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Sanders: No more never-ending wars

Sanders: No more never-ending wars

07/10/19 09:48PM

Senator Bernie Sanders, 2020 Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about getting the U.S. military out of conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East and making it clear to Saudi Arabia and Iran that the U.S. will not get sucked into another never-ending war. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.10.19

07/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Damage control: "Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his role in cutting what critics have called a lenient plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago and signaled that he has no intention to resign his post."

* Epstein's newest accuser: "Jennifer Araoz says she was 14 years old when a young woman approached her outside her New York City high school in the fall of 2001. The woman was friendly and curious, asking Araoz personal questions about her family, her upbringing, their finances. Soon she began talking to Araoz about a man she knew who was kind and wealthy and lived nearby. His name, the woman said, was Jeffrey Epstein."

* The unfortunate resolution: "The British ambassador to the United States resigned Wednesday following leaked memos that showed he had called President Donald Trump 'insecure' and 'incompetent.' Sir Kim Darroch said in a statement that the fallout from the leaked communications ... was 'making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.'"

* D.C.: "President Donald Trump's military-style July Fourth parade drained a special Washington, D.C., city fund designed to help pay for extra security and anti-terrorism measures during large events in the nation's capital, the mayor said in a letter to the White House."

* A big development from last night: "A federal judge late Tuesday refused to let Justice Department lawyers withdraw from a dispute over the citizenship question on the 2020 census form, in a case that continues after the Supreme Court's ruling in late June." 

* I hope you saw Rachel's coverage on this last night: "The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News."

* Team Mueller, Part I: "House Democrats are seeking to hear from two senior deputies to former special counsel Robert Mueller in closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill next week, the latest attempt to learn more about the Russia investigation in the face of Mr. Mueller's vow to only discuss the facts laid out in his report."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump's executive order on kidneys piggybacks on the ACA

07/10/19 02:52PM

As a rule, when Donald Trump signs an executive order, there's reason for concern about abuses and regressive steps backward. Today, however, the president appears to have done something worthwhile -- though he neglected to mention an important detail.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the government to revamp the nation's care for kidney disease so that more people whose kidneys fail have a chance at early transplants and home dialysis.

Trump said his order was intended to increase the supply of donated kidneys, make it easier for patients to undergo dialysis in the comfort of their own homes and prioritize the development of an artificial kidney.

This is the first of several steps, though as Vox's piece noted, the administration's new policy "would make it easier for living donors to give kidneys and other organs, promote the donation of organs from deceased people, and restructure payment for health care providers to reduce the rate of kidney failure in the first place."

On balance, it looks like this executive order is a genuinely good idea. I guess Trump is helping prove the broken-clock theory.

In fact, the president's policy has so much merit, I'm not even going to mention his odd remarks about the executive order, including his assertion, "The kidney has a very special place in the heart." It'd be easy to have a little fun with that, but I won't.

I am, however, inclined to shine a light on a relevant detail Trump neglected to mention: he's piggybacking on the Affordable Care Act.

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Part of Trump's emoluments problem goes away (but only part)

07/10/19 02:08PM

The U.S. Constitution includes a once-obscure provision known as the "Emoluments Clause." As regular readers know, the provision is pretty straightforward: U.S. officials are prohibited from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn't been much of a problem for sitting American presidents -- but with Donald Trump things are a little different.

After all, this president has refused to divest from his private-sector enterprises, which means he continues to personally profit from businesses that receive payments from foreign governments.

The problem isn't just theoretical: plenty of foreign officials and representatives of foreign governments have spent money at Trump's properties.

Naturally, this dynamic has prompted a series of lawsuits, one of which went the president's way today.

A federal appeals court Wednesday threw out a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump's ownership of a luxury hotel five blocks from the White House. It was a defeat for Maryland and the District of Columbia, who claimed that his vast holdings presented a conflict between his business profits and the nation's interest.

Wednesday's ruling said the lawsuit failed to make a clear showing that Trump's ownership of the hotel was creating competition with local convention centers. And the court said the local governments couldn't show how any such competition, if it existed, could be legally prevented.

The 4th Circuit's unanimous ruling is online here (pdf). Each of the judges who heard the case were appointed by Republican presidents: George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Trump.

Speaking of Trump, he took a predictable victory lap this morning on Twitter, describing the case as "a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt." I'm not at all sure what that's supposed to mean in this context, and the president has previously said he's uncomfortable with the conspiratorial "deep state" phrase.

Regardless, it's not surprising that Trump is pleased that conservative judges ruled his way, though if he thinks his emoluments-clause headache has completely gone away, he's mistaken.

