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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.15.19

10/15/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll found Elizabeth Warren leading Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, 30% to 27%. Bernie Sanders is third with 11% -- down six points since the last Quinnipiac survey -- while Pete Buttigieg was fourth with 8%. Kamala Harris, who had 4% support in the poll, was the only other candidate above 2%.

* Brad Parscale, Donald Trump's campaign manager, yesterday described the U.S. House's impeachment inquiry as being "a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the people's president." He added that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "attempting to overthrow our great Republic." Parscale did not appear to be kidding.

* The New York Times published quite a report on the planned voter purge in Ohio's Republican-led state government: "When Ohio released a list of people it planned to strike from its voting rolls, around 40,000 people shouldn't have been on it. The state only found out because of volunteer sleuthing." In all, Ohio intended to purge 235,000 Americans from the state voter rolls, and roughly one-in-five voters on the purge list weren't supposed to be there.

* Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke has now "clarified" his position on stripping the tax-exempt status of houses of worship that oppose marriage equality: "O'Rourke and his staff have since said that was not his intended position."

* Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's (D) detractors tried to launch a recall campaign against her, but as of yesterday, they failed to collect the necessary number of signatures.

* In Louisiana over the weekend, voters handed Republicans significant state legislative gains, which will likely cause headaches for Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) if he wins a gubernatorial runoff next month.

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Trump appears to forget basic details of the Ukraine scandal timeline

10/15/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump has boasted on multiple occasions that he has "one of the great memories of all time." It's therefore odd when he forgets recent events from his own presidency.

For example, Trump's description of the failure of his health care initiative tends to garble up the timeline of events. The Republican's description of the failure of his immigration initiative has run into the same problem: the president has struggled to keep track of which developments happened at which time.

And now it's happening again with Trump's impeachment scandal. Here, for example, was what the president told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend:

"[House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff] made up a conversation. He made a conversation that didn't exist. He never thought in a million years that I was going to release the real conversation. And when it did, the whistleblower turned out to be totally inaccurate."

There's a lot wrong with this, but note how badly Trump has screwed up the timeline of events. He seems to believe the White House released the now infamous call summary after Schiff paraphrased it. It's a key point to Trump's defense, and it gets what actually happened backwards.

In the same Fox News interview, Trump added:

"Even if you listen to the very good conversation that I had [with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] -- a very, very good, no-pressure, congenial conversation with the new president of Ukraine -- he had some things that were not flattering to say about [former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch]. And that came out of the blue. So, you know, it would be nice to have somebody that he liked, because he's going -- the person will have to deal with the president of Ukraine."

That's not what happened. As the White House's own call summary showed, it was Trump who brought up the ambassador, not Zelensky.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Poll denialism makes a comeback as impeachment, 2020 elections loom

10/15/19 10:45AM

Fox News released a national poll last week that was rather brutal for the White House. The data from Donald Trump's favorite network showed, among other things, that 51% of Americans support the president's impeachment and removal from office. The same results pointed to large segments of the population criticizing Trump's "dealings with the Ukrainian president."

Not surprisingly, a variety of news outlets, including the New York Times, took note of the Fox poll. According to Trump, that's a mistake.

President Trump on Monday blasted The New York Times for using in one of its stories last week's Fox News poll that said a majority of respondents wanted his impeachment.

"The Fox Impeachment poll has turned out to be incorrect," he tweeted Monday. "This was announced on Friday. Despite this, the Corrupt New York Times used this poll in one of its stories, no mention of the correction which they knew about full well!"

In reality, there was no correction to "mention." The president appeared to reference this New York Post piece, which argued that the sample in the Fox News poll included too many Democrats.

"Princeton, New Jersey, pollster Braun Research, which conducted the survey, noted 48% of its respondents were Democrats," the New York Post's analysis read. "But the actual breakdown of party affiliation is 31% Democrat, 29% Republican and 38% independent, according to Gallup."

There are two important angles to this. The first is the flaw in the New York Post's analysis, which may make Trump feel better, but which is nevertheless mistaken. The second is the re-emergence of poll denialism.

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Biden: No pardon for Trump if he's indicted after 2020

10/15/19 10:00AM

Former Vice President Joe Biden sat down with Radio Iowa this week and answered a question I haven't heard him address before.

During an interview with Radio Iowa later Sunday afternoon, Biden said if he is elected, he will not follow President Ford's example in pardoning Nixon so Nixon was not prosecuted for his role in Watergate.

"It wouldn't unite the country," Biden said. "You'd say: 'Wait a minute. I get a parking ticket and I've got to pay it. This happens to me and I've got to go to jail. This guy does all these things that put us jeopardy and he gets off? I think this is of a different nature. And I think President Ford, God love him, he's a good guy, I knew him pretty well. I think if he had to do it over again, he wouldn't have done it ... because he didn't get re-elected."

