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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.11.19

09/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Opioid crisis: 'Purdue Pharma and its owners, members of the Sackler family, have tentatively reached the first comprehensive settlement with lawyers representing thousands of municipal governments, tribes and states nationwide that are suing the pharmaceutical industry for the devastation resulting from the opioid epidemic."

* I'll look forward to hearing an explanation for this: "The U.S. will not grant temporary protected status to people from the Bahamas displaced by Hurricane Dorian, an administration official told NBC News."

* An important hearing: "Federal immigration officials are being questioned by House lawmakers over the Trump administration's decision to stop considering requests from immigrants seeking to defer deportation for medical treatment and other hardships."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "The federal government will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, responding to a recent surge in underage vaping that has alarmed parents, politicians and health authorities nationwide."

* The obviously right decision: "North Dakota doctors will not be compelled to lie to their patients thanks to a federal court decision on Tuesday that blocked the state's "abortion reversal" law."

* For the record, that's our money: "Ground transportation for Vice President Mike Pence's stay at President Donald Trump's Doonbeg, Ireland, resort cost taxpayers nearly $600,000, according to State Department receipts."

* The climate crisis doesn't affect every part of the planet the exact same way: "A Washington Post analysis of multiple temperature data sets found numerous locations around the globe that have warmed by at least 2 degrees Celsius over the past century. That's a number that scientists and policymakers have identified as a red line if the planet is to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences. But in regions large and small, that point has already been reached."

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Man walks past as the Tribute in Light is illuminated on the skyline of lower Manhattan during events marking the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York

Trump adds to his record of problematic 9/11 claims

09/11/19 03:53PM

Donald Trump spoke at the Pentagon this morning at a 9/11 observance ceremony, at which he reflected on his own memories from the attacks that occurred 18 years ago this morning.

"I was looking out of a window from a building in Midtown Manhattan, directly at the World Trade Center, when I saw a second plane, at a tremendous speed, go into the second tower. It was then that I realized the world was going to change. I was no longer going to be -- and it could never, ever be -- that innocent place that I thought it was.

"Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could."

It's difficult to accept these claims at face value, not only because there's so little evidence of him "trying to help" at Ground Zero, and not only because Trump Tower is four miles from Ground Zero, but also because of Trump's highly problematic track record on the issue.

As we discussed a few months ago, the day of the attacks, the future president seemed principally focused on how the destruction of the Twin Towers affected his ability to boast about the height of one of his nearby properties.

As a candidate in 2016, Trump frequently referenced the 9/11 attacks, though as the Washington Post reported at the time, “[S]everal of Trump’s statements about what he witnessed that day appear to be greatly exaggerated or false.”

That includes an incident in which the New York Republican claimed he helped clear rubble and search for survivors in the aftermath of the terrorism, and another incident in which he falsely said he watched people jump from the World Trade Center.

As a rule, lying about 9/11 is the sort of thing that can cause trouble for a politician, though Trump ended up winning anyway.

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Mick Mulvaney

Reported White House involvement takes NOAA scandal to new level

09/11/19 02:16PM

With a deadly hurricane approaching his own country, Donald Trump was fixated on a bogus warning he issued to Alabama, inviting escalating mockery as he took "Sharpie-gate" to new levels of absurdity.

The controversy became a lot less funny when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a written statement endorsing the president's false claims and criticizing professionals at the National Weather Service for having told the truth.

The New York Times reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department includes the NOAA, threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency on Friday unless the NOAA agreed to endorse the president's false claims. And while Ross' office denies the accuracy of the report, if the Times is right, it raises a series of questions about public safety, scientific integrity, Trump's war on reality, and weaponizing federal resources for political reasons.

But there was something about the details that seemed odd: late last week, Wilbur Ross wasn't even in the United States. He was in Greece for meetings and it seems implausible that he'd, out of the blue, interrupt his trip to lobby the NOAA leadership. If the reporting is correct and Ross made the threat, who directed him to intervene in the first place?

The New York Times shed light on this angle this afternoon:

The White House was directly involved in pressing a federal scientific agency to repudiate the weather forecasters who contradicted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian would probably strike Alabama, according to several people familiar with the events.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publicly disavow the forecasters' position that Alabama was not at risk. NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department, issued an unsigned statement last Friday in response, saying that the Birmingham, Ala., office was wrong to dispute the president's warning.

