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American astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walking on the moon on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong's reflection in the visor of the helmet. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Why Trump suggested the Moon 'is a part' of Mars

06/07/19 03:09PM

Three weeks ago, Donald Trump was so eager to send Americans to the moon, the president updated the White House budget, requesting an additional $1.6 billion for NASA's budget for a lunar mission.

It's one of the reasons Trump raised a few eyebrows with a new tweet this afternoon.

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

Oh my.

The part of this that seems to be generating the most attention is the presidential assertion that Earth's moon "is a part" of Mars. Having a little fun at the Republican's expense, the DNC issued an official statement that read, "The moon is not part of Mars."

In fairness, I think I know what Trump was clumsily trying to say: the mission to the moon and the mission to Mars may eventually be related. Administration officials have argued on multiple occasions that they envision an exploration model in which the United States -- at some point in the future -- uses Earth's moon as a launch site for other space missions.

What I found weirder was Trump's assertion that moon missions are somehow a passe goal -- "We did that 50 years ago," he wrote -- and therefore NASA "should NOT be talking about going" there.

To put it mildly, this is a radical departure from everything the White House has said on the subject for quite a while.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump attends a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels

Trump forgets an important rule: don't make up quotes from real people

06/07/19 02:17PM

Earlier this year, Donald Trump told reporters that "some" of his presidential predecessors had told him they wish they'd built a wall along the United States' southern border. It was, of course, an impossible claim to take seriously, which was made worse when each of the living former presidents issued statements debunking Trump's claim.

There was a moral to the story: when Trump describes made-up conversations -- something he does with alarming frequency -- he needs to avoid references to real people who can expose his nonsense.

As we discussed at the time, the president tends to understand this fairly well, which is why he frequently quotes "anonymous validators": mysterious unnamed people, whom the president swears exist, who we're supposed to believe secretly tell Trump how right he is about the major issues of the day. It's impossible to definitely prove that all of these people are fictional, which creates a rhetorical safe harbor for the Republican.

Occasionally, however, Trump forgets the rule. Take, for example, his comments to Fox News yesterday about NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Secretary Stoltenberg has been maybe Trump's biggest fan, to be honest with you. He goes around -- he made a speech the other day, he said, 'Without Donald Trump maybe there would be no NATO.'"

If Trump had said, "A prominent international said the other day, 'Without Donald Trump maybe there would be no NATO,'" there might at least be some wiggle room. We'd know it was false, but it'd be difficult to prove.

But in this case, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg actually exists.

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Auto industry to Trump: You're going the wrong way on emissions

06/07/19 12:59PM

In Barack Obama's first term, the administration came to a fairly obvious conclusion: to address the climate crisis, we're going to need to reduce emissions, and in the United States, the #1 source of carbon pollution is transportation. With that in mind, the Democratic White House created tough fuel-efficiency standards for the auto industry, to be phased in gradually.

Manufacturers, not surprisingly, weren't thrilled, but there was a broad realization that the policy, in conjunction with a series of related efforts, would make a positive difference.

Then Donald Trump got elected. Last summer, the Republican White House announced plans to roll back the tougher standards, making it easier for the automotive industry to sell less efficient vehicles that pollute more.

By way of a defense, the Trump administration said the new policy would improve auto safety -- which as we discussed at the time, makes about as much sense as it sounds.

Nevertheless, the Republican president assumed he was helping the industry at the expense of the environment -- a trade-off Trump was happy to make since he rejects climate science anyway. But the New York Times reports today on an unexpected twist: auto manufacturers believe the White House's anti-climate plans have gone too far.

The world's largest automakers warned President Trump on Thursday that one of his most sweeping deregulatory efforts -- his plan to weaken tailpipe pollution standards -- threatens to cut their profits and produce "untenable" instability in a crucial manufacturing sector.

In a letter signed by 17 companies including Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volvo, the automakers asked Mr. Trump to go back to the negotiating table on the planned rollback of one of President Barack Obama's signature policies to fight climate change.

The problem for the industry has become a practical one: Trump intends to go so far in gutting pollution safeguards that many states intend to enforce stricter emissions standards on their own.

That includes, naturally, California -- home to the nation's largest consumer base.

The result is an exceedingly messy economic dynamic, in which car manufacturers in the United States -- which had already begun taking steps to comply with the Obama-era policy -- will have to make different vehicles to sell in different parts of the country.

