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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.10.20

01/10/20 12:00PM

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

* The two latest Fox News polls show former Vice President Joe Biden ahead in two early nominating states, leading the Democratic field in South Carolina with 36% support, well ahead of his closest rivals, and ahead in Nevada with 23%, though Sen. Bernie Sanders is a competitive second with 17%.

* On a related note, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer's advertising blitz seems to be having an impact: the California billionaire saw double-digit support in both of Fox News' polls, which made him the sixth candidate to qualify for next week's primary debate.

* Speaking of billionaire presidential hopefuls, aides to Michael Bloomberg told NBC News he'll continue to invest in the 2020 election, and help try to defeat Donald Trump, even if the former New York City mayor fails to win the Democratic nomination.

* As Democratic candidates scramble for positioning in California, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garceti (D) has thrown his support behind Biden. California's presidential primary is March 3.

* Speaking of the Golden State, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has decided not to call a special election to fill Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R) upcoming vacancy. A spokesperson for the governor cited the late timing of the disgraced congressman's resignation.

* The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday cleared the way for the state Republican Party to exclude Trump's primary rivals from the GOP ballot in March. Minnesota will join Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina in limiting Republican primary voters to a single candidate.

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Trump reportedly connected impeachment trial, Soleimani airstrike

01/10/20 11:22AM

There's no shortage of concerns about why, exactly, Donald Trump risked a war by approving an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. There is, however, one overarching concern: it's hard not to wonder whether the American president, concerned about his impeachment crisis, put his political interests above U.S. national security interests.

Indeed, there would be a degree of irony to the circumstances: Trump was impeached, after all, for executing a Ukraine scheme in which he's accused of prioritizing his domestic electoral considerations over our national security agenda. It would be truly amazing to see him effectively do the same thing during the impeachment process.

It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal had this tidbit in its report on the White House national security team and its response to the Iranian threat:

Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate, associates said.

Some caveats are probably in order. The WSJ added this deep in the article -- the 29th paragraph, to be exact -- and the newspaper didn't treat the revelation as a major scoop. What's more, there are no direct quotes, and the reporting hasn't been independently verified.

But if it's correct, it helps bring the bigger picture into sharper focus.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Trump falsely claims credit for lower cancer rates, faces pushback

01/10/20 10:42AM

In 2017, there were no recorded accidental deaths in U.S. commercial passenger jets. Almost immediately after that information reached the public, Donald Trump said he wanted Americans to give him credit for the developments.

It was an early reminder: if something positive happens during Trump's presidency, he will claim responsibility for the good news, regardless of whether it makes sense.

It happened again yesterday, when the Republican published a tweet that read, "U.S. Cancer Death Rate Lowest In Recorded History! A lot of good news coming out of this Administration."

As Trump rhetoric goes, this was not a straight-up lie, though it was a bit bizarre. The data in question came by way of the American Cancer Society, which published a report yesterday showing an encouraging drop in cancer death rates between 2016 and 2017. It was a continuation of a trend that began nearly 30 years ago, thanks to advances in detection and treatment.

It's also a trend Trump had nothing to do with. USA Today reported:

Gary Reedy, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, pushed back against Trump's insinuation, stating that "The mortality trends reflected in our current report, including the largest drop in overall cancer mortality ever recorded from 2016 to 2017, reflect prevention, early detection, and treatment advances that occurred in prior years."

He continued that "Since taking office, the president has signed multiple spending bills that have included increases in funding for cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute -- though the impact of those increases are not reflected in the data contained in this report."

USA Today's report added that Trump's proposed White House budgets would have cut billions of dollars in funding to NIH, "a move that would have impacted the National Cancer Institute if Congress had approved it."

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E. Jean Carroll is photographed, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in New York.

Trump lawyers try, fail to make E. Jean Carroll's lawsuit go away

01/10/20 10:00AM

Donald Trump's lawyers recently tried to make E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit go away. As the New York Times reported, those efforts are off to a bad start.