White House involvement moves this away from a silly story about a childish president crudely drawing on a hurricane map, and toward a legitimate scandal involving political abuses of power.

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To push the courts to the right, the GOP pulls out the stops

09/11/19 12:53PM

Donald Trump published a tweet the other day "congratulating" Republicans. "Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench," the president wrote. "Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!"

His terminology was wrong -- one does not "sign" a judge -- and the numbers and punctuation weren't quite right, but Trump's overall point was important. He and his GOP brethren are dramatically altering the federal judiciary; Americans will be dealing with the consequences of this for decades; and there's not much anyone can do to slow the runaway train.

The HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery took stock earlier this week of where things stand.

Two and a half years in, what stands out about Trump's confirmed judges isn't just the quantity, which is remarkable -- two Supreme Court justices, a record-breaking 43 appeals court judges and 99 district court judges.

It's that a chunk of his judges shouldn't be on the bench at all because they aren't qualified or they're so ideologically extreme that it's next to impossible to imagine them as fair arbiters of justice. These judges are now on federal courts at every level, from the Supreme Court to appeals courts, which have the final say in nearly all federal cases, down to district courts, where these cases are first filed. For the appeals court judges in particular, the decisions these people make will affect you and millions of other people for generations.

I've long believed the lasting effects of the Trump era can be boiled down to the three C's: the climate, the nation's credibility, and the federal courts. Health care benefits can be restored, alliances can be rebuilt, and tax breaks can be scrapped, but the lost years on dealing with the climate crisis are tragic; it'll be a long while before the world forgets that we're a country capable of electing someone like Trump; and with Republicans confirming young, far-right ideologues to the bench at a brutal clip, we can expect a generation's worth of conservative court rulings.

Some of the jurists are more striking than others. Take Steven Menashi, for example, whose confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee began this morning.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.11.19

09/11/19 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, the latest Emerson poll shows Joe Biden narrowly leading Elizabeth Warren, 24% to 21%. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are further back, with 13% and 11%, respectively. Kamala Harris is fifth at 8%.

* In Texas, a new Quinnipiac poll found Biden leading the Democratic field with 28%, followed by Warren at 18%. Sanders and Beto O'Rourke are tied for third in the poll with 12% each.

* The same poll, incidentally, found 48% of Texans -- not just Democrats, but voters statewide -- saying they would not vote for Donald Trump, which raises some interesting questions about the Lone Star State being a possible battleground.

* On a related note, a national Univision poll, released yesterday, found the top Democratic contenders leading Trump in Texas in hypothetical match-ups, in margins ranging from one to six points.

* In a couple of tweets last night, Trump published endorsements of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R), who's running for his first full term in 2020, and Sen. Ben Sasse (R), who's seeking a second term in Nebraska. The latter was somewhat unexpected, given Sasse's previous criticisms of Trump.

* In Massachusetts, where Rep. Joe Kennedy (D) is considering a primary challenge to Sen. Ed Markey (D) next year, the latest Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll showed Kennedy with a 14-point advantage over the incumbent senator. Nevertheless, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is committed to supporting Markey.

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Tents set up by homeless people sit in front of a building on Skid Row, Feb. 4, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Trump 'bewilders' with reported effort to combat Calif. homelessness

09/11/19 11:20AM

Homelessness has never been an issue at the heart of Donald Trump's political message, though in a Fox News interview in July, the president addressed the subject, telling Tucker Carlson that he and his team are "looking at it very seriously." The president pointed to "some of the very important things that we're doing now," though he didn't identify what "things" he was referring to.

He added, in specific reference to cities in California, "We may intercede. We may do something to get that whole thing cleaned up. It's inappropriate. Now, we have to take the people and do something. We have to do something."

No one knew what he was talking about, but Trump nevertheless claimed a degree of expertise on the issue, saying in the same interview, "You know, I had a situation when I first became president, we had certain areas of Washington, DC, where that was starting to happen, and I ended it very quickly. I said, 'You can't do that.'" None of this made sense, either.

Nevertheless, two months later, the Washington Post is reporting that the president has ordered officials to launch "a sweeping effort" to address homelessness in California.

The planning has intensified in recent weeks. Administration officials have discussed using the federal government to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other cities and into new government-backed facilities, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

But it is unclear how they could accomplish this and what legal authority they would use. It is also unclear whether the state's Democratic politicians would cooperate with Trump, who has sought to embarrass them over the homelessness crisis with repeated attacks on their competency.

