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A military aide holds a medal during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House on Nov. 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Trump to award misguided economist the Presidential Medal of Freedom

06/19/19 12:31PM

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is supposed to be a unique American honor. Today, its value will be diminished when Donald Trump awards it to Art Laffer.

Laffer helped popularize the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves through faster economic growth. It almost never works out in practice. But Laffer and his namesake curve remain darlings of Republican politicians.

On Wednesday, Laffer will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- from President Trump.

You'll probably see reports today that describe Laffer as the "godfather" of supply-side economics, though that isn't quite right. Others promoted the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves before him, but Laffer famously sketched out the idea on a cocktail napkin for Dick Cheney in 1974, and soon after, the "Laffer Curve" was born.

The nation's finances have never been the same.

As Slate's Jordan Weissmann recently put it, "There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America's understanding of economics than Art Laffer. So, of course, Donald Trump is now awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

Laffer spent much of the spring peddling the idea that the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, should be blamed on President Barack Obama, who took office in January 2009. (He also predicted a decade ago that Obama's plan would "destroy the economy." Instead, it rescued the country from the Great Recession and initiated a recovery that's still ongoing.)

More recently, as regular readers may recall, Laffer served as the architect of then-Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) failed right-wing economic experiment in Kansas, which destroyed state finances and did little to improve the state's economy. Laffer vowed that Brownback's plan would generate "enormous prosperity," which is largely the opposite of what actually happened.

When the GOP governor's agenda failed to deliver on any of the expected results, Laffer was pressed for an explanation. "Kansas is doing fine," he boasted.

Kansas was not doing fine.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.19.19

06/19/19 12:00PM

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

* In his first 24 hours after kicking off his re-election campaign, Donald Trump raised more than $24 million. Most Democratic presidential hopefuls have struggled to raise anything close to that over the course of a few months.

* A USA Today/Suffolk poll released this morning found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democratic presidential primary field with 30%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 15% support and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 10%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was close behind with 9%, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was fifth with 8%, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), at 2%, was the only other candidate above 1%.

* Speaking of polls, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found Biden with a big lead in Florida, where he enjoys 41% support. Sanders was second with 14%, followed by Warren at 12%. Largely mirroring the national picture, Buttigieg was fourth with 8%, while Harris was fifth with 6%. No other candidate topped 1%.

* That same poll found each of the top Democratic contenders leading Trump in Florida in hypothetical match-ups, though Biden, with a nine-point advantage, did the best.

* In Alabama, disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) will announce today whether he's launching another U.S. Senate campaign ahead of the 2020 race. [Update: It now appears Moore's announcement will happen tomorrow, not today.]

* Brad Parscale, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, told CBS News yesterday that polls are less reliable now because the electorate is so "complex." As a rule, that's not a message campaign managers share when the polls look good for their candidates.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Asked about his credibility crisis, Trump tries to change the subject

06/19/19 11:20AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump was asked a question that few American presidents have ever heard. "Why should Americans trust your administration to tell the truth about what's going on with Iran?" a journalist asked. "If we go to war, why should we believe you if you say why?"

The fact that a question like this would even be asked is extraordinary. The American mainstream has gradually gotten used to the fact that their president is among the world's most flamboyantly dishonest people, and at some level, Trump seems to realize that much of his country sees him as a man who lies almost uncontrollably.

And the result is a crisis of credibility so severe that a reporter felt justified asking the president, to his face, why the public should believe his claims about a looming national security crisis.

This was Trump's response in its entirety.

"Well, we have Iran. We've been talking to various people on lots of different sides. And we'll see what happens with Iran. We're very well set. We're very well configured. We have a lot of things going on with Iran.

"I spoke with President Xi, this morning, of China. We'll be meeting at the G20. And I think that is working out pretty much as I anticipated it would. China very much wants to discuss the future, and so do we.

"So the relationship with President Xi is a very good one. We had a long talk this morning."

In case there are any doubts, this wasn't a transcription error. Trump was asked, "Why should Americans trust your administration to tell the truth about what's going on with Iran?" and Trump's response -- for reasons unknown -- meandered to some unrelated thoughts about China.

And as weird as that was, it seemed even more notable that the president made no effort to push back against the idea that he lacks credibility on matters of global significance.