A New York judge has rebuffed President Trump's bid to throw out a lawsuit filed against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accuses him of hurting her career and reputation in denying her claim that he raped her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.

In a ruling made public on Thursday, Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of State Supreme Court in Manhattan rejected Mr. Trump's argument in a filing last week that New York's courts lack jurisdiction to hear the case because he was not in New York and did not live in the state when he made the comments that Ms. Carroll says defamed her.

The Times' article added that judge in the case noted that Trump failed to provide anything -- "not even a tweet, much less an affidavit" -- to support his position. The judge also cleared the way for the discovery process to continue.

For those who may need a refresher on the controversy,  Carroll spent years as a prominent writer, media figure, and advice columnist, including having hosted a show on America’s Talking, which later became MSNBC. As regular readers may recall, in June, she also joined a long list of women who’ve accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

Indeed, in a recently published book, Carroll described an alleged encounter in a New York department store in the mid-1990s, which the writer described as a violent sexual assault committed by the future president. Though definitively proving or disproving Caroll’s claim is difficult – there is no security footage to review and no physical evidence to scrutinize – the writer said she confided in two friends shortly after the alleged incident, telling them at the time what she said occurred. Those friends soon after came forward with on-the-record accounts.

The president has denied the claim, arguing, among other things, that his latest accuser is a “liar” who isn’t his “type.” Two months ago, Carroll sued Trump for defamation.

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Pressed for credible airstrike explanation, Team Trump struggles

01/10/20 09:31AM

In the immediate aftermath of last week's U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, touching off a crisis in the region, Donald Trump and his team had a coherent explanation for the military offensive: the mission was necessary, the Republican administration said, to prevent an "imminent" attack.

What's more, according to Team Trump, the president's decision was bolstered by persuasive and actionable U.S. intelligence. At face value, this is a straightforward argument, notwithstanding suspicions about the timing of the airstrike and the White House's non-existent credibility.

A week later, however, that explanation has effectively collapsed into a contradictory, self-defeating mess. The Washington Post noted in an analysis yesterday:

The Trump administration initially said Soleimani was planning "imminent" attacks on Americans and U.S. interests in the Middle East, but it hasn't provided much in the way of elaboration. It has since oscillated between pointing to the imminence of such attacks and suggesting that the strike was retaliatory for what Soleimani had already done. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to say whether the attacks were days or weeks away. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, unambiguously endorsed the idea of imminent attacks, but he also said the intelligence didn't "exactly say who, what, when, where."

And now, in the past 24 hours, it has become even more opaque.

What's more, in the hours that followed the publication of the report, the situation managed to get slightly worse.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo started backing off his earlier rhetoric about an "imminent" attack, and last night, the Kansas Republican complicated matters, conceding during a Fox News interview that the administration officials didn't know when or where Iran might act, effectively negating the "imminent" talking point.

On the intelligence front, the president's national security team sparked bipartisan pushback on Wednesday with congressional briefings that were reportedly hollow and unpersuasive, and Vice President Mike Pence made matters slightly worse yesterday telling NBC News the administration has "compelling" evidence, but they can't share it with Congress.

And then the whole mess started getting weirder.

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Job growth cooled a little as 2019 came to a close

01/10/20 08:47AM

Ahead of this morning's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in December in the ballpark of 160,000. It looks like we didn't quite reach those expectations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 140,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.5%. The monthly totals were rising in the latter half of the year, but December's tally was the lowest since May., Unfortunately, the revisions from October and November were also revised down a little, subtracting 14,000 jobs from previous reporting.

The overall totals from 2019 will still face one additional revision, but for now, it appears the nation added 2.11 million jobs for the calendar year, which represents a fairly good year, though it's a rather significant drop off from last year's totals, and far short of the more robust gains Americans saw in 2014 and 2015.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 35 full months -- February 2017 through December 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 6.69 million jobs. In the 35 months preceding Trump's presidency -- March 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 7.96 million jobs.