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

Pentagon deals with leadership upheaval in the Trump era

07/10/19 12:49PM

Nearly three months ago, Politico reported on the "power vacuum" at the Pentagon, where a "large number of acting officials has slowed decisions, handicapped the department in policy disputes, and unduly empowered the White House."

What we didn't know when the article was published is the degree to which matters were poised to get worse.

After Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of Defense, exited the stage in June under difficult circumstances, a series of personnel moves unfolded, leaving the Pentagon with its third acting secretary of 2019. The Washington Post reported on the new succession plan made public yesterday.

Mark Esper, who became acting defense secretary on June 24 after his predecessor, then-acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan, abruptly stepped aside, is expected to hand over to a third acting secretary, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, when the White House formally submits Esper's nomination to the Senate for confirmation.

Under a federal law known as the Vacancies Act, Esper, who has been serving as Army secretary since 2017, is required to step aside while the Senate considers his nomination for the top Pentagon job. When he will do so is not clear, as the requirement will be activated only when the White House officially transmits his nomination to the Senate.

Let's pause to consider how we reached this point. As regular readers may recall, the original plan was for James Mattis to serve as the secretary of Defense through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, choose a nominee, and create the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

The president blew up that plan when someone told him what Mattis said in the resignation letter Trump hadn't bothered to read.

In the months that followed, the Defense Department has been forced to deal with the kind of leadership upheaval it's traditionally avoided. Indeed, the mess is poised to get worse before it gets better.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.10.19

07/10/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden released his state and federal tax returns from the last three years yesterday. The materials show the Delaware Democrat making millions from book sales and speaking engagements since leaving office in 2017.

* In North Carolina's 3rd congressional district, state Rep. Greg Murphy (R) won a Republican primary runoff and is now a heavy favorite to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones (R) in Congress.

* Retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) raised more than $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her U.S. campaign against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) in Kentucky. That's a presidential-campaign-level haul.

* Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, the latest candidate to launch a Democratic presidential campaign, has a lot of ground to make up, which is why his day-old campaign has launched a $1.4 million ad buy. (His ads will appear on MSNBC, among other outlets.) As Politico noted, this is "the largest single television ad buy in the Democratic presidential primary."

* Former Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) served one term in Congress representing Illinois' 17th congressional district before losing his re-election bid in 2012. His comeback bid in 2014 also fell short. Now, however, Schilling has moved to the other side of the Mississippi River and yesterday kicked off a new congressional campaign in Iowa's 2nd district.

* As Democrats prepare for the possibility of a competitive Senate race in Kansas, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) announced she won't run for the seat, while former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom (D) said he is running. Party leaders have also spoken to state Sen. Barbara Bollier (D), a former Republican who switched parties last year, about the race.

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Larry Kudlow

White House's Kudlow: $22.5 trillion debt is not 'a huge problem'

07/10/19 10:50AM

At roughly this point last year, Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House's National Economic Council, expressed his delight with the nation's fiscal landscape. Federal revenues, he insisted, are "rolling in," while the budget deficit "is coming down."

Kudlow had reality backwards. Revenues were (and are) declining, while the budget deficit was (and is) growing rapidly. The top economic voice on Donald Trump's team shared a vision that was the polar opposite of the truth.

Yesterday, Kudlow appeared on CNBC and returned to the issue in unhelpful ways.

President Donald Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow downplayed the US record national debt of $22.5 trillion on Tuesday, claiming that it's not a cause of concern and the federal government is prepared to manage it.

"I don't see this as a huge problem right now at all," Kudlow said at CNBC's Capital Exchange event. "[It's] quite manageable."

He also claimed that revenue analysis of Trump's tax cuts is "coming in very well" and expressed optimism their cost has already been covered. "I would argue strongly that the corporate tax cut has already been paid for and that roughly two-thirds of the overall tax cut has been paid for," Kudlow said.

Oh my.

There are three basic elements of this that are worth keeping in mind. First and foremost, the idea massive corporate tax breaks have "already been paid for" is quite nutty. The deficit is soaring, CEOs are focused on stock buybacks, and revenues are so poor that officials are starting to worry about how quickly they'll have to raise the debt ceiling. If there's any evidence to support Kudlow's claim, it's hiding well.

Second, when Barack Obama was president and the national debt was considerably smaller, Kudlow was eager to express alarm about "humongous deficits and the doubling of the debt and so forth." A decade later, with a Republican in the Oval Office, he's apparently overhauled his entire fiscal perspective. What a coincidence.