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Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, speaks at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 7, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Meet the new head of the US Commission on Int'l Religious Freedom

06/19/19 10:40AM

It's been a couple of decades since Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose work is largely self-explanatory. Members of the panel, appointed by the president and lawmakers, are tasked with monitoring threats to religious liberty abroad and making policy recommendations in support of the oppressed.

As of this week, the commission has a new chairman. His name is Tony Perkins, who also serves as the head of the right-wing Family Research Council.

Perkins was originally chosen as a commission member last year -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tapped him for the post -- but now he's been promoted. As New York's Sarah Jones explained, it's a deeply discouraging development.

....Perkins isn't much of a household name. But he has for years worked toward a definition of religious freedom that maximizes First Amendment rights for conservative Christians, while minimizing the rights of Muslims, nontheists, and members of other minority traditions.

At various points in his prolific career, Perkins has argued that there is "a disproportionate overlap" between homosexuality and pedophilia and that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead inexorably to the persecution of conservative Christians.... Same-sex relationships remain illegal in much of the world, and LGBT people can face violence and death, meted out either by vigilantes or courts. They won't have an advocate in Perkins, nor, for that matter, will many religious minorities.

As Right Wing Watch reported, it was in 2014 that Perkins suggested that Christians who support legal equality for LGBTQ people don't have the same legal protections as more conservative Christians, because a "true religious freedom" has to be "based on orthodox religious viewpoints."

But Perkins has reserved some of his most unsettling ire for Muslims, arguing among other things that Islam "is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a compressive system which is incompatible with the Constitution."

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Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky.

Under Trump, US air quality slips for the first time in years

06/19/19 10:00AM

In recent months, whenever Donald Trump is asked about the climate crisis, the president responds by talking about air quality -- as if they were the same thing. They're not.

But Trump keeps pretending anyway, even going so far as to argue that air quality in the United States has improved since he took office. At a recent event in Ireland, the Republican boasted, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president."

Trump added at a campaign rally last night, "We have among the cleanest and sharpest -- crystal clean, you've heard me say it, I want it crystal clean -- air and water anywhere on Earth."

There are three relevant angles to this. The first is that it's a clumsy way to dodge questions about the climate crisis. The second is that Trump's claims about U.S. air quality are wrong.

And third, as the Associated Press reported yesterday, U.S. air quality has actually gotten worse since Trump became president.

After decades of improvement, America's air may not be getting any cleaner.

Over the last two years the nation had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data shows. While it remains unclear whether this is the beginning of a trend, health experts say it's troubling to see air quality progress stagnate. [...]

There were noticeably more polluted air days each year in the president's first two years in office than any of the four years before, according to new Environmental Protection Agency data analyzed by The Associated Press.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration is unveiling an energy plan this morning intended to -- you guessed it -- boost the coal industry. USA Today reported:

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Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents take inventory of seized cocaine packages, on the deck of the US Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, Oct. 6, 2014. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

Major cocaine bust doesn't do Trump's talking points any favors

06/19/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration in February, giving himself the authority to redirect funds to the border in defiance of Congress' wishes, the president justified the move by pointing to the illicit drug trade.

"[W]e have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border," Trump said at the time. "When you look and when you listen to politicians -- in particular, certain Democrats -- they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie."

It's not a lie. For one thing, the claims aren't just coming from "politicians"; the statistics come by way of Trump's own DEA. For another, as regular readers know, incidents like these keep coming to the fore that help prove how wrong the president is.

Federal authorities seized 15,000 kilos of cocaine, worth as much as $1 billion, at a Philadelphia shipping port, officials said Tuesday. A second mate and a crew member have been arrested in the massive bust.

There were 16.5 tons of the drug found in seven shipping containers late Monday night, officials said.

The local U.S. Attorney described the bust, featuring cocaine with a street value of $1 billion, as "one of the largest drug seizures in United States history."

Clearly, law enforcement and port officials deserve credit for interceptions like these. When the authorities seize more than 16 tons of cocaine, it's obviously an extraordinary development.

