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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.2.19

08/02/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* In case you missed this on last night's show: "State prosecutors in Manhattan subpoenaed President Trump's family business on Thursday, reviving an investigation into the company's role in hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people briefed on the matter."

* Afghanistan: "The Trump administration is preparing to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for concessions from the Taliban, including a cease-fire and a renunciation of al-Qaeda, as part of an initial deal to end the nearly 18-year-old war, U.S. officials say."

* Another big story from yesterday: "A federal judge in Washington presiding over a case involving President Donald Trump's state tax returns said today that he will hear a bid to move the case to New York. District Court Judge Carl Nichols said he agreed to a proposal by New York state to allow it to challenge his court's jurisdiction over the issue."

* The end of the INF: "The United States plans to test a new missile in coming weeks that would have been prohibited under a landmark, 32-year-old arms control treaty that the U.S. and Russia ripped up on Friday."

* Ongoing NRA drama: "Three National Rifle Association board members who have raised concerns about reports of reckless spending and mismanagement by the group's leadership resigned Thursday, another sign of mounting dissent within the nation's most powerful gun-rights group."

* A Trump appointee wants to get rid of these folks: "They're members of a prestigious academic panel with top-secret clearances who've advised the Pentagon on some of America's most vexing national security issues since the Cold War. Over 60 years, they've won 11 Nobel prizes and conducted hundreds of government studies."

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Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019.

Trump's choice for National Intelligence director ends in fiasco

08/02/19 03:23PM

On Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) was his choice to serve as the new director of National Intelligence. The president described him at the time as a "highly respected congressman," who'll "inspire greatness." As recently as yesterday, Trump told reporters, "I'm sure that he'll be able to do very well."

Not quite 24 hours later, the whole fiasco came to an abrupt and ignominious end.

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, President Donald Trump's pick to be the new director of national intelligence, will remain in Congress and not be nominated for the post, the commander-in-chief announced Friday.

"Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family to deal with these people," Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.

The president's announcement, which also came via Twitter, predictably blamed journalists for the developments, arguing that the far-right congressman has been "treated very unfairly by the LameStream Media."

Trump didn't specify how, exactly, Ratcliffe had been treated "very unfairly," which is a shame because I'd love to hear more about this. Was it unfair for news organizations to note that Ratcliffe was caught repeatedly lying about his professional background? Was it unfair for media outlets to note that Ratcliffe didn't even meet the statutory guidelines for the position?

Was it unfair to note that Senate Republicans didn't want Trump to nominate this guy? Was it unfair to alert the public to the fact that Ratcliffe is one of Congress' most far-right members who's dabbled in silly conspiracy theories? Was it unfair to note that the Texan, during his brief congressional career, has been a disengaged lawmaker who's made no meaningful connections with the intelligence agencies the president wanted him to oversee?

What actually seems unfair about all of this was Trump's insistence that a rabid partisan lacking in qualifications or credibility had any business serving as the nation's chief intelligence official.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Donald Trump flunks Trade Policy 101 (again)

08/02/19 12:49PM

All things considered, I think the biggest problem with Donald Trump's trade agenda is that he has no idea how little he understands about trade.

The president recently boasted, for example, in reference to trade policy, "I understand that issue better than anybody." He added soon after, "I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than anybody knows it."

And if that were true, it'd be quite reassuring, but it's not. In fact, what the Republican sees as one of his signature issues is actually one of the areas in which he's most confused.

Trump claimed yesterday afternoon that the United States would begin imposing an additional 10 percent tariff on $300 billion in Chinese imports starting next month. (I use the word "claimed," because it's often difficult to know whether the administration will actually do what the president says it will do.) Beijing, naturally, is threatening retaliatory measures.

But as part of the same announcement, Trump tweeted that the series of concessions he thought he'd received from China -- developments the White House has bragged about for months -- never actually materialized. It was intended as a criticism of Beijing, but it didn't do the president's credibility any favors.

Soon after, he presented reporters with familiar falsehoods regarding China and trade.

"They're paying for these tariffs; we're not. [...]

"It's been proven that our people are not paying for those tariffs."

Even Trump should be able to understand that the opposite has been proven. Here's a study someone can go over with the president on the effects of his agenda. Here's another. And another. All of the evidence is consistent with common sense: Americans end up paying more as a result of Trump's tariffs. They are, for all intents and purposes, a Trump tax hike on consumers in his own country.

