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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

How serious is McConnell about doing 'something' on gun reforms?

08/09/19 08:00AM

For proponents of gun reforms, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is an unmovable villain standing in the way of every legislative effort to improve public safety. For opponents of reforms, the Kentucky Republican is a reliable ally, who can always be counted on to bury gun legislation regardless of merit.

Both contingents were probably a little surprised yesterday when McConnell opened the door to new legislation using rhetoric that he hasn't used before.

"Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass" the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and the so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.

"But what we can't do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that's unacceptable," McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.

The Senate GOP leader went on to note that he'd spoken about the issue with Donald Trump, and the president is "anxious to get an outcome."

It's hard not to think of poor Charlie Brown, standing on the field, wondering if this time Lucy will actually let him kick the football without yanking it away at the last moment.

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Thousands attend the Ramadan Suhoor Festival in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Muslim voters could be key to a blue Michigan in 2020 - if Democrats reach out.

08/08/19 07:03PM

Last week, 20 presidential candidates debated at Detroit’s Fox Theatre in Michigan, home to one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the country. On the second day of the debate, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez met with Muslim leaders at a mosque 20 minutes away to hear issues important to Michigan’s 119,634 eligible Muslim voters. Muslim organizers say Democratic Party outreach to their communities has a long way to go, which could mean a missed opportunity for candidates in 2020.

The DNC says the meeting was a stop on their "Muslim Listening Tour," part of what Perez says is an effort to improve outreach. "We know we’ve got a lot of work to do," Perez said.

“This is a battleground state and 10,000 votes can equal just a fraction of the voters in, for example Dearborn, which is Muslim-dense,” said Lama Alzuhd, Vice Chair of Muslim advocacy group Emgage Action Michigan. “In 2020, no presidential candidate can afford to not campaign in the Muslim community.”

The 2016 margin of victory in Michigan for President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton was a mere 10,704 votes.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.8.19

08/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Yesterday, Peter Strzok filed suit, today it's McCabe: "Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's ire, has sued the FBI and the Justice Department over his firing.... McCabe was fired after a Justice Department inspector general report found that he had misstated his involvement in a news media disclosure regarding an FBI investigation."

* Matthew Gebert is a foreign affairs officer at the Bureau of Energy Resources: "A State Department official who was outed as an alleged white nationalist by a civil rights group had been placed on leave, sources said Thursday."

* Speaking of the State Department: "The Trump administration's top diplomat for Latin America has resigned amid internal disputes over immigration policy for the region, U.S. officials said Wednesday."

* Part I: "Immigration enforcement authorities raided food processing plants across Mississippi on Wednesday, picking up 680 workers in what was being billed as the biggest single-day, one-state sweep in U.S. history, officials said."

* Part II: "About 300 of the 680 people detained in Wednesday's federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid were released the same day, officials said. Approximately 30 people detained Wednesday were released at the same site they were detained on 'humanitarian grounds,' according to a press release issued Thursday by Mike Hurst, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, and ICE."

* Kashmir: "As tensions continued high between India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday that his government's decision to revoke Kashmir's special status marked 'a new era' that would free the region of 'terrorism and separatism.'"

* The good news is, this will only affect people who consume food. Everyone else will be fine: "If climate change is left unchecked, rising temperatures, extreme weather and land degradation could trigger a global food crisis, according to a report released Thursday by a United Nations panel."

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Even in an El Paso hospital, Trump's focus turned to crowd sizes

08/08/19 12:49PM

Most of what we've seen from Donald Trump's visit to University Medical Center in El Paso yesterday came from the White House, which released a hagiographic 58-second video of the president's visit. Professional journalists were prohibited from covering what transpired.

But since it's 2019, and much of the public has smart phones, someone filmed this portion of Trump's comments to hospital staff yesterday, and shared the video with the local CBS affiliate. The president certainly started on a sensible note, praising the medical professionals who treated -- and continued to treat -- victims of the recent mass shooting in their community.

But Trump couldn't help being Trump.

After commending the staff's work, Trump pivoted to bragging about the turnout he received at a rally in the border city. "I was here three months ago," Trump said. "That place was packed... and we had twice the number outside."

The president then squeezed in jabs about O'Rourke's El Paso rally held on the same day in opposition to Trump. "Then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot," Trump said.

The official line from the White House was that reporters weren't allowed to cover the event because it wasn't a photo-op; it was a solemn occasion in the wake of a deadly tragedy. We know from the many photographs the president promoted via social media that the line wasn't true.

It seems far more likely that the media was blocked because the president's aides are painfully aware of Donald Trump's propensity to act like Donald Trump.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.8.19

08/08/19 12:00PM

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

* A new Monmouth University poll out of Iowa shows Joe Biden leading the Democratic presidential field in the nation's first caucus state with 28%, but Elizabeth Warren isn't far behind with 19%. Kamala Harris is third with 11%, followed by Bernie Sanders, who's slipped into single digits in Iowa, with 9%. Pete Buttigieg is close behind with 8%.