But there's also a political angle to this -- because according to the president, drug smugglers avoid ports of entry like these.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

The wrong boast: Trump says his team has 'a great vetting process'

06/19/19 08:40AM

Patrick Shanahan's nomination to serve as Donald Trump's new Defense secretary collapsed yesterday after revelations surrounding incidents of domestic violence within Shanahan's family. During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, the president insisted that he learned of the allegations for the first time on Monday.

It led to an important follow-up question:

Q: Does that make you concerned then about the White House vetting process if you had just heard about it yesterday?

TRUMP: No, we have a very good vetting process. And you take a look at our Cabinet and our Secretaries — it's very good. But we have a great vetting process.

A variety of adjectives come to mind when describing the White House vetting process. "Great" isn't one of them.

On last night's show, Rachel highlighted the vetting failures surrounding Patrick Shanahan and the significance of the national security risks associated with such a dramatic breakdown. Shanahan's nomination may be over, but the questions surrounding how this controversy happened still need answers.

Unfortunately for the president, we can keep going down the same embarrassing road. Stephen Moore's nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve board collapsed last month in large part because the White House hadn't vetted him before the president chose him. A month earlier, Herman Cain was unable to join the Fed board for the same reason.

Team Trump was similarly caught off-guard by controversies surrounding Matt Whitaker, who wasn't vetted before the president made him acting attorney general. Trump failed to vet Ronny Jackson, whose nomination to lead the V.A. failed.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

At his 2020 kickoff, Trump remained stuck in the past

06/19/19 08:00AM

Shortly after Donald Trump wrapped up his re-election campaign launch in Orlando last night, one of his admirers in conservative media declared, "He absolutely blistered Hillary Clinton."

There's some truth to that. The president seemed oddly preoccupied with the former secretary of State, and I have little doubt that Trump's aggressive attacks against Clinton will undermine her chances of winning the 2020 election.

If she were running, the strategy might even make sense.

Trump had a unique opportunity last night to frame the next presidential race in a way that suited his purposes. He could've put a positive spin on his record; he could've presented a forward-thinking vision for the next four years; and could've set the parameters for the dominant issues and themes of the 2020 cycle.

But as Dana Milbank noted, Trump instead remained "perpetually stuck in 2016."

At his campaign kickoff in Orlando on Tuesday, Trump alleged that "Crooked Hillary Clinton" funded "the phony dossier." He accused her of an "illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign."

On and on Trump went, about "Crooked Hillary" and her "insurance policy," falsely stating that she refused to concede the election and alleging that she "destroyed evidence, deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine."

Inferring that Bill Barr may try to prosecute his former rival, the president added, "Let's see what happens. We now have a great attorney general. Let's see what happens." (NBC News' Monica Alba noted around this time, "By my count, President Trump has mentioned Hillary Clinton (at least) 7 times tonight in the span of about 30 minutes. Seven!")

The fact that the accusations were factually wrong made this annoying, but the Republican's focus on a Democrat who left public office seven years ago, and who'll never again run in an election, made this bizarre.

Referring to Republicans, Hillary Clinton joked in 2017, "It appears they don't know I'm not president." Two years later, it appears Trump doesn't know she's not a candidate, either.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.18.19

06/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Central America's Northern Triangle: "The Trump administration said Monday it is easing previously announced cuts in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala but will not allow new funding until those countries do more to reduce migrant flows to the United States."

* Ann Marie Buerkle: "The head of the nation's product safety regulator says she's stepping down when her term ends in October, a surprise announcement that follows criticism for how the agency handled a recall of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play and its decision to not force a recall of a jogging stroller."

* Impeachment: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he supports waiting 'months down the road' on deciding whether to impeach President Donald Trump, saying more facts are needed."

* Something to keep an eye on: "House Democrats intend to question former White House communications director Hope Hicks on Wednesday about five specific incidents that special counsel Robert Mueller detailed as part of his investigation into whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, aides said."

* Theresa May now has a likely successor in the UK: "Boris Johnson, the New York-born former mayor of London, remains the overwhelming favorite to succeed May. He secured the votes of 126 out of 313 Conservative members of Parliament in what was the second round of the internal party election."

* I wonder how her confirmation hearings are going to go: "President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations -- current U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft -- was frequently absent from her post in Ottawa, raising questions about her level of engagement with the job, according to officials in the United States and Canada."

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