Ordinarily, I like to unwrap White House ideas and evaluate their merits, but in this case, there's not much to chew on. It's as if Trump simply decided that homelessness in California is a problem worthy of his attention, so he ordered his team to do ... something.

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President Barack Obama, alongside Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to the media about Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton for the presidency in Washington, D.C. on  Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

NRSC targets Biden with the message Biden wants people to see

09/11/19 10:42AM

With half the Democratic presidential field scheduled to participate in a debate this week, it's not too surprising that Republicans would go on the offensive against the leading contenders. I am curious, though, about the nature of the party's message.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Monday and Tuesday released new attack ads against former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as the three White House contenders cement their status in the Democratic primary field's top tier.

The ads, released on Facebook, come ahead of the third Democratic presidential primary debate in Houston, which will feature 10 candidates vying for the opportunity to take on President Trump next year. The one targeting Bernie Sanders, for example, tells viewers the Vermont senator would "turn America into a socialist country." It's stale, but it's standard Republican rhetoric.

But this digital ad from the NRSC was a little more surprising. For those who don't want to click the link, it's a short, 12-second Facebook ad, with no voice over, featuring straightforward text: "Biden 2020 = 4 More Years of Obama. Or Trump 2020 = 4 More Years of MAGA! Who's Your Choice?"

Putting aside questions about the percentage of the public that knows that "MAGA" stands for "Make America Great Again," suggesting that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for four more years of Barack Obama is a curious pitch.

For one thing, Obama is the nation's most popular and most admired political figure. I haven't seen any recent polling on this, but I suspect that if the public were given a choice between four more years of Obama and four more years of Trump, the former would enjoy a significant advantage over the latter.

For another, the NRSC is effectively endorsing Biden's 2020 pitch. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the former vice president would love voters to see him as offering "four more years of Obama." The Delaware Democrat doesn't see that as a criticism; he sees it as a central pillar of his campaign's message.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

House GOP leader tries, fails to defend Trump profiting from presidency

09/11/19 10:11AM

It's been a rough couple of weeks for those concerned with Donald Trump trying to profit from his own presidency. Between the Republican's efforts to bring a G-7 summit to his struggling business in Miami, Trump's "suggestion" that Vice President Mike Pence stay at his struggling business in Ireland, and the controversy surrounding military support for his struggling business in Scotland, the circumstances look like an ethics lawyer's nightmare.

Not surprisingly, congressional Democrats have a few questions about the administration's practices and the degree to which officials are directing taxpayer funds to the president, his family, and their private-sector ventures. It does not appear, however, that those concerns will be bipartisan.

At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close White House ally, if "the federal government should be spending money at the president's resorts, especially when he is not staying at them." According to CQ Newsmaker Transcripts, this was the GOP leader's response:

"The president's resorts are hotels that he owns. If people are traveling, it's just like any other hotel. I know people will look at it. I don't know that that's different than anything else.

"Is it different than if I go and stay or eat at a Marriott here or eat at the Trump? The president isn't asking me to. He's competing in a private enterprise. It's nothing, something that he controls in that process."

I appreciate the fact that McCarthy didn't just dodge the question. This appears to be an issue to which McCarthy has given some thought, and for those of us wondering whether Republicans care about allegations of presidential self-dealing, it's good to hear a GOP articulate the party's perspective.

The trouble, of course, is that McCarthy's argument is woefully inadequate.

There is, in reality, a difference between spending money at a Marriott and spending money at "the Trump." The difference is, one indirectly creates profits for the sitting president who refused to divest from his business enterprise.

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Latest polls point to real trouble for Trump's re-election prospects

09/11/19 09:22AM

Earlier in the summer, Donald Trump hosted a news conference with farmers and ranchers, who heard the president talk about how impressed he is with himself. "A strange thing is happening: My numbers are going up," the Republican claimed about his standing in the polls. "Someday, you'll explain that to me."

It wasn't at all difficult to explain: Trump's numbers weren't improving. He just made it up.

As the summer nears its end, conditions have grown worse for the troubled president. The latest Gallup poll, for example, shows Trump's slipping from 44% to 39% since July.

A CNN poll released this week also found the president's support falling below the 40% threshold, slipping from 43% to 39% since June. The same report found that 60% of Americans do not believe Trump deserves a second term, while 71% do not trust most of what they hear from the White House.

