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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

When Trump raises the prospect of political violence, there's a problem

03/15/19 08:00AM

One of the first instances in which Donald Trump publicly broached the subject of political violence came in August 2016, at a campaign rally in North Carolina. Complaining about Hillary Clinton, the Republican presidential candidate said in an unscripted moment, "By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

It wasn't exactly subtle. Trump seemed to suggest at the time that armed conservatives could take matters into their own hands and stop Clinton's agenda.

As president, Trump has occasionally dipped his feet in the same provocative waters. At an event in Missouri last September, for example, the Republican said, "They're so lucky that we're peaceful. Law enforcement, military, construction workers, Bikers for Trump.... These are tough people. These are great people. But they're peaceful people, and Antifa and all -- they'd better hope they stay that way. I hope they stay that way." A couple of months later, he echoed the sentiment.

This week, as the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale noted, Trump sat down with a far-right website called Breitbart.com, which asked about partisan divisions. The president replied:

"It's so terrible what's happening. You know, the left plays a tougher game, it's very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don't play it tougher. Okay?

"I can tell you, I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump -- I have the tough people, but they don't play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher."

The fact that Trump has used similar rhetoric before does not make this any less alarming. On the contrary, the fact that he keeps returning to the topic suggests his earlier references to political violence weren't random, accidental asides. This is, in other words, a subject that appears to be on the president's mind.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.14.19

03/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite an interesting ruling: "Gun maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday."

* The latest Brexit drama: "British lawmakers on Thursday voted to seek an extension to the country's Brexit deadline, throwing further doubt on the U.K.'s impending divorce from the European Union. In a series of votes in another dramatic yet inconclusive week, members of Parliament overwhelmingly voted 412-202 for the resolution."

* Oversight matters: "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced tough questioning Thursday from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee about whether he lied to Congress about his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

* Tea leaves surrounding Team Mueller: "One of the most prominent members of special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election will soon leave the office and the Justice Department, two sources close to the matter tell NPR."

* Stone gets a trial date: "Roger Stone's trial will start Nov. 5, and the judge presiding over the case said Thursday that she expects it to last two weeks."

* Facebook's latest troubles: "Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into data deals Facebook struck with some of the world's largest technology companies, intensifying scrutiny of the social media giant's business practices as it seeks to rebound from a year of scandal and setbacks."

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Candidate for U.S. Senate Thom Tillis at an early voting location in Cornelius, N.C. on Nov. 1, 2014.

On high-profile vote, NC's Tillis defends principles, then rejects them

03/14/19 04:20PM

After the Democratic-led House passed a resolution to block Donald Trump's emergency declaration, it was not at all clear whether it would pass the Republican-led Senate, and at least at first, many GOP senators were reluctant to stick their necks out. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), to his credit, said he'd put principle over party.

In fact, the North Carolina Republican went so far as to write a Feb. 25 op-ed for the Washington Post, explaining why he felt the need to oppose the White House's legally dubious gambit, even if he agreed with the president's underlying policy goals on border security.

Those on the left and the right who are making Trump's emergency declaration a simple political litmus test of whether one supports or opposes the president and his policies are missing the mark. This is about the separation of powers and whether Congress will support or oppose a new precedent of executive power that will have major consequences.

As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.

A week later, Tillis was unwavering. Defending his position, the Republican added, "It's never a tough vote for me when I'm standing on principle."

That's not a quote that stands up well.

It was easy to admire the North Carolinian at the time for ignoring the pressure and doing the right thing -- right up until today, when Thom Tillis flip-flopped. Twelve Republicans broke party ranks and supported the resolution, but Tillis, less than three weeks after taking a bold and principled stand, was not among them.

What caused him to cave under pressure? Only the senator knows for sure what prompted such a dramatic change of heart, but it's worth noting that in the wake of his op-ed, there was some grumbling in far-right circles about a possible primary challenge to Tillis in 2020.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Senate hands Trump an embarrassing defeat on emergency declaration

03/14/19 03:42PM

At a White House event last week, Donald Trump was asked about upcoming congressional votes on his emergency declaration about the border. Would Republican lawmakers stick with him and oppose the Democratic resolution that would block his policy?

"Oh, I think they'll stick," the president replied. "Yeah."

That's plainly not what happened.

The Senate voted 59-41 on Thursday to cancel President Donald Trump's national security declaration to fund a wall on the border, picking up the support of 12 Republicans to put the measure over the top.

Trump has vowed to veto the measure, which would block him from making an end run around Congress to obtain billions of federal dollars to build the wall that has been set aside for other purposes.

The vote represents an unusual bipartisan Senate rebuke to Trump's methods, which could play a role in coming lawsuits against the emergency declaration.

As the dust settles, there were a total of 12 Republicans who broke party ranks and supported the resolution: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.).

There would have been 13, but Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who said he'd vote "yes," and wrote an entire Washington Post op-ed stressing how important his principles were, flip-flopped shortly before the vote and ended up toeing the party line.

For the White House, the embarrassment is as unusual as it is deep.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

House unanimously passes measure calling for Mueller report's release

03/14/19 12:42PM

There's no shortage of questions surrounding a possible report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Will it exist? If so, will it be shared with Congress? Can it be subpoenaed? Will the public ever have access to it?

Evidently, the Democratic-led House has an opinion on the matter.

The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be made available to the public and Congress.

The measure passed 420 to zero, with four members voting present.

The full roll call is online here. Note, seven members did not vote, there are a few vacancies, and four members - Michigan's Justin Amash, Florida's Matt Gaetz, Arizona's Paul Gosar, and Kentucky's Thomas Massie -- voted "present."

