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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.15.19

01/15/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm looking for Republicans who might oppose Barr, and I'm not finding any: "In a terse back-and-forth with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a potential 2020 presidential contender, Attorney General nominee William Barr said on Tuesday that if he was advised by career ethics officials to recuse himself from the Russia probe, he would not heed the recommendation if he disagreed with it."

* A failed Brexit deal in the UK: "Theresa May suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat of any British prime minister in history Tuesday as lawmakers of all stripes crushed her plan to leave the European Union."

* This vote was not close: "The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday disapproving of racist remarks by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, amid a wave of bipartisan denunciation." (Democrat Bobby Rush was the only "no" vote. He said the resolution didn't go far enough.)

* Afghanistan: "A truck bomb exploded near a heavily fortified complex in eastern Kabul frequented by foreigners, killing four people and wounding scores of others, authorities said, as the U.S. pressed to get negotiations under way to end the 17-year war."

* Coast Guard: "The nation's 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members missed their scheduled paycheck Tuesday, as the only military branch to work without pay during the government shutdown."

* An avoidable mess: "The government shutdown has led to the cancellation of nearly 43,000 immigration hearings as of last week, burdening an already backlogged system, according to data from researchers tracking immigration statistics."

* I guess a new "gang" in the Senate was inevitable: "A bipartisan group of rank-and-file senators is holding discussions on how to end the weeks-long government shutdown, with talks between congressional leaders and the White House at a standstill."

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington.

As shutdown persists, Trump's plan to divide Dems fails miserably

01/15/19 03:03PM

Donald Trump hosted his first bipartisan talks to end the government shutdown on Jan. 2, nearly two weeks after the shutdown began. The meeting didn't go especially well: the president characterized it as a "briefing" in which he and other officials could explain to members of Congress how horrible the conditions are at the border.

Two days later, on Jan. 4, Trump hosted another round of talks, though he opened the meeting with "a 15-minute profanity-laced rant about impeachment." It was at this same meeting that the president told lawmakers he prefers the word "strike" to "shutdown." The discussion was pointless.

On Saturday, Jan. 5, Vice President Mike Pence hosted two hours of talks with White House officials and senior congressional aides. They made no progress. Officials spoke again a day later, but to no avail. (Democratic staffers were reportedly frustrated that Republicans weren't better prepared with substantive details.)

On Jan. 9, the president welcomed congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wouldn't approve funding for a wall; at which point, Trump threw a little tantrum and literally walked away from the negotiating table.

All of which led to today's meeting, which was somewhat different. Bloomberg News reported today:

President Donald Trump's attempt to bypass Democratic congressional leaders to break open negotiations on the government shutdown fell flat as he failed to persuade any of the party's rank-and-file members to attend a hastily arranged White House meeting Tuesday.

"Today, the president offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House," White House Secretary Sarah Sanders said. "Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend."

At face value, that might make it sound as if Dems blew off an opportunity to work toward a solution. That's not what happened.

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White House now expects the shutdown to hurt the economy even more

01/15/19 12:56PM

The most important aspect of the ongoing government shutdown -- now the longest in American history -- is the impact it's having on people. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families are shouldering a tremendous burden, and many are being forced to work without pay.

There's also, of course, the effects the shutdown is having on all kinds of public-sector services, covering everything from food safety to air travel, environmental protections to the FBI.

And then there's the economy.

"Someone -- maybe Larry Kudlow? -- has to explain to Trump that the longer the shutdown, the weaker the economy will appear as the next election cycle approaches," Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, noted this morning.

How much weaker? CNBC reported this morning that the Trump administration now expects the shutdown to undermine the economy twice as much as it originally feared.

The original estimate that the partial shutdown would subtract 0.1 percentage point from growth every two weeks has now been doubled to a 0.1 percentage point subtraction every week, according to an official who asked not to be named.

The administration had initially counted just the impact from the 800,000 federal workers not receiving their paychecks. But they now believe the impact doubles, due to greater losses from private contractors also out of work and other government spending and functions that won't occur.

I imagine for some, seeing a report about 0.1% changes probably doesn't seem especially worrisome. But these modest reductions make a difference: if the shutdown lasts another two weeks, the White House expects it would reduce quarterly growth by a half a percentage point.

In other words, if the economy would otherwise grow at 2% -- a decent number -- the shutdown would push that number to 1.5% GDP growth.

