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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.4.19

06/04/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Will they follow the directive? "The White House has directed former Trump administration officials Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson not to hand over any documents to the House Judiciary Committee related to their time at the White House, two sources told NBC News on Tuesday."

* Another step backwards: "The Trump administration Tuesday introduced new travel restrictions on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba, prohibiting stops by cruise ships and blocking organized tour groups."

* Judge Trevor McFadden is a Trump appointee: "A federal judge on Monday rejected an attempt by the Democrat-led House to bar President Donald Trump from spending $6.1 billion in unappropriated funds to build a border wall."

* Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is "summoning lawmakers back to the state Capitol to consider a package of gun-control legislation, saying Friday's mass shooting in Virginia Beach calls for 'votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.'"

* The Fed can counteract Trump: "President Trump's escalating trade war could prompt the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates if the economy weakens, with its chairman, Jerome H. Powell, saying Tuesday that the central bank is prepared to act to sustain the economic expansion if needed."

* Flint: "Authorities investigating Flint's water crisis have used search warrants to seize from storage the state-owned mobile devices of former Gov. Rick Snyder and 65 other current or former officials, The Associated Press has learned."

* House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.): "The No. 3 House Democratic leader on Monday walked back comments he made a day earlier on CNN, when he said he believes the chamber will eventually open impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump."

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In the UK, Trump flubs another 'A lot of people don't know that' test

06/04/19 12:45PM

When Donald Trump says, "A lot of people don't know that" -- or its rhetorical cousin, "People don't realize" -- he's generally referring to things many people already know, but which he only recently learned.

As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted last year, "Trump's lessons are often accompanied by raised eyebrows, widened eyes and a 'gee whiz' look that suggests perhaps the nation is witnessing the president's education in real time."

There are, however, occasional exceptions. For example, Trump used the phrasing a couple of years ago to reflect philosophically. "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?" the president said in 2017.

But then there are the instances in which the Republican makes the declaration to make a point that's false, but which he wishes were true. As regular readers may recall, then-candidate Trump insisted three years ago that "nobody knows" that the murder rate is at 45-year high. In reality, nobody knew that because it wasn't true. Trump has also argued that "a lot of people don't know" that U.S. taxes are the highest in the world, which would be fascinating, if his point weren't completely wrong.

This morning, Trump added to his greatest hits collection with remarks to British Prime Minister Theresa May before a business roundtable discussion in London.

"We are your largest partner. You're our largest partner. A lot of people don't know that. I was surprised. I made that statement yesterday, and a lot of people said, 'Gee, I didn't know that.' But that's the way it is.

"And there's an opportunity -- I think a great opportunity -- to greatly enlarge that, especially now, in light of what's happening, to tremendously enlarge it and make it a much bigger trading relationship. So we're going to be working on that today and even a little bit tomorrow and probably into the next couple of weeks. But I think we'll have a very, very substantial trade deal."

Of course, "a lot of people don't know that" that about the trade partnership because it's not true.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.4.19

06/04/19 12:00PM

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

* A new national CNN poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, 32% to 18%. That's a smaller gap than in a CNN poll conducted last month around the time of Biden's kickoff. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is third in the poll with 8%, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 7%.

* On a related note, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) reached 1% in the CNN poll, which means he's now qualified to participate in the first round of Democratic debates. It's worth noting, however, that the DNC has capped the number of participants at 20 -- and Bennet is the 20th. It raises the prospect of candidates qualifying for the events but not making it onto the stage.

* Biden's campaign this morning unveiled the Delaware Democrat's climate and energy plan, and it's a bit more ambitious than expected. The blueprint calls for, among other things, net zero emissions by 2050, which is line with the IPCC's plan.

* Speaking of Biden, the New York Times today takes a closer look at the Delaware Democrat's 1988 presidential campaign, which was a bit of a train wreck.

* Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, unveiled a $2 trillion climate plan today, which includes extensive investments in low-carbon technology and a "Green Marshall Plan" to assist developing nations poised to suffer as the climate crisis intensifies.

* Another presidential hopeful, Julián Castro, yesterday unveiled a plan to overhaul police use of deadly force and reduce wrongful shootings through federal law enforcement standards. As part of the proposal, the former HUD secretary intends to combat "racially discriminatory policing."

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The issues Donald Trump turns to as 'his safety blanket'

06/04/19 11:11AM

According to Donald Trump's plan, the United States will begin imposing a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods early next week. The only way for Mexico to avoid the tax penalty would be to satisfy unspecified White House demands about stemming the flow of immigration.

What's more, according to the president, the tariff would climb incrementally, month by month, reaching a 25% tax on Oct. 1.

As is usually the case, many of those close to Trump told him not to do this. In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner all lobbied the president to choose a more responsible course. True to form, he ignored them.

It's worth appreciating why. The Atlantic reported today on Trump's "preferred method of relief in moments of crisis."