* The same poll showed Kirsten Gillibrand, Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer each above 1%, which will increase their odds of qualifying for the next round of presidential primary debates.

* Speaking of the Hawkeye State, the Harris campaign today launched its first statewide television ad of the year in support of this 60-second commercial. The California senator's campaign described it as "a significant six-figure" ad buy.

* In Pennsylvania, which was a key component of Donald Trump's 2016 victory, a new Franklin & Marshall poll found only 38% of voters in the state believe the president deserves a second term. The same poll found a 61% majority of voters in Pennsylvania want a new president.

* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock yesterday became one of the few Democratic presidential candidates who's publicly called for the end of the Senate's legislative filibuster.

* The Washington Post reported that Rep. Seth Moulton's (D-Mass.) long-shot presidential campaign recently laid off part of its staff, which generally isn't a good sign.

* A year after House Minority Leader Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ran into trouble for accusing three Jews -- Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and George Soros -- of trying to "buy" American elections, NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) has written a letter to donors accusing the same three men of having "bought" legislative power for Democrats.

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Image: Donald Trump

In the Trump era, GOP support for checks and balances wanes

08/08/19 11:00AM

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a national survey asking Americans whether they believe "problems could be dealt with more effectively if U.S. presidents didn't have to worry so much about Congress or the courts." Fortunately, most of the public rejected such an approach.

But it's worth pausing to note how Republican voters in particular responded to the question.

The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted July 10-15 among 1,502 adults, finds that Republicans' views on this question have changed markedly since last year. About half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (51%) now say it would be too risky to give presidents more power, down from 70% last year.

The share of Republicans who say presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts has increased 16 percentage points since then, from 27% to 43%.

Among Americans who describe themselves as conservative Republicans, the results are even more dramatic: last year, only 26% of these voters wanted to see a more powerful president, freed from having "to worry so much" about the co-equal branches of government. This year, among self-identified conservative Republicans, that number doubled to 52%.

In other words, it's become increasingly common in GOP circles not just to support Donald Trump, but also to be hostile toward checks and balances that our system of government imposes on him.

The sitting president hasn't been shy about sharing his authoritarian instincts and his sympathy for systems of government in which chief executives largely do as they please. Evidently, Trump's attitudes have started to shape his base's thinking, too.

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A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.

Farmers' frustrations with Trump 'erupted into the open' in Minnesota

08/08/19 10:00AM

When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared at a fair in rural Minnesota yesterday, he probably expected a few questions about the Trump administration's struggling trade agenda. He probably didn't expect the reception he actually received.

As Bloomberg News reported, farmers' "discontent" over Donald Trump's trade war "erupted into the open" at the event.

Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, drew applause as he leveled criticism of the administration's trade policy at a forum with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in front of thousands of farmers gathered in a metal barn for a panel discussion.

American farmers took a fresh financial hit from Trump's trade war over the weekend as China announced a halt to all U.S. agricultural imports after the president threatened Beijing with another tariff increase.

Wertish criticized Trump's "go-it-alone approach" and the trade dispute's "devastating damage not only to rural communities." He expressed fears Trump's $28 billion in trade aid will undermine public support for federal farm subsidies, saying the assistance is already being pilloried "as a welfare program, as bailouts."

The same Bloomberg News article noted comments from Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, who noted the president's recent assertion that farmers are doing "great" again.

"We are not starting to do great again," Thalmann told the Agriculture secretary. "We are starting to go down very quickly."

What strikes me as amazing is not that these farmers, nervous about their future, are making their frustrations known, but rather, that the president has convinced himself that these concerns don't exist.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Schumer prepared to play hardball in debate over gun policy

08/08/19 09:21AM

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made an announcement: he and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had reached an agreement on a "red-flag" bill. At the risk of oversimplifying matters, the idea is to take firearms from those deemed dangerous and mentally unfit. They're also known as ERPO ("Extreme Risk Protection Order") laws, and when it comes to reform measures, they enjoy fairly broad support.

According to Graham, the scope of the proposal would be relatively modest, though it would "create a federal grant program to assist and encourage states to adopt 'Red Flag' Protection Order laws to timely intervene in situations where there is an imminent threat of violence."

Given how close the Judiciary Committee chairman is with Donald Trump, the fact that the GOP senator announced progress on the bill suggested the White House was on board with the plan.

So, should reformers expect some real movement on this bill? It's not quite that simple.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, put the brakes on Republicans' quick embrace of "red flag" laws as a response to last weekend's gun violence, saying on Wednesday that any gun-related legislation moving through the Senate must be accompanied by a House bill requiring background checks on all gun purchasers. [...]

"We Democrats are not going to settle for half measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side," Mr. Schumer said in a statement. "Democrats in the Senate will seek to require that any E.R.P.O. bill that comes to the floor is accompanied by a vote on the House-passed universal background checks legislation."

That's almost certainly not what GOP leaders expected Schumer to say. Indeed, it's a rather hardball move for the Senate Democratic leader.

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