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Attendees stand during a news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Trump's latest 'treason' accusation is directed at Google

07/17/19 10:43AM

Donald Trump used the "t" word again yesterday, quoting something he saw on Fox News. The president wrote on Twitter, "'Billionaire Tech Investor Peter Thiel believes Google should be investigated for treason. He accuses Google of working with the Chinese Government.' @foxandfriends A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone! The Trump Administration will take a look!"

Asked about this at a cabinet meeting yesterday, Trump didn't repeat the "treason" allegation, but as the transcript made clear, he repeated the underlying concerns.

"Well, what we're doing with China, first of all -- you know, Thiel is a friend of mine. He's a tremendous contributor. He's a big -- he's a big -- he spoke at our convention -- at the Republican National Convention. Peter is a brilliant young man -- one of the most successful people in Silicon Valley. I guess he was an original investor in some of these biggest -- biggest companies, including Facebook, I understand.

"Yeah, he made a very strong charge. He's one of the top -- maybe the top expert on all of those things. And he made a very big statement about Google. And I would like to recommend to the various agencies, including perhaps our Attorney General, who is with us, to maybe take a look. It's a big statement, when you say that, you know, Google is involved with China in not a very positive way for our country.

"So I think we'll all look at that. I know that our other agencies will be looking at it. And we'll see if there's any truth to it. But that's a very big statement, made by somebody who's highly respected. So we'll certainly take a look at that."

It was hard not to wonder what in the world the president was talking about.

As it turns out, Thiel recently accused Google of working with the Chinese military. Fox News aired an 11-second news brief on the claim yesterday; Trump apparently saw it; and the result was a presidential directive about a federal investigation into one of the world's largest tech giants.

This really isn't how governing is supposed to work in a global superpower.

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A Fox News reporter works from the Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa City, Ia., Jan. 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Trump adds (yet another) Fox News figure to his team

07/17/19 10:00AM

Donald Trump's original plan was to add Fox News' Monica Crowley to his National Security Council as the NSC's senior director of strategic communications. She was a poor choice, not just because of her professional background in this area, but also because Crowley was soon after confronted with a serious plagiarism controversy.

Crowley nevertheless remained in the White House's orbit, and a few months ago, she joined Team Trump with a job at the Treasury Department. Yesterday, she received a promotion.

President Trump announced Tuesday that he plans to appoint former Fox News contributor Monica Crowley to be the next spokeswoman for the Treasury Department.

Crowley, who currently serves as the department's senior adviser for public affairs, will serve as an assistant Treasury secretary for public affairs, according to the release.

It's unusual to see someone derailed by a plagiarism scandal return so quickly to positions of governmental prominence.

But I'm also struck by the unnerving frequency with which Fox News alum receive plum assignments in the Trump administration. Indeed, the Crowley news comes just a few months after Morgan Ortagus, a former Fox News contributor, became the State Department's new spokesperson -- replacing Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor.

Two months before that, Lea Gabrielle, a former Fox News reporter, was hired to help lead the State Department's Global Engagement Center.

And circling back to our earlier coverage, each of these Fox News veterans found plenty of other folks on Team Trump who've made the transition from the president's television screen to his administration's staff.

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President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One as he departs the White House, on Sept. 13 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty)

With a straight face, GOP leader says party was 'respectful' of Obama

07/17/19 09:20AM

As part of the defense of Donald Trump's racist criticisms of four Democratic congresswomen of color, the president's Republican allies have tried to argue that the congresswomen in question are worthy of Trump's ire -- in part because of their ideology, and in part because they're big meanies toward the president.

Here, for example, was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) yesterday, talking to reporters during a Capitol Hill press conference about the difference between how Republicans treated Barack Obama and Democrats treat Donald Trump.

"Look, we disagreed with Barack Obama on a lot of things that he did, the policies. As our conference chair laid out, there are a lot of policies that we had disagreements on with Speaker Pelosi and her socialist Democrats, just like we had disagreements with a lot of Barack Obama's policies, but we never disrespected the office. [...]

"We expressed our disagreements in a respectful, respectful way."

There's video of the Louisianan's comments. In case there were any doubts, Scalise did not appear to be kidding.

Which is a shame because it suggests the Republican congressman -- the #2 member of the House GOP leadership -- genuinely believes that he and his party were nothing but responsible and measured when expressing their disagreements with Barack Obama during his presidency. Republicans, in Scalise's mind, set a high bar when it came to political decorum. Obama could take comfort in knowing that his GOP opponents took great care to treat him and his office with respect and decency.

Please.

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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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