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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.18.19

06/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Central America's Northern Triangle: "The Trump administration said Monday it is easing previously announced cuts in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala but will not allow new funding until those countries do more to reduce migrant flows to the United States."

* Ann Marie Buerkle: "The head of the nation's product safety regulator says she's stepping down when her term ends in October, a surprise announcement that follows criticism for how the agency handled a recall of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play and its decision to not force a recall of a jogging stroller."

* Impeachment: "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he supports waiting 'months down the road' on deciding whether to impeach President Donald Trump, saying more facts are needed."

* Something to keep an eye on: "House Democrats intend to question former White House communications director Hope Hicks on Wednesday about five specific incidents that special counsel Robert Mueller detailed as part of his investigation into whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, aides said."

* Theresa May now has a likely successor in the UK: "Boris Johnson, the New York-born former mayor of London, remains the overwhelming favorite to succeed May. He secured the votes of 126 out of 313 Conservative members of Parliament in what was the second round of the internal party election."

* I wonder how her confirmation hearings are going to go: "President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations -- current U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft -- was frequently absent from her post in Ottawa, raising questions about her level of engagement with the job, according to officials in the United States and Canada."

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President Barack Obama talks to U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a meeting with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. on July 31, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

McConnell points to Obama's election as a reason to reject reparations

06/18/19 04:24PM

A House Judiciary Committee panel will host a hearing on reparations for slavery tomorrow -- the first such congressional discussion in over a decade. The stated purpose of the hearing is to "examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice."

The fact that the discussion will unfold on Juneteenth is not an accident.

There is no specific legislative proposal on the table, so it's premature to start thinking about head-counts on how members might vote or how to get a bill past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). That said, with the House hearing likely to raise the visibility of the issue tomorrow, a reporter asked the Republicans' Senate leader for his thoughts on the subject this afternoon.

This was his answer in its entirety:

"Yeah, I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea.

"We've, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, we've elected an African-American president.

"I think we're always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that and I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it. First of all, it'd be pretty hard to figure out who to compensate. We've had waves of immigrants as well who've come to the country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another.

"So, no, I don't think reparations are a good idea."

This is obviously a challenging issue, and I won't pretend to be an expert. The complexities deserve a serious debate among policymakers, and I have a hunch McConnell's assessment will be addressed by witnesses in the House subcommittee hearing tomorrow who are more knowledgeable than I and who can speak with more authority than I can.

That said, some elements of the Senate leader's position struck me as obviously problematic.

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan testifies during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on the FY2020 Department of Defense budget in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

Trump's Pentagon fiasco worsens as his nominee withdraws

06/18/19 02:12PM

It was six weeks ago when Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Patrick Shanahan as his new Defense secretary, but for reasons that weren't altogether clear, the White House never formally submitted Shanahan's nomination to the Senate.

As of this afternoon, it's no longer necessary.

Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense who President Donald Trump said would be tapped to take over the job permanently, is stepping down and withdrawing from consideration, Trump said Tuesday.

"Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family," Trump tweeted.

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, will take Shanahan's place as acting defense secretary, Trump said.

Shanahan's withdrawal came almost immediately after the Washington Post published a disturbing report on incidents of domestic violence within Shanahan's family.

At this point, the White House will presumably renew its efforts to find a nominee to lead the Pentagon, but as Shanahan exits the stage, it's worth pausing to appreciate just how dramatic a fiasco this process has been over the last six months.

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

How can a campaign that never ended begin anew?

06/18/19 12:53PM

For Donald Trump, today is a special day: it's the official start of the president's re-election campaign.

President Trump will announce his reelection campaign Tuesday in Orlando, where he will be greeted by a tailgate party as well as protesters and the orange "Baby Trump" balloon loved by his critics.

Trump and Vice President Pence are making their 2020 candidacy official with a rally expected to pack a 20,000-seat arena, with thousands more outside. Supporters began lining up outside the Amway Center arena a day early, local news outlets said Monday.

The venue has a certain thematic quality: Amway is a multi-level marketing company, led by the DeVos family, which includes prominent Republican mega-donors (and a member of the president's cabinet).