And finally, the problem isn't limited to Kudlow.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

At the intersection of a debt-ceiling mess and a shutdown threat

07/10/19 10:06AM

I've long thought of debt-ceiling fights like a scheduled root canal on the calendar: it's one of those unpleasant things you know is coming, but you'd prefer not to think too much about it until it's absolutely necessary.

Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center insisted it's absolutely necessary. The think tank concluded that federal tax revenue is falling short of projections, so the time we thought we had in advance of the next debt-ceiling increase is evaporating. In fact, the group said the borrowing limit would probably have to be addressed by early September -- not October or November, as previously estimated.

As it turns out, the Bipartisan Policy Center isn't alone in its concerns. The Hill reported this morning that lawmakers are "growing anxious that they might have to vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling in a matter of weeks."

Lawmakers had hoped they would be able to avoid the politically painful vote to raise the debt ceiling until the fall -- and that it could be packaged with other legislation to fund the government and set budget caps on spending.

But that could be much more difficult if Treasury's ability to prevent the government from going over its borrowing limit ends in mid-September -- just days after lawmakers would be set to return from their summer recess.

At some point, we should all probably have a conversation about why federal tax revenue is proving to be a problem -- have I mentioned lately that the Republican tax plan was a bad idea? -- but in the short term, the prospect of an ugly train wreck is coming into sharper focus.

Because increasing the debt ceiling isn't the only related challenge on Congress' late-summer to-do list.

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Pro-choice signs are seen during the March for Life 2016, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

The more abortion rights are threatened, the more Americans support them

07/10/19 09:20AM

About a month after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he could understand why American women are concerned about the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

As regular readers may recall, the president replied, "I do understand, but I also understand that, you know, that's a 50/50 question in this country."

To hear the Republican tell it, Americans are evenly divided on the legal right to an abortion. Half the country is satisfied now, the argument goes, but if the high court's five-member conservative majority overturns Roe, the other half will be pleased.

The trouble is, Trump's assumptions about public attitudes are wrong, as polling data keeps reminding us. In fact, it seems the more Republicans target reproductive rights, the more the American mainstream supports reproductive rights.

Support for legal abortion stands at its highest level in more than two decades according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as numerous states adopt restrictions that challenge the breadth of rights established by the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The Post-ABC poll finds a 60 percent majority who say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 55 percent in a 2013 Post-ABC poll, and tying the record high level of support from 1995. The latest survey finds 36 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, also tying a record low.

Our current president isn't great with numbers, but even Trump should be able to appreciate the difference between a 50-50 split and a 60-36 split.

The results from the Washington Post/ABC News poll are roughly in line with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month, which also found a growing majority of Americans concluding that abortion should be legal or legal most of the time.

A variety of factors probably contribute to shifts like these, though it seems plausible, if not probable, that the American mainstream took reproductive rights for granted for many years, assuming that existing laws were safe and enduring.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Conservative judges put the ACA's future in jeopardy

07/10/19 08:40AM

For much of the year, health-care advocates have been concerned about the Texas v. U.S. case, but not too concerned. Yes, a far-right judge in Texas used the case as a weapon to rule against the Affordable Care Act in its entirety late last year, but there was a general consensus -- from the left, right, and center -- that the ruling was absurd and would obviously fail on appeal.

It may be time to revisit those assumptions.

A federal appeals court panel grilled Democratic attorneys general on Tuesday about whether Obamacare violates the U.S. Constitution, as it weighs whether to uphold a Texas judge's ruling striking down the landmark healthcare reform law.

The judges focused on whether the 2010 Affordable Care Act lost its justification after Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 signed a law that eliminated a tax penalty used to enforce the ACA's mandate that all Americans buy health insurance. [...]

"If you no longer have a tax, why isn't it unconstitutional?" Judge Jennifer Elrod, who was appointed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by Republican President George W. Bush, asked attorneys for the Democratic officials defending the law during a hearing in New Orleans.

It's a tough question to wrap one's head around. For much of this decade, the right argued, "The individual mandate is unconstitutional so judges must tear down 'Obamacare.'" The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and the law remained intact.

In late 2017, however, Republicans effectively scrapped the mandate penalty in their tax plan, at which point, the right argued, "The individual mandate has been zeroed out so 'Obamacare' must be seen as impermissible."

There is no scenario in which this makes sense, and yet, there was a Bush-appointed appellate judge yesterday, suggesting the ACA's future is in doubt precisely because of this nonsensical train of thought.

Indeed, by some measures, it wasn't even the strangest thing Elrod said during oral arguments in the 5th Circuit yesterday.

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