Not surprisingly, no one sees that as a sustainable business model.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.7.19

06/07/19 12:00PM

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

* One day after Joe Biden's campaign said the Democrat hadn't changed his position on the Hyde Amendment, the former vice president announced last night that he now opposes the law that prevents federal funding for abortion.

* Common Cause, pointing to newly uncovered files from deceased Republican operative Thomas Hofeller, raised provocative allegations yesterday: Republicans in North Carolina, the group claimed, "misled a federal court in 2017 to extend the life of their state legislative district map."

* As expected, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) filed the paperwork yesterday to run for governor in Montana next year, following his defeat for the same office in 2016. Gianforte is perhaps best known for assaulting a journalist during a congressional campaign and misleading the police about the incident.

* Though it looked as if Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) had made the cut for the upcoming Democratic presidential debates, the DNC isn't counting one of the polls that apparently made him eligible to participate. Barring some 11th-hour good news for his campaign, the governor won't qualify.

* In Texas, former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), whose gubernatorial campaign fell short in 2014, is now moving forward with plans to run against Rep. Chip Roy (R) next year. Roy currently represents Texas' 21st congressional district, which is an R+10 district, suggesting Davis will face an uphill climb.

* Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has pushed for Democratic presidential hopefuls to participate in a debate focused exclusively on the climate crisis. The DNC doesn't want to depart from the agreed upon debate schedule, though Inslee is apparently prepared to defy the party and organize an unsanctioned event on his own.

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Image: U.S. President Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington

Ignoring scandals, Trump says he's assembled 'one of the finest cabinets'

06/07/19 11:20AM

For his book on Donald Trump's cabinet, author Alexander Nazaryan spoke to the president about the team he'd assembled. Yahoo News ran an item yesterday adapted from "The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege on Washington."

"There are those that say we have one of the finest Cabinets," Trump claimed. That is not a commonly held view. In fact, it is difficult to think of anyone even halfway credible -- Republican or Democrat -- who has said anything approaching that. Even some of Trump's most ardent supporters have expressed dismay at the people he has hired.

Trump was willing to concede that some of his cabinet members were "clunkers," though he apparently didn't elaborate or name names. In a way, that's unfortunate, because I'd love to know to whom he was referring. Did he see James Mattis as a "clunker" because the former Pentagon chief didn't consistently play ball with the White House political agenda? Would he make the same assessment about former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the same reason?

Or was Trump referring to some members of his team who departed under a cloud of scandal and suspected corruption?

I have no idea whether the president genuinely believes there are some unnamed observers who claim his cabinet is "one of the finest," but I'd love to hear from such a person. Because by most measures, Trump's cabinet is actually one of the more embarrassing.

We recently learned, for example, that David Bernhardt, a former corporate lobbyist for the oil industry, became the subject of an ethics investigation immediately after becoming the nation's new Interior secretary. Federal prosecutors recently presented evidence to a grand jury on Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt's predecessor.

As regular readers may recall, it was around the same time that we learned new details about Alex Acosta, Trump's Labor secretary, who allegedly broke the law while shielding a politically connected sex trafficker.

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

Pentagon contradicts Trump on transgender troop ban

06/07/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump was asked this week to defend his ban on allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military. The president responded by pointing to a policy that doesn't exist.

"You're in the military, you're not allowed to take any drugs," Trump said after insisting that transgender Americans have to "take massive amounts of drugs." He added, "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."

None of this was true. In fact, most of it was nonsensical: plenty of active-duty servicemen and women take prescription medications, including hormone therapy. For that matter, Trump assumed that all transgender people undergo surgery and/or take prescription hormones, and that's wrong, too.

What was surprising, however, was the Pentagon's willingness to acknowledge the president's mistake. In response to a question from the Washington Post, a Defense Department spokesperson contradicted Trump's claims on the record.

"The Military Health System covers all approved medically necessary treatments and prescription medications," DOD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said. "If a service member has a hormone deficiency for any reason (such as hypogonadism, hypothyroidism, menopause, etc.), he or she would be prescribed hormones."

Maxwell also assured that existing troops who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the transgender ban went into place in April "will continue to receive all medically necessary treatment."

In case it's not obvious, the Department of Defense does not routinely contradict the president publicly, and I can only hope spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell doesn't face any adverse consequences for having told the Post the truth.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

On disaster relief in Puerto Rico, Trump turns to gaslighting

06/07/19 10:01AM

It's been a tough week for Donald Trump's strained relationship with reality. It started with the president denying he referred to Meghan Markle as "nasty," despite video evidence to the contrary.

