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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.5.19

06/05/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Office of Refugee Resettlement: "The Trump administration is canceling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide, saying the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures."

* Keep an eye on this one: "Senators from both sides of the aisle said Wednesday they planned to block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in a bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump, saying they had to act to safeguard Congress's right to review weapons deals."

* If Pfizer saw evidence of a drug that could reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, but it didn't want to pursue a costly clinical trial, that's worth having a public conversation about.

* If only the White House were listening: "Senior U.S. officials warned Congress on Wednesday about the threat to national security from melting ice in the Arctic as Russia and other adversaries take advantage of the increasing possibilities for shipping and other commercial activity that will emerge as a result of a climate change."

* Reid changes his mind about impeachment: "Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who as recently as last month cautioned Democrats about the perils of pursuing President Trump's impeachment, now says the House should open an impeachment inquiry that might or might not lead to a formal effort to remove him from office."

* An unexpected story out of the Philippines: "President Rodrigo Duterte claimed Thursday that he was once gay but 'cured' himself after meeting his now-ex-wife.... While Duterte has a habit of making off-color jokes, his assertion appeared to be serious -- though intentionally provocative."

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Trump tries and fails to justify ban on transgender troops

06/05/19 12:41PM

It's been nearly two years since Donald Trump announced via Twitter than he would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve in the military. He hadn’t given anyone at the Pentagon a heads-up about his new discriminatory policy – officials throughout the executive branch were blindsided – and no one at the White House could explain the necessity of the change.

As regular readers may recall, Trump eventually defended the move by saying, "I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it." It's still unclear what that was supposed to mean.

Naturally, there was extensive litigation challenging the policy, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually allowed the White House to move forward with its ban in a 5-4 ruling.

In a new interview with Piers Morgan, Trump offered a defense for his policy.

"Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to -- and also, and you're not allowed to take drugs. You're in the military, you're not allowed to take any drugs. You take an aspirin.

"And they have to after the operation. They have to. They have no choice. And you would actually have to break rules and regulations in order to have that."

When reminded that the cost of the medications is miniscule, and that the Pentagon already spends far more to provide servicemen with Viagra, the president eventually tried to defend his policy by saying, "Well, it is what it is."

How profound.

There are a couple of dramatic flaws in Trump's underwhelming defense, starting with the fact that he's contradicting his own team's talking points. The administration's argument up until now has been that the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military is needed to protect unit cohesion and morale among the other troops. Now the argument apparently has something to do with medications.

Which leads us to the other problem: Trump's wrong about this, too.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.5.19

06/05/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign scrambled yesterday to update his climate plan with citations after it apparently lifted content from other sources.

* Donald Trump very narrowly won Michigan in 2016, but he may struggle to do so again in 2020. In a new poll conducted for the Detroit News and WDIV-TV, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lead the president in hypothetical match-ups by 12 points. The same survey showed Trump also trailing Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), though by smaller margins.

* On a related note, Politico noted yesterday that the Trump campaign's own internal polling "shows him falling behind in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin."

* Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign staff is reportedly moving forward with plans to unionize. This is becoming more common among 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, though before this year, it was unheard of.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's (D-Texas) presidential campaign this morning unveiled a plan intended to improve voter participation, including provisions to reduce the influence of campaign contributions. The proposal also, however, includes a call for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.

* Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) presidential campaign unveiled a new plan today to make housing more affordable. The policy blueprint includes a provision to "provide a tax credit for renters to ensure they would not spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent."

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Team Trump keeps taking the climate conversation backwards

06/05/19 11:16AM

Now that Andrew Wheeler has made the transition from energy lobbyist to head of Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, he has a few priorities. If his remarks at the National Press Club yesterday were any indication, changing public perceptions is near the top of his to-do list. Here's how Wheeler began his remarks:

"Since this is the National Press Club I would be remiss not to use this opportunity to address my friends in the media.

"Every year since 2001, Gallup has conducted polling on the same question do you think the quality of the environment and the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse. Every year since 2001, more people have said getting worse than getting better often by large margins. We need to fix this perception and we need the help of the press. The public needs to know how far we've come as a nation protecting the environment and here are a few environmental indicators that need to get more attention."

The former lobbyist added that American news organizations do "a disservice to the American public and sound policymaking by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made."

Wheeler concluded with a top-five list of things "the press consistently gets wrong." First up, according to the conservative EPA chief, is that "the environment is getting worse."

Wheeler's emphasis was on improvements to air quality, and on this, he's correct. Air pollution was a more serious problem in the United States in the recent past, and efforts to address pollution have been largely successful.

For those of us who breathe, that's certainly good news. It's also evidence of the kind of benefits that result from concerted governmental action.

And if Americans' environmental concerns were related solely to air quality, Trump's EPA would have reason to brag. But there's also an intensifying global climate crisis, which carries life-changing risks for billions of people.

It was not, however, the central point of Wheeler's remarks. That's probably because the Trump administration doesn't much care about climate change and routinely downplays its existence.