As a practical matter, measures like these have a limited impact: at issue is a non-binding resolution, which the Republican-led Senate is very likely to ignore. If we assume Mueller completes a report, it will go to Attorney General William Barr, Donald Trump's newest cabinet member, who may try to keep the document under wraps.

Indeed, that's a very real possibility. As NBC News' report this morning noted, while Barr is required to notify Congress after learning of Mueller's findings, "the rules governing the special counsel say those reports must amount to 'brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.'"

What's more, Bloomberg News reported last week that Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he'd met with the attorney general and it's the congressman's expectation that Congress and the public may only get "a short summary" of Mueller's findings, not a detailed report.

That's exactly the outcome congressional Democrats hope to avoid, and the newly passed resolution is intended to keep the pressure on Barr to err on the side of disclosure.

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Beto O'Rourke speaks to Oprah Winfrey during a taping of her TV show in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, Feb. 5, 2019.

Beto O'Rourke joins crowded Democratic 2020 presidential field

03/14/19 12:04PM

The Democrats' 2020 presidential field already has several senators, a couple of governors, a couple of mayors, a former cabinet secretary, and as of this morning, a former congressman by the name of Beto O'Rourke.

The 46-year-old former congressman from El Paso has captivated some in the party with his skateboarding, adventurous road trips shared on social media, and crossover appeal to both moderates and progressives.

In a video announcing his decision, released at 6 a.m. ET, O'Rourke said: "The only way for us to live up to the promise of America is to give it our all and to give it for all of us."

He added: "This is a defining moment of truth for this country, and for every single one of us. The challenges that we face right now; the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy, and our climate have never been greater. And they will either consume us or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America."

When the Texan launched his U.S. Senate campaign ahead of the 2018 cycle, he looked like a longshot against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in a reliably red state. But O'Rourke proved to be an adept candidate, who inspired a small army of supporters, and who very nearly upset the Republican senator.

To be sure, presidential candidates generally don't parlay failed Senate campaigns into successful presidential bids. It has, however, happened once before: Abraham Lincoln had a fairly brief career in the U.S. House, lost a Senate race in 1858, and was elected president two years later.

That said, I'd caution against too many O'Rouke-Lincoln comparisons. My point is to emphasize the historical rarity of the career trajectory, not to put the Texan in the same category as ol' Abe.

Ordinarily, when a candidate enters a presidential race, I have certain reflexive reactions. I'll put on my pundit hat and start drawing conclusions about whether his or her campaign is sensible or foolhardy, likely to succeed or fail, driven by a compelling vision or a misguided fantasy.

But with Beto, in all candor, I'm just not sure what to think.

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

Trump rejects deal Pence tried to negotiate on emergency declaration

03/14/19 10:53AM

Ahead of today's Senate vote on a resolution rejecting Donald Trump's emergency declaration, Vice President Mike Pence took on an unpleasant task: lobbying Senate Republicans to put aside their principles, ignore the separation of powers, and follow the president's lead in the name of partisan loyalty.

Oddly enough, those lobbying efforts appeared to be having some effect. As we discussed the other day, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has been working on revising the National Emergencies Act -- the law Trump abused to redirect funds to the border -- in order to restrict the scope of presidential powers going forward. If the vice president could get the White House's support for Lee's proposal, Pence was told, it might help persuade GOP senators to reject the bill on the emergency declaration.

As TPM reported yesterday:

[On Tuesday] Vice President Mike Pence indicated to Republican senators in a closed-door meeting that Trump was open to Lee's legislation as a way to avoid an embarrassing public rebuke that would expose rifts within the GOP.

And right on cue, as the New York Times reported, Trump decided he wasn't open to Lee's measure after all.

A last-ditch gambit to spare Senate Republicans a hostile showdown with President Trump over the Constitution's separation of powers was torpedoed on Wednesday by the president himself, increasing the likelihood that the Senate will vote on Thursday to overturn the president's emergency declaration and force the first veto of his term.

Soon after, the Utah Republican announced that he, too, intends to support the resolution intended to block Trump's emergency declaration.

There's still some last-minute wrangling this morning, and I'll have a separate item later today on the fate of the measure in the Senate, but for now I have a related question: if Pence can't speak for the White House, why do people keep trying to negotiate with him?

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Image: Trump speaks before departing Washington for Florida

Trump has finally found a conspiracy theory he doesn't like

03/14/19 10:06AM

It took a while, but Donald Trump has finally found a conspiracy theory he doesn't like. The president published this to Twitter yesterday:

"The Fake News photoshopped pictures of Melania, then propelled conspiracy theories that it's actually not her by my side in Alabama and other places. They are only getting more deranged with time!"

At issue is a silly idea, which gained new prominence this week following a segment on ABC's "The View," which argues that Donald Trump has made public appearances with a woman who only appears to be Melania Trump. In other words, according to the conspiracy theory, the first lady has a body double -- or perhaps more than one -- who sometimes travels with the president.

There is no reason to take the conspiracy theory seriously, and I more or less assume that some of the folks who've peddled it are kidding. That said, Trump's tweet on the subject struck me as notable for a couple of reasons.

The first is that he described the conspiracy theory the wrong way. News organizations are not manipulating photographs of the first lady -- if the White House has evidence of media professionals doing this, I'm all ears (or in this case, eyes) -- and if the president thinks pictures of his wife look like a different woman, he's only going to make this whole foolish mess worse.

The second, however, is more important: since when is Donald Trump in a position to call others' conspiracy theories "deranged"?

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