In the days leading up to the tariff announcement, the news cycle was captivated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's first public remarks since he was appointed to his role more than two years ago.... Trump was clearly affected by the fallout. "How do you impeach a Republican President for a crime that was committed by the Democrats? WITCH-HUNT!" the president tweeted on Wednesday. [...]

So while his tariff announcement was in many ways a surprise, it also had a tinge of inevitability. According to current and former aides, who requested anonymity to speak freely, when Trump feels he has lost control of the narrative, he grasps at two issues: border security and trade. Those aides said he sees these topics as reset buttons, ways to rile both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and draw attention away from whatever dumpster fire is blazing in a given week.

A senior campaign adviser told The Atlantic's Elaina Plott, "Whenever a negative story comes around, his instinct is to pivot to immigration or trade. It's kind of like his safety blanket. He knows that Fox and conservative media will immediately coalesce and change what the base is talking about."

The article added, "Aides say that the Mexico tariff decision and its developments to come represent a way for Trump to channel his anxieties and feel in control."

Or put another way, the White House has no policy process. It instead has the whims of an erratic amateur who sees two major issues -- neither of which he understands in any meaningful way -- as a pacifier. Mexico is facing an economic threat, not because our neighbor deserves punishment, but because Robert Mueller, Democrats, and news organizations made the Republican feel bad.

Your government at work.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Who voted for Rand Paul's radical budget plan?

06/04/19 10:14AM

Every year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) rolls out a radical budget plan that no one bothers to take seriously, and every year it falls far short. Yesterday was no exception, and the proceedings on the Senate floor didn't generate a lot of attention.

There was, however, one thing that stood out for me about the vote. Roll Call reported:

The Senate blocked consideration Monday of a bill by Sen. Rand Paul that would require trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the coming decade to bring about a balanced budget.

On a procedural vote of 22-69, the Senate refused to advance a budget plan that the Kentucky Republican said would reverse a trajectory of ever-rising deficits in coming years. [...]

[T]he plan, which is similar to ones he has offered in previous years, triggered bipartisan opposition because of the severity of spending cuts required to reach a balanced budget within five years, as the bill promises. Democrats oppose cuts to many domestic programs, while Republicans want to increase military spending.

As budget plans go, the Kentucky Republican's blueprint is plainly silly. Paul wants to eliminate a massive budget deficit in five years -- for reasons unknown -- without raising any taxes on anyone by any amount. He'd like to reach his goal through ridiculous cuts to practically every aspect of federal operations.

Roll Call's article added that in the next fiscal year alone, the GOP senator's plan "would require $183.1 billion in spending cuts." That kind of austerity would obviously hurt millions of families and severely undermine the domestic economy.

Which, naturally, is why the plan didn't come close to passing.

But looking over the official roll call, it's worth emphasizing just how many Republicans ended up voting for this thing.

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Remember when Republicans were prepared to impeach Hillary Clinton?

06/04/19 09:20AM

On Nov. 8, 2016, Donald Trump unexpectedly won the U.S. presidential election. Just four days earlier, however, the Washington Post published this report on Republican plans to impeach Hillary Clinton, whom they expected to win.

Senior Republican lawmakers are openly discussing the prospect of impeaching Hillary Clinton should she win the presidency, a stark indication that partisan warfare over her tenure as secretary of state will not end on Election Day.

Chairmen of two congressional committees said in media interviews this week they believe Clinton committed impeachable offenses in setting up and using a private email server for official State Department business.

And a third senior Republican, the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, told The Washington Post he is personally convinced Clinton should be impeached for influence peddling involving her family foundation.

The same morning that article ran, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the then-chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News that he believed Hillary Clinton committed "treason" with her email protocols.

Two days before that, Senate House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also suggested Clinton committed impeachable offenses. In reference to the Democrat's email issues, the Wisconsin Republican said on Nov. 1, 2016, "I'm not a lawyer, but this is clearly written. I would say yes, high crime or misdemeanor."

It was around this time that a National Review writer made the case that congressional Republicans should impeach Clinton before the election, while Rudy Giuliani reportedly "guaranteed" to an Iowa audience that Clinton, if elected, would be impeached within a year of taking office.

Less than a week later, Trump won, and the question of whether the Republican Congress would impeach Hillary Clinton or not became a moot point. But as the issue of presidential impeachment returns to the fore, it's worth revisiting the standards GOP lawmakers set in the very recent past.

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Image: Heavy wind is seen along Ocean Drive in South Beach as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami Beach

As House passes disaster-relief bill, Trump gets confused

06/04/19 08:40AM

Congress' disaster-relief package -- traditionally the sort of thing that passed easily -- was needlessly delayed for months. Donald Trump had some specific demands related to border funding and excluding aid for Puerto Rico; Democrats balked; and so the bill languished.

Two weeks ago, however, the clouds parted. As regular readers know, Trump caved, clearing the way for final passage.

