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E.g., 7/17/2019
E.g., 7/17/2019
Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Striking number of lawmakers admit they haven't read the Mueller report

07/09/19 10:53AM

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for Donald Trump's impeachment, she suggested it was the obvious call after having read Robert Mueller's report. When Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) also endorsed the president's impeachment, he explained that reading the special counsel's findings is what led him to the fairly obvious conclusion.

The question, however, is how many of their colleagues have bothered to do the work.

Amash sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper over the weekend, and the two spent a minute on this specific point. "Most people don't have time to read a 448-page report," the congressman said. "They expect their members of Congress to do the work for them."

When the host asked how many congressional Republican have actually read the Mueller report, Amash replied, "I think it's probably less than 15 percent."

That's very easy to believe, though I can't help but wonder: how much less?

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently conceded he hadn't read it, despite his unique responsibilities. Soon after, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) sat down with MSNBC's Kasie Hunt and admitted he hadn't read it, either, and he struggled to explain why not.

Politico published a new report this morning suggesting they have quite a bit of company.

Time for a Mueller report reality check: Only a small segment of America's most powerful have read it.

President Donald Trump can't give a straight answer about the subject. More than a dozen members of Congress readily admitted to POLITICO that they too have skipped around rather than studying every one of the special counsel report's 448 pages.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), for example, described the report as "tedious." Asked if he'd read it, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) replied, "What's the point?"

Perhaps it's a good thing Mueller will be on Capitol Hill next week, testifying about his findings. For many members of Congress, it'll be their first introduction to what his report actually says.

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Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

Barr offers a new reason to question his Russia scandal perspective

07/09/19 10:03AM

Attorney General William Barr complained to the Associated Press yesterday that House Democrats are trying to create a "public spectacle" by subpoenaing Robert Mueller to testify next week. Barr added that he'd support the former special counsel if Mueller decides he "doesn't want to subject himself" to congressional testimony.

Or put another way, the attorney general extended public support to a private citizen, offering to help him defy a congressional subpoena.

But Bill Barr's comments to the New York Times yesterday were arguably even more striking.

...Mr. Barr is pushing forward with his review of the origins of the Russia investigation. "What we're looking at is: What was the predicate for conducting a counterintelligence investigation on the Trump campaign?" Mr. Barr said. "How did the bogus narrative begin that Trump was essentially in cahoots with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election?"

The first question is less problematic than the second. Indeed, we already know what the predicate was for conducting a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Just this morning, the Washington Post highlighted many of the reasons the FBI "might have legitimately suspected or at least wanted to investigate a potential Trump campaign conspiracy with Russians."

Why the attorney general is eager to ask a question that's already been answered is less than clear, but if that's what he and his team are "looking at," it's their time to waste.

The second question, however, stands out for a reason: "How did the bogus narrative begin that Trump was essentially in cahoots with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election?"

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Donald Trump, Kris Kobach

Why Republicans are going after Kansas' Kobach with a vengeance

07/09/19 09:20AM

When Sen. Pat Roberts (R) announced on Jan. 4 that he wouldn't seek a fourth term in Kansas in 2020, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans would have little trouble holding onto the seat. After all, Kansans haven't elected a Democratic U.S. senator since 1932.

But a slight chill ran through GOP spines a few hours after Roberts declared his intentions. Outgoing Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), fresh off his failed gubernatorial campaign, told the New York Times that he was "considering" running for the seat.

Yesterday, he made it official, though as the Wichita Eagle reported, the right-wing Kansan seemed to stumble into the contest, misspelling his own name in his campaign paperwork.

A campaign committee named Kobach for Senate filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning, hours before Kobach was scheduled to give a speech in Leavenworth, where he is expected to kick off his campaign.

But the FEC filing initially spelled the former Kansas secretary of state's name as "Chris," an inauspicious start to his campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. The spelling was corrected about an hour later.

As amusing as this was, more important was the reaction from GOP officials to Kobach's candidacy. To put it mildly, they appeared to be terrified of the idea of Kobach winning the party's Senate nomination.

"Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump's presidency and Senate majority at risk," the National Republican Senatorial Committee's Joanna Rodriguez said. "We know Kansans won't let that happen, and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall."

Bryan Lowry, the Washington correspondent for the Kansas City Star, added on Twitter, "I'm a little overstuffed with quotes from Republicans criticizing Kobach as a candidate, but Sam Brownback's former chief of staff David Kensinger sent me this one about his fellow Kansas Republican: 'L-O-S-E-R.'"

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On his environmental record, Trump turns to 'greenhouse gaslighting'

07/09/19 08:43AM

After the White House announced plans for a presidential speech on the environment, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, "Donald Trump is resorting to greenhouse gaslighting the public to try and cover-up the fact that he is the worst president in history for the environment, climate and public health."

That's a good line. It also happens to be true.

Before we talk about what Trump said on the subject, part of what made yesterday interesting was the fact that the Republican delivered remarks on the subject at all. The New York Times had an interesting behind-the-scenes report:

Reviewing new polling data, consultants working for President Trump's 2020 campaign discovered an unsurprising obstacle to winning support from two key demographic groups, millennials and suburban women. And that was his record on the environment.

But they also saw an opportunity. While the numbers showed that Mr. Trump was "never going to get" the type of voter who feels passionately about tackling climate change, a senior administration official who reviewed the polling said, there were moderate voters who liked the president's economic policies and "just want to know that he's being responsible" on environmental issues.

So for nearly an hour in the East Room on Monday afternoon, Mr. Trump sought to recast his administration's record by describing what he called "America's environmental leadership" under his command.

It's easy to imagine an awkward conversation between the president and his political advisers who pressed him to give a speech on a subject he neither knows nor cares about. I can almost hear them telling Trump, "Just fake it for 46 minutes and it'll help with some key constituencies."

