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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.5.19

09/05/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of this year's state legislative elections in Virginia, the National Rifle Association this week donated $200,000 to a Republican political action committee. According to the Daily Press, "It's the largest single donation the gun rights lobby has made in Virginia since the Virginia Public Access Project started tracking campaign finance in the 1990s."

* In Wisconsin, the latest Marquette Law School poll found Joe Biden is the first choice among 28% of Badger State Democrats, followed by Bernie Sanders with 20%, and Elizabeth Warren with 17%. Pete Buttigieg, with 6% support, was the only other candidate above 5%.

* On a related note, the same poll found Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical match-up in Wisconsin, 51% to 42%, although at this point four years ago, Hillary Clinton easily led Trump in the state, long before the Republican ended up winning.

* Speaking of Biden, the former vice president is defending his 2003 support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but he appears to be getting some of the relevant details of his record wrong.

* In Kansas, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R) ended his U.S. Senate campaign yesterday and announced he would instead take on freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R) in a primary. In recent weeks, there have been rumors about a Watkins-related controversy and a possible resignation, though nothing from the apparent whisper-campaign has been substantiated.

* Climate activists didn't get the issue-specific debate they'd hoped for, but CNN did host a multi-hour forum yesterday with several leading Democratic presidential candidates, focused exclusively on the climate crisis and plans to combat it.

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President Donald Trump holds a chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington.

Even as a hurricane nears, Trump won't focus on governing

09/05/19 11:08AM

Over Labor Day weekend, a deadly hurricane neared the nation's southeast coast, while wreaking havoc in the Bahamas. Donald Trump published a variety of storm-related tweets -- including, in one instance, warning a state that wasn't in danger -- but he also made clear just how divided his attention was.

Was the president focused on the latest mass shooting? Not exactly. He actually aired a Festivus-like airing of grievances, complaining about Debra Messing, AFL–CIO President Richard Trumka, four progressive congresswomen of color, news organizations., and former FBI Director James Comey. At one point, Trump even suggested Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts should investigate Comey, once again reminding the public that Trump doesn't know what Supreme Court justices do.

The president also canceled a scheduled visit to Poland and went golfing.

Perhaps Trump would become more focused as the holiday passed, the week progressed, and the threat of the hurricane grew more acute? I'm afraid not. On the heels of yesterday afternoon's hurricane-map fiasco, Trump published a fresh round of tweets this morning about Alabama having been in Hurricane Dorian's path -- simply admitting he was wrong several days ago apparently wasn't an option -- before turning his attention to an actress the president apparently doesn't like.

President Donald Trump on Thursday amplified accusations of McCarthyism leveled at actress Debra Messing after the "Will & Grace" star made a public plea for a list of Trump donors in Hollywood and disparaged black Trump voters.

"Bad 'actress' Debra The Mess Messing is in hot water," Trump wrote in a pair of tweets, claiming that Messing wanted to create a "'Blacklist' of Trump supporters, & is being accused of McCarthyism."

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin raised a point this morning that resonated with me: "It used to be partisans would scour press reports for any stray detail that offered even a hint a president was less than focused on a hurricane, now the president just tweets for multiple days about Debra Messing and weather charts and golfs and that's just kinda how it is."

There are a variety of pillars that help define the Trump presidency -- corruption, incompetence, uncontrollable dishonesty, et al. -- but we're occasionally reminded of my personal favorite: the man simply does not care about governance. No matter the circumstances, no matter the venue, no matter the severity of the threat, Donald Trump isn't especially interested in doing the job.

He wants to be president, but he doesn't want to be burdened with presidential tasks.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

The Trump administration's not-so-bright idea on light bulbs

09/05/19 10:11AM

There was no good reason for the Trump administration to roll back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, but that's exactly what happened this week.

Under one action, the Energy Department will repeal a regulation enacted under President Barack Obama, set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring an expanded number of lightbulbs in the U.S. to be in compliance with stricter energy efficiency standards. That regulation change was spun off of a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush that aimed to gradually phase out energy inefficient bulbs like incandescent and halogen bulbs.

The regulation that's being eliminated would have redefined four categories of incandescent and halogen bulbs so that they would be subject to existing energy efficiency rules from which they were previously exempt. It would have applied to about half of the 6 billion lightbulbs used in the U.S., experts have said. [...]

Trump's Energy Department also nixed new energy efficiency standards for all pear-shaped lightbulbs that were also scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

I can appreciate why no one uses the phrase "lightbulb energy-efficiency standards" as click-bait, but this isn't trivial. As The Hill's report added, the Trump administration's new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

Rachel used a line on the show last night that stood out for me: she noted that the bulb standards were "working." That's exactly right, and it's a highly relevant detail.