As regular readers know, some have asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 36 months to the previous 36 months, job totals still slowed from 8.05 million to 6.94 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of the Republican's election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 38 months to the previous 38 months, job totals slowed from 8.42 million to 7.33 million.

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Team Trump's latest Clinton investigation ending with a whimper

01/10/20 08:01AM

As recently as last week, Donald Trump addressed an evangelical audience in Miami, where the president focused his attention on his 2016 rival. "Crooked Hillary, as she is affectionately known, and she is crooked," Trump said. "There's no doubt about that."

As recently as last night, the president headlined a rally in Ohio, where he referenced "Crooked Hillary" three times and told his followers that the former secretary of State should be incarcerated.

Shortly before Trump took the stage, however, the Washington Post published an interesting report on the state of the administration's latest, and perhaps final, anti-Clinton investigation.

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton's time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the investigation is its existence. Trump's attorney general appears to have launched a politically motivated probe into Clinton, after her 2016 defeat, examining discredited conspiracy theories.

In early November 2017, the president published a tweet that read, "Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn't looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems." Soon after, the Justice Department began pursuing anti-Clinton lines of inquiry frequently peddled by Republicans.

In theory, this isn't how federal law enforcement is supposed to work. Nevertheless, in this instance, the Justice Department went after Clinton anyway, and reportedly came up with nothing.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.9.20

01/09/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Flight PS752: "U.S. intelligence officials have evidence that suggests the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing 176 people, was downed by an Iranian missile by mistake, multiple officials told NBC News. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his nation's intelligence sources also pin blame on Iran for what might be an 'unintentional' missile attack."

* War powers vote: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the House would send a clear statement to President Donald Trump on Thursday saying that he should not take any further military action against Iran without getting approval from Congress."

* Speaking of dramatic developments on Capitol Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she will send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate "when I'm ready," rebuffing calls from top Democrats to submit them."

* Oh my: "The surveillance footage taken from outside Jeffrey Epstein's jail cell on the day of his first apparent suicide attempt has been permanently deleted, federal prosecutors said Thursday."

* RBG: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains clear of cancer, the Supreme Court justice told CNN this week. 'I'm cancer free. That's good,' she told the outlet in an interview published Wednesday."

* Is Australia's Rupert Murdoch influencing coverage of his country's bushfire crisis? "Critics see a concerted effort to shift blame, protect conservative leaders and divert attention from climate change."

* Bolton testimony: "House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told CNN on Thursday that his committee has no plans to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton before President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, arguing there's 'little to be gained' by going that route at this moment."

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks to reporters at Trump Tower, Nov. 29, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Following criticism of Iran briefing, Pence's defense falls short

01/09/20 12:51PM

Top members of Donald Trump's national security and foreign policy team went to Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon to deliver an important briefing. Members of Congress, including some Republicans, had questions about the rationale behind a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, touching off a crisis in the region, and this was lawmakers' opportunity to get some answers.

The result was a surprising amount of bipartisan criticism, with a variety of lawmakers complaining that the briefing was vague, hollow,  and short -- cut off before many members could even ask questions.

Vice President Mike Pence argued this morning that lawmakers might've been unimpressed because the administration withheld sensitive information, even during classified congressional briefings.

On NBC's "TODAY," Pence told Savannah Guthrie that the administration could not provide Congress with some of the "most compelling" intelligence behind the administration's decision to kill Soleimani because doing so "could compromise" sources and methods.

"Some of that has to do with what's called sources and methods," Pence said. "Some of the most compelling evidence that Qassem Soleimani was preparing an imminent attack against American forces and American personnel also represents some of the most sensitive intelligence that we have -- it could compromise those sources and methods."

In other words, administration officials made closed-door presentations with classified information, but they left out the really sensitive information. That, according to Pence, may help explain the dissatisfaction on Capitol Hill.