Even Larry Kudlow, the top voice on economic policy in Trump's White House, recently acknowledged during a nationally televised interview that the president's claims about tariffs are wrong.

But that's just the start of the problem. Trump added yesterday, referring to Chinese officials, "If they don't want to trade with us anymore, that would be fine with me. We'd save a lot of money."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.2.19

08/02/19 12:00PM

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

* In the most important congressional retirement announcement of the year to date, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said last night that he won't seek re-election. The Texas Republican -- the only African American in the House GOP conference -- is the 10th member this year to announce his intended retirement, and the sixth to make this announcement over the last nine days.

* The next round of Democratic presidential primary debates will have far tougher participation standards, and as of yesterday, only seven candidates had met the minimum thresholds. Today, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) became the eighth.

* Donald Trump seemed to lose interest in Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for a while, but he started talking about her ethnicity again yesterday, with "Pocahontas" references before and during his campaign rally in Cincinnati.

* On a related note, Trump's followers in Ohio repeated the "lock her up" chant for a while. In case anyone's curious, Election Day 2016 was 997 days ago.

* As hard as this may seem to believe, Corey Lewandowski, the first of three people who led Trump's 2016 campaign operation, is eyeing a U.S. Senate race against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in New Hampshire next year. It would be his first attempt at elected office.

* Speaking of 2020 Senate races, Sen. John Cornyn's (R) re-election campaign in Texas started airing an attack ad this week targeting state Sen. Royce West (D). It was a curious move: several Dems, including MJ Hegar, are already competing in Texas' Senate primary, but West hasn't officially announced his 2020 plans.

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Image: Trump during meeting in Oval Office

On Kashmir negotiations, India makes Trump look bad (again)

08/02/19 11:20AM

Last week, Donald Trump welcomed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Oval Office, and the American president was asked about possibly playing a diplomatic role in Kashmir. Trump told a curious story about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally inviting him to help oversee negotiations.

"I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject," the Republican asserted. "And he actually said, 'Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said, 'Where?' He said, 'Kashmir.'"

Trump went on to say that Modi "asked" him to help resolve the conflict, adding, "I've heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name."

The story was impossible to accept at face value. As we discussed last week, India has never wanted outside involvement on Kashmir, and the idea that its prime minister would reach out directly to this American president -- an easily confused amateur who knows nothing about the dispute -- and ask him to serve as a mediator, seemed bizarre.

So, whatever happened to the Indian prime minister's alleged invitation? The Associated Press reported this morning that it was Trump who made himself available, and it's India that isn't interested.

India on Friday again rejected President Donald Trump's offer to mediate its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.

India's foreign minister said he told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that any discussion of the disputed Himalayan region would be between India and Pakistan only. The two men met on Friday on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Bangkok. India has long refused outside attempts to resolve the conflict while Pakistan has sought international help.

During a brief Q&A with the White House's Larry Kudlow last week, a reporter asked, "The president said that he'd been asked by Indian Prime Minister Modi to alleviate between India and Pakistan. India says that's not even close to true. Did the president just make that up, sir?"

Kudlow replied, "No, the president doesn't make anything up."

There's a whole lot of evidence to the contrary.

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A laboratory technician at the AIDS Research Center of the Treichville hospital in Abidjan works on blood samples of people living with HIV on Sept. 13, 2013. (Photo by Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's rhetoric about curing cancer and AIDS is unbelievable

08/02/19 10:43AM

One of the potential problems with Donald Trump's re-election campaign is that he doesn't have a policy agenda, per se. It's difficult, even for the president's most loyal followers, to point to specific proposals the Republican is prepared to run on ahead of Election Day 2020.

But once in a while, Trump will say something about the near future that stands out.

President Donald Trump made few new promises during his campaign speech Thursday night in Cincinnati. But two promises resonated with people, judging by interest on the internet: curing pediatric cancer and curing AIDS.

During the rally at U.S. Bank Arena, he said: "The things we're doing in our country today, there's never been anything like it. We will be ending the AIDS epidemic shortly in America, and curing childhood cancer very shortly."

I especially liked the use of the word "shortly," as if these historic medical breakthroughs are imminent, and AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be things of the past.

To be sure, that would be extraordinarily great news for millions of people, but let's keep a couple of things in mind. First, there's a difference between a president having a substantive policy agenda and a president having fanciful ideas about amazing things he'd like to see happen. Trump doesn't have a plan for the United States to reach these aspirational goals; he has a desire to simply see them happen.