In the days that followed, Trump peddled similar falsehoods about the environment, his domestic political support, his foreign political support, his ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, the Iran nuclear deal, his Brexit predictions, and international trade.

But it was this tweet from yesterday afternoon that I found especially irksome.

"Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA.

"Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!"

I realize there's a debate in some journalistic circles about the propriety and utility of using the word "lie" when the president peddles brazen falsehoods. Many have argued that in order to accuse Trump of lying, one must necessarily know whether or not he understands what he's saying is false. There's an element of motive involved: if the Republican believes his own nonsense, maybe it's not technically a literal "lie."

But in this case, there's no ambiguity. Trump is just straight up gaslighting the public. The Republican knows the truth and he's choosing to tell people the opposite.

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Germany's Merkel takes aim at 'walls of ignorance and narrowmindedness'

06/07/19 09:20AM

During Donald Trump's interview yesterday with Fox News' Laura Ingraham, the president brought up German Chancellor Angela Merkel in passing, which led the host to ask a question I'd wondered about myself.

INGRAHAM: What about her dig at you when she was at Harvard? Was that appropriate?

TRUMP: What did she say?

Well, as it turns out, Merkel spoke at Harvard's commencement last week, and much of her speech was devoted to defending principles of respect and inclusion. "Walls of ignorance and narrowmindedness may exist between family members as well as between groups within society, between people of different skin colors, nations and religions," she said. "I would like to see us break down these walls."

Merkel added, "I want to leave this wish with you: Tear down walls of ignorance and narrowmindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is."

When the Fox News host presented Trump with the remarks, the Republican was uncharacteristically restrained. "She has to say what she has to say," he replied.

And while that understated response was a welcome surprise, what I found interesting was the underlying assumption that Merkel had taken a "dig" at Trump in the first place.

The German chancellor did not mention the American president by name, but when we hear references to "walls of ignorance and narrowmindedness," many -- including Trump's likeminded allies -- immediately think of him.

Which is itself quite remarkable, and something that occurs with surprising regularity.

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Despite Trump's recent boasts, job growth cools unexpectedly

06/07/19 08:44AM

Ahead of this morning's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in May between 175,000 and 180,000 jobs. Unfortunately, the results fell far short of those rosy expectations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added just 75,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.6%. The revisions from the previous two months were also disappointing: job totals from March and April were both revised down, subtracting 75,000 from previous reporting.

What's especially discouraging about this latest report is that many assumed it would be inflated in the opposite direction: as Census hiring picks up, a variety of observers believed the overall total would appear deceptively good. Now that we're seeing the preliminary data, that obviously didn't happen.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 28 full months -- February 2017 through May 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 5.4 million jobs. In the 28 full months preceding Trump's presidency -- October 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 6.1 million jobs.

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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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Trump flubs question on how to bring Americans together (again)

06/07/19 08:00AM

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Donald Trump sat down with Fox News' Laura Ingraham in Normandy, with the graves of war heroes serving as a backdrop. The two covered a fair amount of ground, though I was especially interested in the president's response when the far-right host asked, "What could you do to unite the country at a time of great polarization?"

Trump's response was amazing in its Trumpiness.

"So, I think success should unite the country. But I will tell you, the more successful we've come, the more angry people like Nancy Pelosi, who don't have what it takes, they don't know what's going on, they get angry.

"They should -- an example is Mexico. I said, 'We're going to put tariffs on because we want you to help us, because they won't pass any legislation in Congress.' And I have senators and others and Pelosi coming out saying, 'Oh, how horrible.'

"What they're doing is they're hurting the deal. They should be saying, 'We're with the president, we'll do whatever he wants to do,' and Mexico would fold like an umbrella. Now, I have these people and I'm saying there's some Republicans too, I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

"But we have Pelosi, we have crying Chuck Schumer -- who's a disaster by the way, he's a total political, you know, jerk -- but we have Schumer, we have all these people, they come out and they talk about 'tariffs are bad,' so they can, you know, they hurt my negotiation, because I go into the room with the Mexicans, I'm asking them for everything."

Remember, the question was, "What could you do to unite the country at a time of great polarization?" The president responded by lashing out at his perceived political enemies and suggesting that the key to harmony is having everyone agree to "do whatever" Trump wants.

Making matters slightly worse, this isn't the first time he flubbed the question.

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