And while I imagine Trump will make a variety of familiar claims -- and peddle a variety of familiar falsehoods -- from the stage in Orlando this evening, one of the questions hanging over the festivities is simple: can a campaign that never ended begin anew?

It's easy for some political observers to forget, but Trump's focus on the 2020 election has been a constant of his presidency. The Republican filed a re-election letter with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017 -- literally the first day of his term.

The president also began fundraising for the 2020 cycle before he was even sworn in, "pulling in tens of millions of dollars in the months after his election and through his inauguration."

There's no modern precedent for such an aggressive fundraising schedule, but Trump did it anyway.

He also kept open his campaign office's headquarters, hired staff to work on his 2020 bid in early 2017, and headlined a swing-state campaign rally in February 2017 -- not quite one month into his presidency, and 44 months before Election Day 2020.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.18.19

06/18/19 12:00PM

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

* With Donald Trump scheduled to officially kick off his re-election campaign in Orlando tonight, the editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel said this morning, "We're here to announce our endorsement for president in 2020, or, at least, who we're not endorsing: Donald Trump." It's worth noting for context that the Sentinel has traditionally backed the GOP ticket, including endorsing Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012.

* South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) left the presidential campaign trail and canceled some scheduled events this week following a fatal officer-involved shooting in his city.

* The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading his party's presidential primary field with 23% support, followed by former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) with 15% in his home state. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was third with 14%, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with 12%, was the only other candidate to reach double-digits.

* On a related note, that same poll found a 50-50 split among Texans as to whether Donald Trump deserves a second term. Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016, and no Democrat has won the state since 1976.

* Speaking of the Lone Star State, U.S. Senate hopeful MJ Hegar (D) has asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to use campaign resources to cover child-care costs. Her rival, incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), publicly endorsed Hegar's request.

* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) didn't qualify for next week's presidential primary debates, but as of this morning, he has qualified to participate in the debates scheduled for July.

* Presidential hopeful Julian Castro yesterday unveiled an ambitious new housing policy, including an expanded housing-assistance program for low-income Americans and a new tax credit for renters. Castro was HUD secretary in the Obama administration.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump complains that members of Congress 'have their own views'

06/18/19 11:20AM

It may not have been the most newsworthy moment of Donald Trump's interview with George Stephanopoulos, but I found it interesting when the ABC News anchor asked the president what he considers the most difficult part of his job.

TRUMP: The hardest is usually the Congress, I find Congress more difficult than frankly than many of the foreign leaders.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why is that?

TRUMP: Because they have their own views, you never know exactly but they have their own views and--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's democracy, isn't it?

TRUMP: Yeah, I guess it is, but...

At that point, the president began complaining about U.S. border policy and his frustrations that congressional Democrats won't simply do what he's told them to do. When Stephanopoulos suggested that he could strike a deal making some concessions as part of a give-and-take process, the Republican replied, "The things that we're talking about you shouldn't have to give."

The comments offered a peek behind the curtain, offering insights into why Trump has struggled so dramatically to strike deals with the co-equal branch of government: those rascally members of Congress insist on having "their own views."

The nerve of some people.

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington.

On Iran, it's Trump vs the Trump administration (again)

06/18/19 10:00AM

With U.S. officials having accused Iran of attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the Trump administration is moving forward with some rather provocative plans. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced yesterday, for example, that the Pentagon is sending a thousand troops to the Middle East following what he described as "recent Iranian attacks."

That announcement came just hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled meetings with U.S. military commanders to discuss the purported evidence connecting Iran to the tanker attacks.

And while that was unfolding, Donald Trump sat down with reporters from Time magazine and sent a very different signal about the importance -- or lack thereof -- of recent developments.

Last week, U.S. officials blamed Iran for attacks against Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Trump described those and other recent attacks attributed by administration officials to Iran as limited. "So far, it's been very minor," Trump told TIME.

Trump's comments, made in a nearly hour-long interview with TIME, struck a different tone than the public stance of the Pentagon and other Republicans in Washington. They also cut against a series of recent diplomatic and military moves that his Administration has made amid escalating tensions with Tehran.