And so, he did.

The trouble, of course, is that it's awfully tough to pretend that the president has a laudable record on the environment. It's important that Team Trump considered this necessary -- it's emblematic of public attitudes shifting in a progressive direction -- but he failed to make a compelling pitch because Trump had so little to work with.

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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)

ACA heads back to court, with health care for millions on the line

07/09/19 08:00AM

Health care hasn't been a front-burner issue for the political world in recent months, but today in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the fight over the Affordable Care Act returns to the national spotlight.

A panel of federal judges in New Orleans takes up the future of Obamacare on Tuesday, hearing from states that say it's unconstitutional and from Justice Department lawyers directed by President Donald Trump to oppose the entire law, too.

The Texas v. United States case is as multifaceted as it is important, so let's dig in with some Q&A.

It's been a few months since I've thought about this and I'm feeling a little rusty. What are we talking about again?

The U.S. Supreme Court already sided with the ACA -- twice -- but the Republican tax plan changed the policy landscape a bit. As regular readers may recall, when GOP policymakers approved their regressive tax plan, they simultaneously zeroed out the health care law's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.

That sounds like a rather desperate ploy. Is anyone actually buying this argument?

Yes. Shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor -- a Bush-appointed jurist in Texas -- agreed so enthusiastically with the Republican arguments that he struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. That ruling, however, didn't go into effect, and it's currently on hold as the appeals process moves forward.

I've heard for months that this case was about Republicans trying to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but it sounds like that ruling was even more sweeping.

Correct. The judge in the case could've ruled against the ACA in a narrower way, but he decided instead to take a sledgehammer to the American health care system, because he felt like it, giving Republicans even more than they expected.

Did the ruling make sense?

It did not. Even some conservative legal experts, who've been deeply critical of the ACA, have criticized the decision, with one calling it "embarrassingly bad."

So the 5th Circuit will reverse it, right?

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.8.19

07/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Epstein case: "An 'extraordinary volume' of photographs featuring nude or partially nude young girls was confiscated from the New York City home of Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors revealed Monday after a newly unsealed indictment accused the multimillionaire financier of exploiting a 'vast network' of underage victims for sex."

* New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this morning "signed a bill that would allow certain members of Congress to access President Donald Trump's New York state tax returns."

* The latest personnel mess: "The man set to take over as the head of the Navy declined the position over the weekend, less than one month before he was scheduled to begin the job."

* The latest trouble for Broidy: "A federal grand jury in New York is investigating top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, examining whether he used his position as vice chair of President Donald Trump's inaugural committee to drum up business deals with foreign leaders, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and people familiar with the matter."

* Of course he did: "President Donald Trump on Sunday accused the New York Times of publishing 'phony and exaggerated accounts' in its expose on the child migrant center in Clint, Texas."

* Trump's USDA back in the news: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it's suspending tracking the plunging honeybee population because of a budget shortfall. The department will suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, and officials did not say when -- or if -- it would be restarted."

* Good craftspeople never blame their tools: "President Donald Trump -- who used to mock predecessor Barack Obama for using the devices during speeches -- said Friday that technical problems with the teleprompter during his 'Salute to America' led to his head-scratching remarks about the Continental Army securing not-yet existent 'airports' during the Revolutionary War."

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Leaked materials show UK ambassador telling awkward truths about Trump

07/08/19 12:50PM

Foreign ambassadors to the United States have a variety of responsibilities, including an obvious one: reporting back to their home countries with honest and candid assessments about American developments and personnel.

By all appearances, that's precisely what Kim Darroch did. What the British ambassador did not know was that his private reports would be made public.

The U.K.'s top diplomat in the U.S. views President Donald Trump as "inept," "insecure" and "incompetent," according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Kim Darroch, Britain's ambassador to Washington, D.C., made the highly critical comments about the president and his administration in a series of memos to London.

NBC News has confirmed the authenticity of the documents. In a statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said "a formal leak investigation will now be initiated."

The leaks provide a rare insight into how a key U.S. ally views the Trump administration behind closed doors.

"We don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept," Darroch wrote in one of the leaked documents.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, officials in the U.K. have scrambled to contain the diplomatic fallout and are working furiously to understand how and why the leak occurred.

Time will tell what the investigation uncovers, though it's likely the leak had less to do with Trump, per se, and more to do with a power struggle among British contingents dealing with Brexit. (If Darroch is forced to return to the U.K. in the wake of the leak, he can be replaced with a more conservative successor.)

But as important as those elements are to the broader story, and as easy as it is to feel sympathy for the British ambassador, what strikes me as most notable about the controversy is the degree to which Darroch's cables are unsurprising.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.8.19

07/08/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) campaigned in South Carolina yesterday, where he walked back earlier comments about working with segregationists in the 1970s. "I regret it and I am sorry for any of the pain or misconception that may have caused anybody," the presidential hopeful said.

* On a related note, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who hit Biden pretty hard over his record at a recent debate, said the other day that she believes busing should be considered by local school districts, but shouldn't be a federally mandated policy. This appeared to be a shift from what the senator said two weeks ago.

* At the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Saturday, Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled proposals intended to address racial disparities.

* In recent days, we've also seen Mayor Pete Buttigieg's (D) national-service plan, Sen. Cory Booker's (D) plan on immigrant detention, and Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) education plan.

* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, most of the leading Democratic contenders tied Donald Trump in hypothetical general-election match-ups, but Biden had a sizable advantage over the incumbent president.

* Former Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) presidential campaign appears to be in very rough shape. A day after the Coloradan released weak fundraising totals from the second quarter, Politico reported that Hickenlooper's senior team "urged him last month to withdraw from the presidential race gracefully."

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