As longtime readers may recall, way back in 2007, the newly elected Democratic Congress and the Republican White House thought they could work together on a credible energy bill, and they actually had a fair amount of success. One of the provisions, co-authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), dealt with light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency.

The parties worked together on this, the bill passed, and policy did exactly what it was intended to do. It looked like a rare example of a modern, bipartisan success story.

So what happened?

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Presidential contender Donald Trump gestures to the media on the 17th fairway on the first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, July 30, 2015. (Photo by Scott Heppell/AP)

Trump's misplaced boast about people's support for his 'product'

09/05/19 09:28AM

I didn't intend to return to this story, but the mess surrounding Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Ireland apparently isn't over just yet.

As you probably know, Pence had scheduled meetings in Dublin, but he nevertheless stayed three hours away, on the other side of the country, at a golf course owned by Donald Trump. According to Pence’s office, it was the president himself who “suggested” the arrangement.

This, naturally, generated quite a bit of chatter about fresh evidence of corruption and a president who’s a little too eager to profit from his office, leading Pence and his team to criticize news reports that did little more than quote the vice president’s chief of staff, and insist that the decision about the Irish accommodations was “solely” made by Pence’s office.

Yesterday, the president addressed the subject publicly for the first time.

"Well I had no involvement, other than it's a great place," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office before explaining that Pence's family hails from that area, "which is really amazing."

"But from what I understood, he was going there," Trump said. "Then I heard he was going there, but I didn't -- it wasn't my idea for Mike to go there. Mike went there because his family's there. That's my understanding of it."

Pressed on whether he suggested Pence stay at the hotel, as the vice president's chief of staff told reporters Tuesday, Trump said he did not.

"No, I didn't," the president said. "I don't suggest anything. I don't suggest it, nor did I with the attorney general, I never spoke to the attorney general about using my hotel," referring to reports that Attorney General William Barr has booked a $30,000 holiday party at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in December.

Trump added many people use his hotels because, as he put it, "they're the best." The president went on to say, "People like my product, what can I tell you, can't help it."

First, presidents are not supposed to have "products." It's the sort of thing that invites corruption.

Second, we're apparently now supposed to believe that the vice president's chief of staff lied for reasons unknown.

But even putting that aside, at the heart of Trump's latest argument is a simple claim: his business operation is so impressive, and the venues the president profits from are so great, that it stands to reason that people like Mike Pence and Bill Barr will take their business to Trump-owned properties for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. "People," as the president put it, simply "like" what he's selling.

The trouble is, there's ample evidence to the contrary.

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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)

One year after the anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump admin official

09/05/19 08:41AM

On Sept. 5, 2018, the New York Times published one of the most striking op-eds Americans have ever seen. It was written by someone identified only as "a senior official in the Trump administration," and while the newspaper explained to readers that its editors were aware of the author's identity, they decided to publish the piece anonymously in order to "deliver an important perspective."

And as we discussed at the time, it was quite a perspective. The unnamed author explained in the piece that he/she is one of "many" in the Trump administration who were "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [the president's] agenda and his worst inclinations." He/she characterized Donald Trump as an ignorant and erratic leader, unfit for leadership, whose decisions needed to be contained and curtailed by those around him.

The author wasn't a progressive opponent of a conservative agenda. Rather, he/she appeared to be a Republican who sincerely believed Trump is a dangerous, amoral, and unprincipled buffoon who was acting "in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. [...]

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until -- one way or another -- it's over.

The author described a "two-track presidency" in which the unhinged president went in one direction, while responsible adults around him quietly steered the administration in another.

Trump World did not take this well. The White House entered "total meltdown" mode and officials launched a "frantic hunt" to identify the author. The president sought a Justice Department investigation, before arguing that the New York Times wrote its own op-ed, essentially perpetrating an elaborate fraud, in order to malign him.

Exactly one year later, plenty of questions linger.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

What's driving so many congressional Republicans into retirement?

09/05/19 08:00AM

In every election cycle, party leaders try to keep retirements to a minimum. Incumbents tend to be re-elected, so the more members head for the exits, the more party officials have to worry about potentially competitive contests.

With this in mind, House Republican leaders can't be pleased with recent developments. Just yesterday, three sitting House members announced they're stepping down at the end of this Congress, and while one of them was a Democrat -- California's Susan Davis isn't running for re-election -- two of them were longtime GOP incumbents. Texas' Bill Flores announced his retirement yesterday morning, and in the afternoon, an even more high-profile Republican made the same declaration.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner announced Wednesday that he will not run for reelection next year, according to multiple local media reports.