As regular readers know, I've been keeping an eye on this for a while, because for Donald Trump, winning a second term next year is about more than just power and ego; it's also about the statute of limitations.

After all, the president has been implicated in a variety of alleged crimes, though Trump appears to be shielded from prosecution so long as he’s in office. If he were to lose in 2020, that shield would disappear, and the prospect of an indictment would become quite real. Indeed, by most accounts, the only way for Trump to ensure he faces no criminal liability is for him to remain president for another four years.

But let’s say he doesn’t. For the sake of conversation, let’s imagine Trump not only loses the popular vote again, but also comes up short in the electoral college. Let’s also say it’s 2021 and the president’s Democratic successor, recognizing the possibility of Trump facing an indictment, has to decide whether to pull a Gerald Ford and issue a pardon for his/her scandal-plagued predecessor.

Biden is now committed to not pardoning Trump, and the Delaware Democrat isn't alone.

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Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Facing crises, Team Trump takes aim at the church-state line

10/15/19 09:20AM

On Friday, Attorney General William Barr spoke at Notre Dame's law school and raised a few eyebrows by condemning societal ills on conspiring American secularists. As far as the nation's chief law enforcement official was concerned, non-religious Americans -- roughly a fifth of the population -- are helping advance "social pathology" and "moral upheaval." Barr added that these sinister secularists are responsible for "an unremitting assault" on "traditional values."

One day later, Donald Trump spoke at a religious right gathering, where he told social conservative activists, "Forever and always, Americans will believe in the cause of freedom, the power of prayer, and the eternal glory of God." Soon after, the president called into Fox News and insisted that there's a Christian revival underway because "everybody" knows that "the Russian witch hunt was a faux, phony fraud. And we got rid of that. And then they came up with this Ukrainian story that was made up by Adam Schiff."

And then, of course, there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. USA Today reported late yesterday:

A recent speech about "Being a Christian Leader" by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was promoted on the State Department's homepage Monday, and has been met with criticism that it potentially violates the principle of separation of church and state enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

The speech was delivered at the America Association of Christian Counselors on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee. Pompeo touts Christianity throughout the remarks, describing how he applies his faith to his government work, referencing God and the Bible during the entirety of the speech.

If you visited the U.S. State Department's website yesterday, its homepage featured a picture of Pompeo alongside text that read, "Being a Christian Leader." (That text has since been replaced with content about Turkish sanctions.)

Taken together, Team Trump's theological push isn't exactly subtle. In a country that's supposed to honor the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, it isn't exactly healthy, either.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Trump touts 'great' Chinese trade deal that doesn't actually exist

10/15/19 08:40AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump spoke at the Voters Values Summit, one of the year's major gatherings of the religious right movement, and the president was eager to tout parts of his record. "We do great things," the Republican told the social conservative activists. "Look at what we did yesterday with China."

The comments came about 24 hours after Trump told reporters, "So, we just made what, I guess, is one of the biggest deals that's been made in a long time, with China." The president went on to say, "[I]f you look at the deal, the deal is so incredible. The deal is a great deal."

Part of the problem with the Republican's boast is that the framework of the agreement may be "great," but not for the United States. The Wall Street Journal published an interesting report the other day, noting that it was China that "emerged with wins" from the trade talks.

The other part of the problem, as the Associated Press reported, is that the trade deal Trump is so excited about doesn't actually exist, at least not yet.

[N]egotiators reached their tentative agreement only in principle. No documents have been signed. A final deal could still fall through, though Trump told reporters Friday he didn't think that would happen.

Many of the details remained to be worked out. Some of the thorniest issues -- such as U.S. allegations that China forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets -- were dealt with only partially, or not at all, and will require further talks.

"The president is acting as if a lot of Chinese concessions have been nailed down, and they just haven't," said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

A separate AP report added that despite Trump's rhetoric, "closer inspection suggests there isn't much substance" to the announced agreement. Scott Kennedy, who analyzes China's economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that Friday's announcement was "a nothing-burger," adding, "I call it the 'Invisible Deal.'... The only thing that happened Friday was that the U.S. delayed the tariff increase."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin conceded yesterday that the deal needs "a lot of work," and Beijing hasn't even acknowledged the existence of an agreement.

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Liz Cheney speaks during a campaign appearance in Casper, Wyo. on July 17, 2013.