A small group of House Republicans managed to delay the bill for another week -- it's not at all clear why they bothered -- but yesterday, the legislative process came to an end.

The House on Monday evening passed the Senate-approved $19 billion disaster aid measure that three conservative Republicans had taken turns blocking in separate votes over the past two weeks.

With the 354-58 vote, the bill will now be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature, which can be delivered via auto-pen while he's on a state visit to the United Kingdom.

The final roll call is online here. Of the 58 members who voted against the relief package, all 58 were Republicans, though most of the GOP minority voted with Democrats.

Just minutes after the House vote, Donald Trump published a tweet that said, "House just passed the 19.1 Billion Dollar Disaster Aid Bill. Great, now we will get it done in the Senate!"

That's not quite right.

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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

Trump discovers that Middle East peace isn't as easy as he thought

06/04/19 08:00AM

Just three months into his presidency, Donald Trump declared with confidence, “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.” As we discussed at the time, there are all kinds of things standing in the way of peace, though the president didn’t appear to recognize them.

He was, however, quite serious about the attitude. A month later, Trump boasted there’s a “very, very good chance” his administration would help strike a deal for Middle East peace. “It’s something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years,” the president added.

As regular readers know, Trump assigned his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to oversee the White House’s efforts to reach an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Trump was certain he'd picked the right person for the job, saying of Kushner, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. OK. All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal in the world to make. And I’ve seen it, but I have a feeling that Jared is going to do a great job.”

Yeah, about that...

Jared Kushner's Middle East peace plan isn't even out yet, but there are already intensifying calls to scrap the rollout -- including from some Trump allies.

Prominent conservative and pro-Israel voices close to the White House are increasingly sharing their fears, which range from the possibility that the peace proposal could trigger violence to worries that its offerings could forever kill efforts to craft a two-state solution.

As the Politico report added, political turmoil and a fresh round of elections in Israel were likely to delay the White House's gambit anyway, but some are nevertheless "going on the record to urge the Trump administration to set aside the plan indefinitely."

Complicating matters, the Washington Post obtained a recording of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking behind closed doors to a group of Jewish leaders last week, when the president's chief diplomat "delivered a sobering assessment" of the plan's prospects. Pompeo said "one might argue" that the blueprint is "unexecutable" and it might not "gain traction."

Making matters slightly worse, the president suggested Pompeo may very well be right.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.3.19

06/03/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's about time: "Congress is finally shipping President Donald Trump a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill, a measure stalled for months by infighting, misjudgment, and a presidential feud with Democrats."

* Not what the White House was hoping for: "The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from the Trump administration to speed up its consideration of the future of DACA, the federal program that has allowed 700,000 young people -- known as Dreamers -- to avoid deportation."

* Newly relevant in light of Friday afternoon's mass shooting: "A Virginia bill designed to ban sales of large-capacity magazines similar to those used by the Virginia Beach gunman died in committee in January on a party-line vote."

* Hmm: "China and Mexico both signaled a willingness to negotiate with Washington over escalating trade issues, while the Trump administration took to the airwaves to defend its use of tariffs to gain concessions from trading partners."

* This should be interesting: "House Democrats announced Monday they'll hold a hearing next week focused on the Mueller report and 'presidential obstruction.'"

* Notable White House Departure #1: "President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that a member of his legal team, Emmet Flood, will leave his post later this month after helping him handle the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign."

* Notable White House Departure #2: "Kevin Hassett ... is stepping down as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Trump said Sunday night."

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Image: President Donald Trump

Asked about Russian interference, Kushner offers discouraging answer

06/03/19 12:40PM

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner doesn't do many interviews, so those who've wondered about his role in a variety of stories -- including the Russia scandal -- have generally been left wanting.

It made it all the more notable when he sat down with Axios' Jonathan Swan for an interview that aired last night on HBO. Kushner's futile defense of Donald Trump's racism has generated plenty of headlines, and for good reason. But the back and forth on Russia was every bit as important, if not more so.

SWAN: On June 8, 2016, you were sent an email with an offer of help for the Trump campaign from the Russian government.

KUSHNER: I'm sorry? Which email are you talking about?

SWAN: The email from Rod Goldstone.

KUSHNER: Look, Jonathan --

SWAN: My question to you is why didn't you pick up the phone and call the FBI? It was an email that said Russia, that said the Russian government was trying to help. Like, why didn't you do that?

Though the presidential son-in-law clearly didn't think so, it was a good question. Kushner did, after all, receive an email with a subject line that read, "FW: Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."

He nevertheless spent the next minute downplaying the significance of the email and the infamous Trump Tower meeting he attended with Russian emissaries. He complained about how busy he was at the time ("Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I'm running three companies, I'm helping run the campaign....") and the about attitudes of "self-righteous" people who've played "Monday morning quarterback."

It led to an important follow-up question: would Kushner call the FBI if Russia again offered assistance to the Trump campaign?

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