The longtime lawmaker's exit means the Badger State is losing its most senior member, and the second-most-senior Republican in the House. He is also the second Wisconsin Republican to announce he is leaving Congress after Rep. Sean P. Duffy said last month that he would be resigning on Sept. 23.

As of this morning, there are 12 House Republicans retiring at the end of this term, as well as four House Democrats. (This total does not include two Republicans, Pennsylvania's Tom Marino and Wisconsin's Sean Duffy, who resigned. It also doesn't include North Carolina's Walter Jones, who died earlier this year.)

At first blush, 12 may not seem like a lot. There are, after all, 197 GOP lawmakers in the chamber, so a dozen probably seems like a modest percentage.

But given that Election Day 2020 is still 425 days away, 12 retirement announcements from one party's House conference is quite a few. In fact, it's roughly in line with the retirement tally from this point two years ago -- which set a high bar for recent cycles and was a rather brutal year for House Republicans, who ended up suffering the most number of losses than any midterm cycle since the immediate aftermath of Watergate.

The larger question, of course, is why we're seeing so many retirement announcements.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.4.19

09/04/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest on the storm: "Hurricane Dorian beat a steady path north on Wednesday, as residents of coastal South Carolina braced for the region's worst flooding in 30 years, authorities and forecasters said."

* The ongoing Brexit fiasco: "British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has had two epically bad days. Parliament on Wednesday voted to block fresh elections, after voting to stop the country from leaving the European Union without an agreement -- two heavy blows to Johnson's plans to exit the 28-nation bloc by Oct. 31, 'do or die.'"

* The people spoke; the people won: "A controversial extradition bill that sparked months of protests in Hong Kong will be fully withdrawn, the territory's chief executive announced on Wednesday, submitting to one of the demonstrators' core demands."

* Greg Craig's acquittal: "A prominent Washington lawyer was found not guilty Wednesday of lying to the Justice Department about work he did for the government of Ukraine in a case that arose from the special counsel's Russia investigation and focus on the lucrative world of foreign lobbying."

* The swamp is not being drained: "Last summer, Scott Pruitt left his job heading the Environmental Protection Agency and within a few months had started consulting for coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Three weeks after leaving the Interior Department, energy counselor Vincent DeVito joined Cox Oil Offshore, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico, as its executive vice president and general counsel. Now, Joe Balash -- who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday -- is joining a foreign oil company that's expanding operations on Alaska's North Slope."

* An unnecessary tragedy: "Children separated during the Trump administration's "zero tolerance policy" last year, many already distressed in their home countries or by their journey, showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated, according to a report Wednesday from the inspector general's office in the Department of Health and Human Services."

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President Donald Trump holds a chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington.

On Hurricane Dorian, Trump gave reality a little touch-up

09/04/19 04:28PM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump published a tweet that included Alabama among the states "most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" by Hurricane Dorian. Twenty minutes later, the National Weather Service, while not referencing the president specifically, published a tweet of its own, telling the public, "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east."

When news organizations noted the president's error, the Republican was outraged, but the story soon faded -- which made sense, given that there was a deadly storm approaching, and Trump's focus was supposed to be on preparing for a disaster, not petty concerns over his personal pride.

And yet, the president can't let things go, even when it's in his interest to do so.

After days of claiming without evidence that Alabama was projected to be hit by Hurricane Dorian, President Donald Trump displayed an apparently doctored map in the Oval Office on Wednesday that showed Alabama to be within the storm's path.

The map Trump displayed was the same as a model produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week showing the hurricane's projected path cutting through central Florida-- with one key difference. Where the original projection ended, a smaller, black circle that appeared to be drawn in sharpie was produced to include Alabama in the model.

It's probably fair to say much of the country has grown accustomed to a certain degree of absurdity surrounding Trump's presidency, but once in a while, the Republican pushes the envelope in ways that raise concerns about his stability. Today was one of those days.

The Oval Office briefing started innocently enough, with Trump alerting reporters to the fact that he and his team wanted to give an update on storm preparations. But Trump then insisted on holding up a map from last week showing a trajectory of Hurricane Dorian that's no longer accurate.

Right off the bat, this seemed unwise. Anyone watching the president during the briefing would see the image and receive outdated information. But Trump apparently wanted to show everyone an old image, not to serve any public interest, but because he's still concerned about the pushback he received from his wrong tweet several days ago.

Indeed, the president didn't just hold up an outdated image; he showed everyone an old map that featured a drawn-in bulge. Why was that there? Because in this crudely manipulated image, Alabama was at risk.

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