I'm not in a position to say whether the vice president is correct or not. It's conceivable that there's highly sensitive intelligence that the administration isn't prepared to share with hundreds of lawmakers. {The standards for the Gang of Eight are different; nothing is too sensitive for these officials.) It's also possible that Team Trump made its best pitch, it fell short, and Pence is pointing to hidden intelligence that doesn't really exist.

Either way, the bottom line remains the same: Pence simply wants people to trust Donald Trump. There's "compelling evidence" to justify the president's dangerous gambit, but no one can see it, and we should just take the White House's word for it.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.9.20

01/09/20 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, a newly released Monmouth poll found Pete Buttigieg leading the Democratic presidential field with 20% support, followed closely by Joe Biden at 19%, Bernie Sanders at 18%, and Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Amy Klobuchar, who had 6%, was in fifth place in the poll, and every other candidate was below 5%.

* On a related note, ahead of next week's Democratic presidential primary debate, the Monmouth results didn't help any candidate get closer to qualifying for the debate. The polling cutoff is tomorrow.

* Buttigieg's Democratic presidential campaign picked up an important endorsement when Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) threw his support behind the mayor and agreed to serve as a national campaign co-chairman. It's Buttigieg's first endorsement from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

* With Donald Trump's impeachment trial looming, Cory Booker told the Associated Press the Senate proceedings could deal a "big, big blow" to his presidential campaign, especially with time running out ahead of Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses.

* Facebook announced this morning that it's sticking to its current advertising policies, which allow candidates to lie to the public.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Public Policy Polling's latest survey found astronaut Mark Kelly (D) leading appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R), 46% to 42%. If Democrats are going to have any chance of winning a Senate majority, this will be a critical contest.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Despite Constitution, Sanders fears Congress having war powers

01/09/20 11:25AM

The U.S. House is poised to vote this afternoon on a war powers resolution intended to limit the Trump administration's military actions against Iran. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained this morning why she thinks the effort is a mistake.

"You know, I can't think of anything dumber than allowing Congress to take over our foreign policy.... I think the last thing we want to do is push powers into Congress' hands and take them away from the president. [...]

"[T]he last thing I want to do is see them take power away from President Trump and put it into their own hands. I don't think anything could be worse for America than that."

I don't mean to sound picky, but no one's talking about "pushing" war powers "into Congress' hands." That would be unnecessary, since those powers are already in Congress' hands.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution isn't exactly subtle on this point. The document explicitly gives the legislative branch the power "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water." The Constitution goes on to authorize Congress to "raise and support armies, "provide and maintain a navy," and "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."

These are not obscure American concepts. At issue are bedrock principles of our system of government.

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New poll shows woeful international confidence in Trump

01/09/20 11:04AM

There are a handful of strange boasts that Donald Trump repeats incessantly, but one of the president's favorites is the idea that he commands global respect and singlehandedly improved the United States' international standing. As we've discussed before, the Republican has convinced himself that we were a global laughingstock before he took office, and thanks to his awesomeness, he's turned things around.

"You know, this is a new age," he boasted at a White House event last year. "This is a very exciting time. It's very exciting time for our country. Our country is respected again all over the world, they are respecting like we haven't been respected in many, many years, I'll tell you."

Part of the problem with the president's odd boast is that global surveys in 2017 and 2018 showed that Trump had it exactly backwards: his international stature was weak and his presidency damaged the United States' reputation abroad. The other part of the problem is that the problem isn't improving. USA Today reported:

Confidence in President Donald Trump to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs remains broadly negative, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The Washington-based Pew study, released Wednesday, found that among people it polled in 32 countries, 29% express confidence in Trump. Sixty-four percent say they lack confidence in the White House occupant.

The figures stand in marked contrast to the final years of Barack Obama's presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump's predecessor to direct America's role in the world in a positive manner.

The full report from the Pew Research Center is online here, and it paints a deeply unflattering portrait of Trump's global reputation.

Among the top-line takeaways from the 32-nation survey:

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