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Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky.

Under Trump, US air quality slips for the first time in years

06/19/19 10:00AM

In recent months, whenever Donald Trump is asked about the climate crisis, the president responds by talking about air quality -- as if they were the same thing. They're not.

But Trump keeps pretending anyway, even going so far as to argue that air quality in the United States has improved since he took office. At a recent event in Ireland, the Republican boasted, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president."

Trump added at a campaign rally last night, "We have among the cleanest and sharpest -- crystal clean, you've heard me say it, I want it crystal clean -- air and water anywhere on Earth."

There are three relevant angles to this. The first is that it's a clumsy way to dodge questions about the climate crisis. The second is that Trump's claims about U.S. air quality are wrong.

And third, as the Associated Press reported yesterday, U.S. air quality has actually gotten worse since Trump became president.

After decades of improvement, America's air may not be getting any cleaner.

Over the last two years the nation had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data shows. While it remains unclear whether this is the beginning of a trend, health experts say it's troubling to see air quality progress stagnate. [...]

There were noticeably more polluted air days each year in the president's first two years in office than any of the four years before, according to new Environmental Protection Agency data analyzed by The Associated Press.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration is unveiling an energy plan this morning intended to -- you guessed it -- boost the coal industry. USA Today reported:

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Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents take inventory of seized cocaine packages, on the deck of the US Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, Oct. 6, 2014. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

Major cocaine bust doesn't do Trump's talking points any favors

06/19/19 09:20AM

When Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration in February, giving himself the authority to redirect funds to the border in defiance of Congress' wishes, the president justified the move by pointing to the illicit drug trade.

"[W]e have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border," Trump said at the time. "When you look and when you listen to politicians -- in particular, certain Democrats -- they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie."

It's not a lie. For one thing, the claims aren't just coming from "politicians"; the statistics come by way of Trump's own DEA. For another, as regular readers know, incidents like these keep coming to the fore that help prove how wrong the president is.

Federal authorities seized 15,000 kilos of cocaine, worth as much as $1 billion, at a Philadelphia shipping port, officials said Tuesday. A second mate and a crew member have been arrested in the massive bust.

There were 16.5 tons of the drug found in seven shipping containers late Monday night, officials said.

The local U.S. Attorney described the bust, featuring cocaine with a street value of $1 billion, as "one of the largest drug seizures in United States history."

Clearly, law enforcement and port officials deserve credit for interceptions like these. When the authorities seize more than 16 tons of cocaine, it's obviously an extraordinary development.

But there's also a political angle to this -- because according to the president, drug smugglers avoid ports of entry like these.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

The wrong boast: Trump says his team has 'a great vetting process'

06/19/19 08:40AM

Patrick Shanahan's nomination to serve as Donald Trump's new Defense secretary collapsed yesterday after revelations surrounding incidents of domestic violence within Shanahan's family. During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, the president insisted that he learned of the allegations for the first time on Monday.

It led to an important follow-up question:

Q: Does that make you concerned then about the White House vetting process if you had just heard about it yesterday?

TRUMP: No, we have a very good vetting process. And you take a look at our Cabinet and our Secretaries — it's very good. But we have a great vetting process.

A variety of adjectives come to mind when describing the White House vetting process. "Great" isn't one of them.

On last night's show, Rachel highlighted the vetting failures surrounding Patrick Shanahan and the significance of the national security risks associated with such a dramatic breakdown. Shanahan's nomination may be over, but the questions surrounding how this controversy happened still need answers.

Unfortunately for the president, we can keep going down the same embarrassing road. Stephen Moore's nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve board collapsed last month in large part because the White House hadn't vetted him before the president chose him. A month earlier, Herman Cain was unable to join the Fed board for the same reason.

Team Trump was similarly caught off-guard by controversies surrounding Matt Whitaker, who wasn't vetted before the president made him acting attorney general. Trump failed to vet Ronny Jackson, whose nomination to lead the V.A. failed.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

At his 2020 kickoff, Trump remained stuck in the past

06/19/19 08:00AM

Shortly after Donald Trump wrapped up his re-election campaign launch in Orlando last night, one of his admirers in conservative media declared, "He absolutely blistered Hillary Clinton."

There's some truth to that. The president seemed oddly preoccupied with the former secretary of State, and I have little doubt that Trump's aggressive attacks against Clinton will undermine her chances of winning the 2020 election.

If she were running, the strategy might even make sense.

Trump had a unique opportunity last night to frame the next presidential race in a way that suited his purposes. He could've put a positive spin on his record; he could've presented a forward-thinking vision for the next four years; and could've set the parameters for the dominant issues and themes of the 2020 cycle.

But as Dana Milbank noted, Trump instead remained "perpetually stuck in 2016."

At his campaign kickoff in Orlando on Tuesday, Trump alleged that "Crooked Hillary Clinton" funded "the phony dossier." He accused her of an "illegal attempt to overturn the results of the election, spy on our campaign."

On and on Trump went, about "Crooked Hillary" and her "insurance policy," falsely stating that she refused to concede the election and alleging that she "destroyed evidence, deleted and acid-washed 33,000 emails, exposed classified information and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine."

Inferring that Bill Barr may try to prosecute his former rival, the president added, "Let's see what happens. We now have a great attorney general. Let's see what happens." (NBC News' Monica Alba noted around this time, "By my count, President Trump has mentioned Hillary Clinton (at least) 7 times tonight in the span of about 30 minutes. Seven!")

The fact that the accusations were factually wrong made this annoying, but the Republican's focus on a Democrat who left public office seven years ago, and who'll never again run in an election, made this bizarre.

Referring to Republicans, Hillary Clinton joked in 2017, "It appears they don't know I'm not president." Two years later, it appears Trump doesn't know she's not a candidate, either.

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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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