Much of the world already finds it confusing when the Trump administration careens between competing foreign policies, and when the president and his team take contradictory stances, it only makes matters worse.

Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that this wasn't an isolated incident.

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Ahead of rollout, the White House's Middle East peace plan flounders

06/18/19 09:20AM

Donald Trump, irrationally confident that he can help negotiate a Middle East peace agreement, put the entire process in the hands of his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign policy.

In fact, the American president has expressed great confidence that Kushner is uniquely well suited to reach an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, saying of his son-in-law, "If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. OK. All my life I've been hearing that's the toughest deal in the world to make. And I've seen it, but I have a feeling that Jared is going to do a great job."

With this in mind, Kushner announced plans to unveil key elements of his plan at a conference next week in Bahrain. Politico recently reported, "A number of leading Arab countries, as well as Israel, plan to attend the conference."

At least, that was the idea. Axios reported yesterday that the plan to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians will be unveiled at an event without Israelis or Palestinians.

The White House has decided not to invite the Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon or other Israeli government officials to the Bahrain conference in Manama on June 25, where it plans to launch the economic part of the Trump administration's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, U.S. officials told me.

The decision follows a Palestinian boycott of the conference, which has put pressure on other Arab and Muslim nations not to attend.... The Bahrain conference will now take place without Israeli or Palestinian officials.

This comes three weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo privately expressed great skepticism about the prospects of the White House strategy -- Trump himself conceded that Pompeo "may be right" -- and two weeks after Politico reported that even Trump allies are "intensifying calls to scrap the rollout" of Kushner's blueprint.

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Public attitudes on impeachment are not what Trump thinks they are

06/18/19 08:40AM

Late yesterday, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) announced her support for launching an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, and while she was hardly the first congressional Democrat to reach this conclusion, her decision raised a few eyebrows because of her electoral circumstances.

Porter, just six months into her first term, represents Orange County, California -- traditionally a Republican bastion. If Porter, who won a close race against a Republican incumbent last year, believes she can (and must) endorse such a position, it's very likely to get her party's leaders' attention.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, however, the president facing the prospect of impeachment believes he has the electorate in his corner. This was Trump's most recent tweet on the subject:

"Almost 70% in new Poll say don't impeach. So ridiculous to even be talking about this subject when all of the crimes were committed by the other side. They can't win the election fairly!"

There's quite a bit of nonsense packed into this tweet, including the bogus assertion that his unnamed detractors are guilty of unspecified "crimes." It's also more than a little ironic to see Donald Trump, of all people, talk about the importance of winning elections "fairly."

But perhaps the most important word in his tweet was "almost" -- because given the latest polling data on presidential impeachment, it's a word doing a whole lot of work in Trump's missive.

Take the latest Fox News poll, for example:

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Image: U.S. ICE officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta

Why Trump's new vow to use ICE to deport 'millions' matters

06/18/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump appeared to make some important news via Twitter last night, announcing a dramatic new plan to use Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to remove "millions" of people from American soil.

"Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in."

It was a striking announcement for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we can't say with certainty whether the plan exists outside of the president's imagination. After all, Trump has made related vows -- on immigration and other issues -- with no real intention of following through. It's unsettling, but in 2019, Americans have a president who occasionally announces major policy developments that he has no intention of actually implementing.

What's more, this appears to be the latest in a series of incidents in which Trump blindsided his own team by making an announcement without alerting the relevant officials first. The Washington Post reported, "U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent, and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter."

It's not even clear if Trump's declaration could be true. While the Justice Department has expedited deportation orders, the Post's report added, "The president's claim that ICE would be deporting 'millions' also was at odds with the reality of the agency's staffing and budgetary challenges. ICE arrests in the U.S. interior have been declining in recent months because so many agents are busy managing the record surge of migrant families across the southern border with Mexico."

The logistical challenges associated with removing "millions" of immigrants -- a plan that would require extensive planning and personnel -- are significant, and there's little to suggest the Department of Homeland Security is prepared to execute such a scheme. (Trump tapped Mark Morgan to lead ICE only a few weeks ago.)

But then there's that other nagging problem: if ICE was actually planning to launch such a plan next week, wouldn't that be the sort of thing a president keeps under wraps?

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