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Image: US Senator from Arizona John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer

Trump takes the USS McCain story in a new, weird direction

06/05/19 10:15AM

It's been five days since we learned that the White House directed U.S. military officials to move the USS John McCain "out of sight" ahead of Donald Trump's visit to Japan. In that time, the president and his team have changed their story five times.

Let's recap. The initial response from the Trump administration was surprise and incredulity. The president soon after said the story was "an exaggeration, or even Fake News."

The administration then changed course again, acknowledging that the story was accurate. A day later, the White House embraced the central claim, insisting it was "not an unreasonable thing" for Team Trump to try to protect the president's feelings by asking the Navy to move a warship bearing the name of a deceased hero Trump doesn't like.

Now, the president has taken a step backwards, questioning reality again.

President Donald Trump, never one to be restrained by the truth, is now positing that the debacle around hiding a warship named for the late Sen. John McCain and his family may not have even happened.

"First of all, I didn't know anything about it, but I'm not even sure it happened," Trump told Piers Morgan on "Good Morning Britain." "I hear it's fake news. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't."

As for McCain, the Republican president added, "I was not a fan. I didn't like what he did to health care. I didn't like how he handled the veterans -- because I got 'em choice and he was always unable."

Let's take a minute to do a little fact-checking.

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This file handout photo taken on May 10, 2017 made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry shows shows US President Donald J. Trump (C) speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak.

Under Trump, has the US 'become a less reliable ally' on intelligence?

06/05/19 09:20AM

At a press conference yesterday alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, Donald Trump boasted about the "incredible intelligence relationship" between the U.S. and the U.K. May didn't react, though it's hard not to wonder whether some in her government might've quietly scoffed.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius explained in his latest column that the American president and his allies have been "straining the covert alliance to the point that some insiders on both sides worry that trust and cooperation could eventually begin to erode."

Former British officials believe that MI6 has begun to worry about sharing its most sensitive secrets with the United States, for fear that they may be disclosed by the Trump White House for political reasons, or through simple carelessness. This British concern about the U.S. ability to keep secrets predates Trump, but it has increased.

"You never know what Trump will say or do or tell in a rage, and that's something to worry about," says a former British official. "The U.S. has become a less reliable ally."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested to Ignatius that the relationship will likely improve once Trump leaves office. He added, however, "There's nothing I can say that will disabuse [U.S. allies] of concern about what this president might do with information that could be damaging to them."

I continue to think this is one of the more under-appreciated problems with the Trump presidency.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Schumer riles Trump with talk of 'bluffing' on Mexico, tariffs

06/05/19 08:45AM

If Donald Trump follows through on his threat, in just five days, the president will begin imposing new trade tariffs on all products imported from Mexico. The only way for Mexico to avoid the tax penalty would be to satisfy unspecified White House demands about stemming the flow of immigration.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke on the chamber floor yesterday and offered a prediction of sorts: the Democratic leader thinks the president will back down.

"Now, frankly, I don't believe that President Trump will actually go through with the tariffs.... President Trump has a habit of talking tough and then retreating. Because his policies often can't be implemented or don't make sense. President Trump has a habit of proposing asinine and dangerous policies before backing off. And President Trump has a habit of pretending that the very act of not following through on a misguided policy is somehow a victory.

"So I wouldn't be surprised at all if President Trump doesn't follow through on these tariffs either."

The Republican apparently heard about the remarks and took time away from his trip to the U.K. to issue a response via Twitter:

"Can you imagine Cryin' Chuck Schumer saying out loud, for all to hear, that I am bluffing with respect to putting Tariffs on Mexico. What a Creep. He would rather have our Country fail with drugs & Immigration than give Republicans a win. But he gave Mexico bad advice, no bluff!"

Putting Trump's juvenile rhetoric aside, the back and forth is actually part of an interesting political dispute that's unfolding this week.

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Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

With vote to protect Dreamers, Dems discredit key GOP attack

06/05/19 08:00AM

The House yesterday took up an expanded version of the decade-old Dream Act -- it's now called the "Dream and Promise Act" -- and proponents had reason to cheer when the gavel came down.

The House-passed bill would protect from deportation and provide a pathway toward citizenship for young migrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Many would-be "Dreamers" currently safeguarded by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which only the federal courts have thwarted Trump from dismantling.

It would also shield others here temporarily because their home countries — chiefly in Central America, Africa and the Middle East — have been ravaged by wars or natural disasters.

The bill passed 237 to 187, with unanimous Democratic support, and the backing of seven House Republicans. Nine years earlier, when the chamber took up the original Dream Act, three dozen conservative House Dems balked, while eight GOP members voted for it.

All of which suggests that Democrats have grown more unified and progressive on the issue, while Republicans' hostility toward the mainstream proposal has managed to get slightly more intense. (The official House GOP Twitter account condemned the proposal yesterday as a "mass amnesty bill.")

After the 2010 bill passed, it died in the Senate at the hands of a Republican filibuster. This year, the filibuster probably won't matter, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unlikely to allow the chamber to consider the bill at all.

It's against this backdrop that GOP leaders, including Donald Trump, are pushing a disjointed message: Republicans are asking the public to believe the bills Democrats keep passing are misguided, while simultaneously arguing that Democrats aren't passing any bills.

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