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Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, and press secretary Hope Hicks watch during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Why did Kellyanne Conway ask a reporter, 'What's your ethnicity?'

07/17/19 08:40AM

Kellyanne Conway's exact responsibilities in the White House have never been altogether clear to me, though she's generally referred to as the White House "counselor" -- as in, someone who counsels the president on matters of importance.

In practice, however, we tend to see Conway -- a Republican pollster who served as Donald Trump's third campaign manager from the 2016 cycle -- as a spokesperson for the president, making frequent media appearances defending Trump and putting a positive spin on his many scandals and controversies.

And as a rule, I try to be sympathetic. Defending the indefensible isn't easy, and I imagine there are some days Conway shows up at the White House wondering how in the world she'll push back against the latest criticisms of her boss' ridiculous antics.

With this in mind, Conway's job yesterday was to help present a defense after Trump used racist language against four congresswomen of color, which for some reason, led her to ask a reporter about his ethnic heritage at a White House Q&A.

Andrew Feinberg, a White House reporter for Breakfast Media, a website about politics and technology, asked Conway, "If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?"

Conway paused and then asked him, "What's your ethnicity?"

"Why is that relevant?" Feinberg replied.

That was an appropriate response, and Feinberg soon after added, "My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I'm asking."

The fact that Feinberg is Jewish raised additional questions about the propriety of Conway asking about his heritage for no apparent reason.

The exchange seemed a bit intense, and Conway quickly shifted gears, returning to the White House's larger strategy of questioning the patriotism of the congresswomen of color Trump targeted.

Left unanswered, however, was why in the world Conway asked about a reporter's ethnicity in the first place.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Why the House was so divided on a measure condemning Trump's racism

07/17/19 08:00AM

There was plenty of drama on the House floor yesterday afternoon, but in the end, there was a straightforward outcome: lawmakers formally condemned Donald Trump's recent racist outburst.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tuesday night condemning President Donald Trump for his "racist comments" about four Democratic congresswomen of color.

The resolution passed largely along party lines -- 235 Democrats joined by only four Republican supported the measure -- following hours of back-and-forth and gamesmanship between Republicans and Democrats, which included a GOP objection to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remarks about Trump and whether she would be allowed to keep speaking on the floor.

The roll call is online here. Note that Democrats were completely united on the symbolic resolution and they were joined by four Republicans: Indiana's Susan Brooks, Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick, Texas' Will Hurd, and Michigan's Fred Upton. The House's sole independent, Michigan's Justin Amash -- a Republican up until two weeks ago -- also supported the measure. (Six Republicans did not vote.)

The procedural drama was over comments House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made on the floor, condemning the president's racist comments, which drew an objection from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who pointed to rules limiting the kind of insults members could make against a president.

I'll spare you the procedural details, but for the GOP minority, this pointless debate over an arcane rule quickly became the most significant aspect of the day's floor developments. For hours, Republicans insisted what really mattered was Nancy Pelosi's criticisms of Donald Trump's racism -- not Trump's racism itself.

All of which reinforced the ridiculousness of the circumstances and the need for the contemporary Republican Party to reevaluate what's important.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.16.19

07/16/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Capitol Hill: "A vote to rap President Donald Trump for his tweets about four Democratic House members was trapped in partisan gridlock Tuesday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the 'president's racist tweets.'"

* In related news: "Two days after President Donald Trump attacked four Democratic congresswomen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that 'the tone of all of this is not good for the country,' but declined to call the president's remarks racist."

* Attorney General William Barr reportedly made the final decision on this: "A New York City police officer will not face federal charges in the death of Eric Garner, the unarmed black man heard in a video repeatedly saying 'I can't breathe' after he was put in an apparent chokehold, according to a person familiar with the case."

* Roger Stone: "A judge admonished Roger Stone on Tuesday for violating a gag order before imposing a court-mandated social media blackout on the political trickster and longtime friend of President Donald Trump.... 'What am I supposed to do with you?' she asked rhetorically."

* Challenging Trump's new asylum policy: "A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Trump administration in a federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday in an attempt to halt the implementation of a new policy disqualifying most asylum seekers who pass through Mexico before reaching the United States."

* Reparations bill: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he supports legislation that would create a commission to study reparations for the descendants of enslaved black people in the United States."

* Um, what? "Police in Italy recovered Nazi paraphernalia, guns, and a missile during a Monday operation that was part of a year-long investigation into 'Italian fighters with extreme ideologies.'"

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Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Trump admin begins implementing domestic gag rule

07/16/19 12:40PM

In the spring, the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a new policy designed to silence taxpayer-funded family planning clinics, preventing them from letting patients know about their abortion rights. Now, as the Associated Press reported, Team Trump has begun implementing the policy.

Taxpayer-funded family planning clinics must stop referring women for abortions immediately, the Trump administration said Monday, declaring it will begin enforcing a new regulation hailed by religious conservatives and denounced by medical organizations and women's rights groups.

The head of a national umbrella group representing the clinics said the administration is following "an ideological agenda" that could disrupt basic health care for many low-income women.

Ahead of a planned conference Tuesday with the clinics, the Health and Human Services Department formally notified them that it will begin enforcing the ban on abortion referrals.

As I always do when writing about this, I want to emphasize, in the interest of disclosure, that my wife works for Planned Parenthood. And while the White House is making changes to the family-planning program known as Title X, and those changes will affect a variety of health care organizations that provide services to millions of women, it’s not exactly a secret that today’s policy is intended to target Planned Parenthood.

