -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, endorsed its demise this week -- Trump has apparently abandoned everything he's ever said on the subject. The president argued via Twitter:

"Campaigning for the Popular Vote is much easier & different than campaigning for the Electoral College. It's like training for the 100 yard dash vs. a marathon. The brilliance of the Electoral College is that you must go to many States to win.

"With the Popular Vote, you go to just the large States - the Cities would end up running the Country. Smaller States & the entire Midwest would end up losing all power - & we can't let that happen. I used to like the idea of the Popular Vote, but now realize the Electoral College is far better for the U.S.A."

So much for his "disaster for a democracy" assertion.

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Trump admin loses in court 'because they're not doing their homework'

03/20/19 10:07AM

The Trump administration has an extraordinary track record for failure in federal courts. One longtime career official at the Justice Department told the Washington Post that in his 30 years at the department, he never saw a presidential administration lose so often, so quickly.

The Post had a fascinating report yesterday explaining why Donald Trump's team has struggled so badly.

Federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration at least 63 times over the past two years, an extraordinary record of legal defeat that has stymied large parts of the president's agenda on the environment, immigration and other matters.

In case after case, judges have rebuked Trump officials for failing to follow the most basic rules of governance, including providing legitimate explanations for shifts in policy, supported by facts and, where required, public input. [...]

[T]he rulings so far paint a remarkable portrait of a government rushing to implement sweeping changes in policy without regard for longstanding rules against arbitrary and capricious behavior.

Georgetown Law School's William Buzbee told the newspaper that in regulatory cases, Trump administration officials are "making it very easy for the courts to reject them because they're not doing their homework."

The Post focused particular attention on the relatively obscure Administrative Procedure Act, approved in 1946 to limit the reach of various federal agencies. In recent years, administrations have won APA cases about 70% of the time.

The Trump administration has won about 6% of these cases.

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