The CNBC report quoted Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, who believes if the shutdown continues through March, it could wipe out first quarter growth altogether.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.15.19

01/15/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of a possible 2020 presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will meet tomorrow with women who said they experienced harassment and discrimination while working for his 2016 campaign.

* As part of his latest round of attacks on Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) ancestry, Donald Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday, "If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!" Many Native Americans were not at all pleased. Neither were South Dakota's Republican senators.

* Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told MSNBC this morning that her family is "on board" with her launching a 2020 presidential campaign. She quickly added, "But I'll make this decision on my own course regardless of what other candidates are doing."

* Despite New York's reputation as a reliably progressive state, it has some of the least progressive election laws. That's finally changing: state lawmakers approved some major voting reforms yesterday, including an overdue early-voting change, all of which appear likely to become law.

* A new national Gallup poll found Trump's approval rating inching lower to 37% -- the same approval rating the Republican had in the latest CNN poll. Before the shutdown began, Gallup showed the president with a 39% rating.

* The race for the Republicans' Senate nomination in Kansas is already starting to get a little crowded in the wake of Sen. Pat Roberts' (R) retirement announcement. Kansas state Senate President Susan Wagle (R) is the latest to throw her hat into the ring.

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Businessmen and shoppers walk on the street in New York City.

Judge blocks Trump admin from adding citizenship question to Census

01/15/19 11:20AM

The Trump administration announced in March 2018 that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants' participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.

More than a few White House critics accused the Republican administration of trying to "sabotage" the national count.

As of this morning, those same critics have reason to be pleased.

A federal judge in New York has barred the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Tuesday that while such a question would be constitutional, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had added it arbitrarily and not followed proper procedure.

The ruling came in a case in which a dozen states or big cities and immigrants' rights groups argued that adding the question might frighten immigrant households away from participating in the census.

As satisfying as Furman's 277-page ruling is, it should probably be seen as the first round of a multi-round fight. There are multiple concurrent cases challenging the administration's efforts, and the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly weigh in before Census materials are printed this summer.

But in the meantime, there's one angle to this that worth re-emphasizing: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross playing fast and loose with the truth about how the Census change was made.

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A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investi

Right turns against FBI following revelations about Trump investigation

01/15/19 10:40AM

It's the kind of revelation that's still difficult to digest. The New York Times  reported on Friday night that after Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017, the FBI was so concerned about the president's behavior that federal law enforcement officials "began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests."

The same report added that counterintelligence investigators "had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security."

The good news is, Republicans are deeply concerned and are demanding answers. The bad news is, they're directing those concerns at the FBI, not the president.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested to Fox News that the investigation was improper, and he doesn't trust some of the FBI's former top officials. As TPM noted, he wasn't the only congressional Republican directing his ire at the bureau.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) seized on a White House talking point -- that reports of the FBI investigating whether President Trump was working for Russia prove Trump was right about the deep state -- and took it a step further Monday: "that's almost like a coup."

During an interview with Fox News on Monday, King called news of the probe "absolutely disgraceful."

The president himself this morning promoted a series of related messages via social media, including one that raises the prospect of the FBI having attempted a "coup" through its investigation.

Meanwhile, Fox News' Gregg Jarrett last night went so far as to tell a national television audience that he believes the FBI should be "reorganized and replaced with a new organization."

Well. That's different.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Courts balk at the Trump administration's new rules on birth control

01/15/19 09:27AM

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, existing law requires private employers' health insurance plans to provide birth control services. Donald Trump's administration, following directions from social conservatives, have tried to create new rules that would exempt anti-contraception employers from following the law.

It's not working out especially well for the White House. This was the news on Sunday night.

A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked Trump administration rules allowing employers to refuse to provide free birth control from taking effect Monday in 13 states.

The regulations, which the Trump administration announced in October 2017, widened the pool of employers that are allowed to claim exemption from providing contraceptive coverage to include nonprofit groups, for-profit companies, other nongovernmental employers, and schools and universities.

Previously, only explicitly religious groups could opt out if they could show "sincerely held" religious objections.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam's order only applied to the 13 states and the District of Columbia which filed the case. Less than 24 hours later, however, a different judge came to a similar conclusion.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania stepped in at the last moment to pause Trump administration rules that would restrict the ability of some women to get birth control at no charge because their employers object on religious or moral grounds.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a nationwide preliminary injunction Monday afternoon, the same day the new policy was to take effect.

This clearly isn't what the Republican administration had in mind.

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