And then there's the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

President Trump is ending a tumultuous summer with his approval rating slipping back from a July high as Americans express widespread concern about the trade war with China and a majority of voters now expect a recession within the next year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey highlights how one of Trump's central arguments for reelection — the strong U.S. economy -- is beginning to show signs of potential turmoil as voters express fears that the escalating trade dispute with China will end up raising the price of goods for U.S. consumers.

The poll found Trump's approval rating dropping from 44% in June to 38% now. In the same findings, the president trails each of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls in hypothetical general-election match-ups, including double-digit deficits against Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris.

The Post's report added, "For Trump, the current standings represent a troubling threat: No president in modern times has been reelected with approval ratings as low as Trump's are today."

The question, of course, is what he intends to do about it.

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A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

After a decade of progress, US uninsured rate grows under Trump

09/11/19 08:40AM

There were a wide variety of reasons health care reform advocates pushed for the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, but there was no secret about the top priority: the United States had one of the highest uninsured rates in the industrialized world, and reformers believed the ACA would make it better.

They were right. Once "Obamacare" was passed and implemented, the nation's uninsured rate dropped to the lowest point on record. The law set out to achieve a specific goal and it succeeded.

And then Donald Trump took office and his team went to work.

The number of Americans without health insurance edged up in 2018 -- the first evidence from the government that coverage gains from President Barack Obama's health care plan might be eroding under President Donald Trump.

An estimated 27.5 million people, 8.5% of the population, went without health insurance in 2018. That was an increase of 1.9 million uninsured people, or 0.5 percentage point.... Though the increase in the number of uninsured Americans last year was modest, it could be a turning point, the first real sign that coverage gains under Obama could be at least partly reversed.

In the abstract, this wasn't entirely predictable. After all, 2018 was a good year for the economy, with steady employment gains and the best economic growth in a few years. These aren't the kind of conditions that generally lead to increases in the uninsured rate.

But as the New York Times' report on the data added, the Republican White House's policies have had an impact: "The administration ... cut back on advertising and enrollment assistance, programs that helped low income people learn about the new insurance programs, among other changes that may have depressed Obamacare enrollments."

To be sure, the uninsured rate is still much better now than it was before Democrats passed and implemented the Affordable Care Act, but the trajectory has shifted from an encouraging to a discouraging direction.

And the evidence suggests the change wasn't accidental; it was the result of deliberate changes intended to make the system worse.

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Democratic House candidate Dan McCready talks to volunteers at his campaign office in Waxhaw, N.C., outside Charlotte, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

Trump is far happier than he should be about North Carolina results

09/11/19 08:00AM

There were two congressional special elections in North Carolina yesterday, and on the surface, the results were exactly in line with Republicans' wishes: the GOP candidates won both, including the competitive contest election watchers were keeping a close eye on.

Republican Dan Bishop narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready in a special election on Tuesday in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. [...]

Democrats said Trump's unpopularity is the only reason the GOP-leaning district was competitive in the first place and that Republicans needed to pull out all the stops to win it. And, looking ahead to next year, Democrats say there are 34 Republican-held congressional districts that are more competitive than this one.

With just about all the votes counted, it looks like Bishop won by about 2 percent. (In the 3rd congressional district, Greg Murphy cruised to an even easier 24-point win, but no one seriously expected that race to be close, and Democrats made little effort to compete in the contest.)

Donald Trump, desperate for some good news, spent much of last night and this morning on a Twitter victory lap, crediting his greatness, making up polls, and whining about news organizations.

Whether the president understands this or not, his joy is badly out of step with the results.

North Carolina's 9th congressional district isn't exactly a swing district. In 2012, Mitt Romney won it by 12 points. Four years later, Trump also won it by 12 points. Local voters haven't elected a Democrat to Congress in several decades.

It's against this backdrop that Republicans scrambled to compete in North Carolina's 9th, with the National Republican Congressional Committee and other outside groups investing nearly $7 million in just this one special-election contest, hoping to push an elected state lawmaker over the top in a race against a Democrat who's never won an election. Bishop also benefited from personal visits to the district from his party's president and vice president.

Or put another way, this should've been an easy one for the GOP. The fact that it wasn't should put the party in an anxious mood, not a celebratory one.

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