What’s especially notable in this case is how Trump is going after the women’s health organization. As we discussed several months ago, the issue is not about funding for abortion services, since there are already legal prohibitions on using taxpayer money to terminate pregnancies.

Rather, the administration’s new gambit is about blocking funds for those who might mention the word “abortion.” It’s why Trump’s policy is often described as the “domestic gag rule.”

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.16.19

07/16/19 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, the latest poll from Saint Anselm College found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democratic 2020 pack with 21%, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 18%. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a competitive third with 17%, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) with 12%. In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is fifth in this poll, with 10%, despite easily winning the New Hampshire primary in 2016.

* We've now seen second-quarter fundraising tallies for all of the 2020 presidential candidates, and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) $3.6 million haul is among the most notable. The Texas Democrat's total is a sharp drop-off from the $9.3 million he raised in the first quarter, and this will do little to quiet concerns about the direction of O'Rourke's campaign.

* Speaking of fundraising, Alabama's Roy Moore (R) may have caused a stir when he launched his latest U.S. Senate campaign, but donors appear to be ignoring him: the right-wing Republican's latest FEC filing shows he raised less than $17,000 in the last quarter.

* Among the policy proposals unveiled yesterday by 2020 presidential hopefuls are Kamala Harris' plan to boost domestic workers like housekeepers and nannies who are excluded from federal labor laws, and Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) blueprint for improving long-term health care.

* In a dynamic we may be seeing more of next year, Rep. Jim Costa (D) is going to face a primary challenge from Fresno City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria (D) in California's 16th congressional district.

* On a related note, if Rep Seth Moulton (D) falls short in his presidential campaign and runs for re-election instead, he'll face a primary challenge from Salem State University Trustee Jamie Zahlaway Belsito (D).

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Under fire, White House suggests Trump hates dissent, not women of color

07/16/19 11:00AM

It's been about two days since Donald Trump turned to Twitter to attack four congresswomen of color, and as the White House's response takes shape, it's best not to lose sight of what the president actually said.

Targeting four American lawmakers, three of whom were born in the United States, Trump said the women "originally came from" awful and corrupt countries. The Republican added that these Democrats should "go back" to the "totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

It's obvious the message was racist. Indeed, racists have been using nearly identical phrasing for generations. The challenge for the White House was defending the indefensible and urging the public not to believe their lying eyes.

The official line, evidently, was that Trump wasn't being racist; he was simply being authoritarian. The whole mess, the argument goes, is just a big misunderstanding, perpetuated by confused people who are too quick to pick on the poor president.

Consider this message Stephanie Grisham, the new White House press secretary, published last night.

"So typical to watch the mainstream media and Dems attack [Trump] for speaking directly to the American people. His message is simple: the U.S.A. is the greatest nation on Earth, but if people aren't happy here they don't have to stay."

Grisham's message followed Trump's insistence yesterday, "As far as I'm concerned, if you hate our country, if you're not happy here, you can leave. And that's what I say all the time. That's what I said in a tweet, which I guess some people think is controversial."

The nerve of "some people."

The president didn't just stumble into this defense. Politico reports that Trump had prepared notes and one of the bullet points told him to say, "My point was if you are not happy here, you can leave."

He added this morning, "Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body!"

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Trump's latest racist controversy sparks international criticism

07/16/19 10:07AM

Democrats were unrestrained in their criticisms of Donald Trump's latest racist message, but as the Washington Post noted, their concerns were echoed abroad.

Lawmakers and commentators abroad expressed shock and disgust on Monday after President Trump targeted Democratic minority congresswomen in tweets over the weekend and told them to "go back" to their countries. [...]

While Republicans largely avoided commenting on the president's statements, lawmakers around the world did not.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the American president's racist language as "completely unacceptable." The two conservatives vying to replace her -- Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson -- both made similar criticisms.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters yesterday, "That is not how we do things in Canada. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and the diversity of our country is actually one of our greatest strengths and a source of tremendous resilience and pride for Canadians. We will continue to defend that."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern added, "Usually I don't get into other people's politics, but it will be clear to most people that I completely and utterly disagree with him."

These reactions from U.S. allies stood out for me, not just because it reinforces concerns about Trump being an embarrassment of global proportions, and not just because it belies his ridiculous boasts about the respect he enjoys on the international stage, but also because it helps capture the significance of the moment.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to an airplane passing overhead at a town hall-style campaign event at the former Osram Sylvania light bulb factory, June 30, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Urged to 'aim higher,' Trump struggles with the metaphor

07/16/19 09:20AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered a bit of a mixed message yesterday. Asked about Donald Trump's racist comments about four Democratic congresswomen, the Republican senator piled on, calling the president's targets anti-American communists.

But in the same Fox News interview, Graham also offered his friend in the Oval Office some more responsible advice. "Aim higher," the South Carolinian said. "They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies."

A reporter asked Trump yesterday about Graham's recommendation. The president said he "disagrees" with the GOP senator and tried to explain why.

"These are congresswomen. What am I supposed to do? Just wait for senators? No. These are four -- so I disagree with Lindsey on that. That was the only thing.

"He said, 'Aim higher. Shoot higher.' What am I going to do? Wait until we get somebody else in a higher position? A higher office? These are people that hate our country."

In other words, when Graham urged the president to "aim higher," Trump literally didn't understand the advice. By his own admission, Trump thought the recommendation to strive for a more mature rhetorical tone was actually advice about targeting higher-ranking critics.

This rather basic metaphor was lost on the president -- and it wasn't the first time he's struggled with a simple figure of speech.

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