If the president is prepared to focus real energies on this -- as Joe Biden, among other political leaders, has done as part of the Obama administration's "Cancer Moonshot" endeavor -- that'd be great. But hollow declarations at rallies do not a policy agenda make.

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Two freshly delivered Amazon boxes are seen. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Just how far is Trump prepared to go with his Amazon 'obsession'?

08/02/19 10:07AM

About a year into Donald Trump's presidency, Axios spoke to five sources close to the White House who said the Republican is eager to "go after" and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Referring to Trump, one source said at the time, "He's obsessed with Amazon. Obsessed."

The article added, "The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos' wings. But he doesn't have a plan to make that happen."

It's hard not to wonder whether that's changed.

As we've discussed, Trump's preoccupation with the online retailer has always been quite weird. It's effectively a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the Washington Post's coverage of his administration, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to also hate Bezos' other businesses.

But how far is the Republican prepared to take his animosity? The question came to the fore two weeks ago, when Trump said he was looking "very seriously" at intervening in a multi-billion-dollar cloud-computing contract, hoping to derail Amazon's bid.

Asked by reporters about the contract known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, Mr. Trump said he was "getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon."

"They're saying it wasn't competitively bid," he said.

Even at the time, the comments suggested that Trump has no idea what he was saying. There was a competitive bidding process, and no company had secured the contract. Military officials said at the time that a final decision was imminent, possibly coming this week.

All of which led to yesterday's news.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Asked about anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, Trump talks about Trump

08/02/19 09:21AM

Donald Trump generally doesn't know what reporters are going to ask him during occasional Q&A sessions on the White House South Lawn, and once in a while, someone will ask the president about something that isn't necessarily dominating domestic headlines.

Take yesterday, for example.

Q: Do you have a message for Poland on the anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, which is today?

TRUMP: Well, I have a lot of respect for Poland. And, as you know, the people of Poland like me, and I like them. And I'm going to be going to Poland fairly soon.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Trump probably has no idea what the Warsaw Uprising is or why it's so historically significant.

It's probably why the Republican turned so quickly to his go-to move: comments about himself and his perceived popularity.

But as Trump boasted about how much the "people of Poland like" him, it got me thinking about whether that's true or not.

As it turns out, we don't need to guess.

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Job growth remains steady, but totals have slipped under Trump

08/02/19 08:42AM

Ahead of today's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in July of 165,000 jobs. Those expectations were just about perfect.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 164,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7%. And while that's a decent monthly total, the revisions from the previous two months were a little disappointing: job totals from May and June were both revised down, subtracting 41,000 from previous reporting.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 30 full months -- February 2017 through July 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 5.74 million jobs. In the 30 months preceding Trump's presidency -- August 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 6.61 million jobs.

I recently heard from a couple of readers who asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 31 months to the previous 31 months, job totals still slowed from 6.91 million to 5.99 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of his election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 33 months to the previous 33 months, job totals slowed from 7.49 million to 6.37 million.

The Republican continues to tell the world that he's overseeing the strongest domestic job growth in American history, which is plainly false. What's more, the White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2

Trump rejects warnings of Russian election interference ahead of 2020

08/02/19 08:00AM

About a year ago, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he believes Russia is still targeting U.S. elections. "No," the president said, shaking his head.

At the time, it touched off yet another Russia-related controversy for the Republican. Trump's years-long insistence that his own country's intelligence was wrong about Moscow's election attack has itself been offensive. But in July 2018, Trump went further, dismissing U.S. intelligence about Russia's future intentions, too.

Yesterday afternoon, on the White House South Lawn, it happened again.

Q: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin yesterday?

TRUMP: You don't really believe this. Do you believe this?

Q: He said it last week. Did you raise that with President Putin yesterday?

TRUMP: We didn't talk about that.

Soon after, as part of the same Q&A, a reporter reminded the president, "Mueller said right now, he believes, Russia is interfering with the election." Trump, referring to last week's congressional testimony, replied, "Well, I watched Mueller. I'm not sure Mueller knows what's going on, if you want to know the truth."

In the next breath, the president lied about the former special counsel's findings.

Trump has said a lot of strange things over the last 24 hours, but these comments about Russian election interference were among the most important.

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