Liz Cheney tries to connect impeachment, crisis conditions in Syria

10/15/19 08:00AM

There's no great mystery behind the crisis conditions in northern Syria. While conditions in the area were relatively stable of late, Donald Trump withdrew U.S. military forces -- defying the advice of his own administration and failing to consult our allies -- effectively giving the green light to Turkey to launch a brutal offensive against our Kurdish allies. The results have been catastrophic.

One of Congress' top Republicans argued yesterday, however, that House Democrats bare at least some of the blame for the crisis conditions.

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, claimed Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is partly to blame for Turkey's invasion of northern Syria.

Though Trump has faced bipartisan backlash for withdrawing American troops from the region ahead of the Turkish assault against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, Cheney said Democrats should also be held responsible for the crisis.

During a Fox News appearance, Cheney argued that the ongoing impeachment inquiry is part of an attempt "to weaken this president. The Wyoming Republican added, "It was not an accident that the Turks chose this moment to roll across the border. And I think the Democrats have got to pay very careful attention to the damage that they're doing with impeachment proceedings."

In other words, by Cheney's reasoning, Turkey saw an American president weakened by an impeachment inquiry, tried to take advantage of the opportunity, and launched a military assault. If only House Democrats had ignored Trump's misdeeds, the argument goes, maybe Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would've ignored the green light provided by the White House.

As the HuffPost report added, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office described Cheney's argument as "delusional," which seems more than fair under the circumstances. Indeed, the idea peddled yesterday by the House Republican conference chair is bizarre: Turkey doesn't care about some congressional hearings; it cares about the withdrawal of American troops. This isn't complicated.

I can appreciate why some of the White House's far-right allies would look for ways to shift the blame for Trump's disastrous decision away from the president, but unless Liz Cheney is prepared to make the case that the House Democratic majority forced Trump to make a ruinous national security decision, the whole argument is plainly ridiculous.

That said, there is a larger arc to this: some in the GOP want to characterize the impeachment process as inherently dangerous.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.14.19

10/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Chaos in northern Syria: "The U.S. military this weekend accelerated its plans to fully withdraw from Syria as Turkish forces continued their advance in the country's north and reports of human rights atrocities emerged."

* On a related note: "President Donald Trump said Monday he plans to sanction Turkey amid sustained criticism from Republican lawmakers over his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria to make way for a Turkish operation."

* Impeachment inquiry: "Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council expert on Russia, was testifying to Congress behind closed doors Monday, the latest former Trump administration official to be subpoenaed as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump."

* In related news: "Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he was kicked out of this morning's deposition of Fiona Hill by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff. Gaetz is not on any of the three committees conducting the impeachment investigation — Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight."

* Texas: "The Fort Worth, Texas, police officer who fatally shot a woman while she was babysitting her nephew over the weekend resigned Monday, hours before the police department was going to fire him."

* Nauseating: "A violent video showing a likeness of President Donald Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and political opponents prompted calls Monday for the White House to denounce the footage."

* I guess Trump saw something on television about this? "President Donald Trump used Twitter on Saturday morning to come to the defense of an army officer charged with murder and said the man's case was now under review at the White House."

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In this file photo taken on June 29, 2019 (front L-R) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attend an event on women's empowerment during the G20 Summit

Why exactly would Donald Trump have Ivanka talk to world leaders?

10/14/19 02:39PM

The Associated Press had an interesting report over the weekend on Donald Trump's infamous July phone meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the contents of which are now the basis for an impeachment inquiry. But in the same article, the AP offered some notable behind-the-scenes details on the ways in which the White House prepares -- or least tries to prepare -- for these calls.

For example, there's apparently a problem with Trump's complete disinterest in preparing for important discussions.

One individual with firsthand knowledge of how the Trump calls with foreign leaders are handled said the president "hates" such "pre-briefs" and frequently has refused to do them. Trump doesn't like written background materials either. [...]

The person said a six-page pre-brief with attachments was once prepared for Trump before a call to a foreign leader. But that turned out to be too long, as did a single-page version. Preparing pre-brief note cards that offered about three talking points for Trump to make on a call was the norm.

This is, of course, unsettling, though it's also consistent with everything we've learned about the president's process. Trump can’t even be bothered to read his daily presidential intelligence briefing. Some aides have routinely found that “even a single page of bullet points” is too taxing for the president's limited attention span. A Trump confidant said a couple of years ago, “I call the president the two-minute man. The president has patience for a half-page.”

The AP article went on to note that Trump has a habit of taking his note cards and ripping them up after his conversations. Since the Presidential Records Act still exists, White House aides have to "put the papers out on a table and tape them back together to preserve them as official presidential records." This, too, is consistent with what we've heard before.

This tidbit from the AP report, however, was new to me: "Occasionally, while on the phone with foreign heads of state, Trump has handed the receiver to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, so she can talk with the leader."


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