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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

$1 trillion deficits return, despite Trump's campaign promises

01/15/20 10:05AM

Donald Trump appeared on Rush Limbaugh's program last week and boasted that the United States is "taking in more revenue now than we did when we had the higher taxes because the economy's doing so well." It's a familiar thought in Republican circles: lower taxes fuel stronger economic growth, which leads to increased revenue. Ergo, the argument goes, tax cuts pay for themselves.

The trouble, of course, is that the president's claims were false. A Washington Post fact-check piece explained, "Trump gets virtually everything wrong in his framing.... The president needs a remedial lesson in budget policy."

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times reported on the latest deficit figures from the Treasury Department. Are the increased revenues Trump pointed to bringing the budget closer to balance? Not exactly.

The federal budget deficit surpassed $1 trillion in 2019, the Treasury Department reported on Monday, as tax cuts and spending increases continued to force heavy government borrowing amid a record-long economic expansion. [...]

The deficit has grown nearly four times as fast, on average, under Mr. Trump than it did under Mr. Obama. Mr. Trump has already added more to the national debt than Mr. Obama did in his entire second term -- $2.6 trillion, compared with Mr. Obama's $2.1 trillion.

Those hoping to see a smaller deficit probably won't like next year's numbers, either: in the first quarter of the current fiscal year (October through December), the budget deficit widened to $356.6 billion, just over these three months. It suggests the shortfall will likely be quite a bit larger this year than last.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, these aren't exactly the fiscal results Donald Trump promised the electorate before his election.

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Washington, June 9, 2016. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Why Trump, McCarthy seem so eager to side with Bernie Sanders

01/15/20 09:20AM

As those watching the Democratic presidential race have no doubt heard, one of the most recent points of contention has to do with a 2018 conversation between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). At the risk of oversimplifying matters, Warren said she and Sanders disagreed in their private chat about whether a woman could win a presidential election.

The Vermont senator denies having made the comments, and last night in Wisconsin, Donald Trump took the time to side with Sanders.

President Donald Trump weighed in Tuesday night on the feud between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., telling supporters at a campaign rally here that he did not believe that Sanders had said that a woman could not win the 2020 presidential election.

"I don't believe that he said this," Trump said, referring to reports that during a private conversation in 2018 Sanders told Warren he did not think a woman could win in 2020 — a statement the Sanders campaign has denied.

"I don't know him, I don't particularly like him, he's a nasty guy," Trump continued, while defending Sanders and arguing "it's just not the kind of a thing he'd say."

Because Donald Trump knows "the kind of things" Bernie Sanders might tell Elizabeth Warren in a private conversation?

A few hours earlier, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a close White House ally, spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference and, unprompted, started talking about the existence of Democratic superdelegates -- which McCarthy described as "horrific" -- before accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of delaying the president's Senate impeachment trial in order to somehow "hurt" Bernie Sanders.

McCarthy added that former Vice President Joe Biden should stop campaigning during Trump's impeachment trial -- out of deference to Sanders, who'll be tied up at the trial. (McCarthy made no mention of the other senators who'll also be taken off the campaign trail during the trial.)

All of this may seem bizarre -- and to a very real extent, it is -- but it's not accidental. There's a GOP strategy unfolding, and it's based on a couple of assumptions.

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Polls show public opposition to Trump's confrontation with Iran

01/15/20 08:40AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Republicans saw a political opportunity. The gambit was immediately turned into a fundraising pitch and a series of campaign ads, with GOP operatives assuming the president's risky gambit would be a campaign winner.

It was around the same time that pundits started speculating about a possible bump in the polls for Trump, and the degree to which the president might benefit from a rally-around-the-flag dynamic that sometimes happens in the immediate aftermath of a national security confrontation.

Two weeks after the Jan. 3 airstrike, however, much of the public is not on board with Trump's latest posture toward Iran.

More Americans disapprove than approve of President Trump's handling of the situation with Iran, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. But they are split along party lines, and the results largely reflect the president's approval rating.

By a 49%-42% margin, Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran.... Trump's job approval is steady at 41%, with a majority of Americans (53%) continuing to disapprove of the job he's doing.

It's safe to say the president, after presenting himself as a hero for having risked a war with Iran, thought his approval rating would be higher than 41% in the wake of the Soleimani slaying.

The results from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll are roughly in line with the latest Quinnipiac poll, also released this week, which found 51% of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of Iran, while 43% approve.

The same survey found a 45% plurality believing that the killing of Soleimani has made the United States less safe, not more, which is the opposite of the line the White House has pushed aggressively in the wake of the airstrike.

Recent polling from ABC News and USA Today pointed in very similar directions.

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Amidst political turmoil, Trump focuses on toilets, washing machines

01/15/20 08:00AM

Let no American news consumers say they were bored yesterday. The U.S. House leadership took steps to send articles of presidential impeachment to the U.S. Senate. Extraordinary new revelations jolted our understanding of Team Trump's tactics in Ukraine. The president's former White House national security adviser, after having already confessed to felonies, announced plans to change his plea and head to trial. The Democratic presidential candidates met in Iowa for a crucial debate.

And it was against this backdrop that Donald Trump traveled to Wisconsin for a campaign rally, where, as Vox's Aaron Rupar noted, the Republican turned his focus away from developments that mattered and toward the issues on his mind.

"Somebody said, 'Oh, sir, don't mention the lightbulb,'" Trump said at one point, right around the same time that former Vice President Joe Biden was defending his vote for the Iraq War. "The new lightbulb costs five times as much, and it makes you look orange. And I was more interested in the orange than I was in the cost."

Trump transitioned to hyping "new dishwashers that give you more water so you can actually watch and rinse your dishes without having to do it 10 times" -- comments that suggest he's not overly familiar with how dishwashers function.

The president did show a bit of restraint, catching himself before he fully reprised the statements he first made last month about "flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times" because of federal water efficiency standards. He did, however, mimic flushing a toilet while alluding to how many times people flush ("10, 15 ..."). He went on to lament that new showers only provide a "drip, drip, drip" that doesn't get the job done washing "this beautiful head of hair."

At the same event, Trump claimed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was responsible for killing "hundreds of thousands of people" -- a figure the president appears to have made up -- while falsely boasting that the United States "kept" Syrian oil.

Oh, and the president suggested Lyndon Johnson might be in hell, presumably alongside the late Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.14.20

01/14/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mark your calendars: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the Senate's trial of President Donald Trump will likely begin Tuesday."

* It looks like Tim Kaine has 51 votes for this: "A resolution to curb President Trump's military authority in Iran has enough votes to pass the Senate, leading Democrats announced Tuesday, stating that Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins will join three other members of the GOP who had previously announced their support for the measure to invoke Congress' war powers."

* Speaking of Iran: "The New York Times has verified security camera footage on Tuesday that shows, for the first time, that two missiles hit Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8. The missiles were launched from an Iranian military site around eight miles from the plane. The new video fills a gap about why the plane's transponder stopped working, seconds before it was hit by a second missile."

* If only Barr had any kind of credibility: "Attorney General Bill Barr said on Monday that the Justice Department is considering establishing a rule requiring the FBI to obtain his permission before opening an investigation into a presidential campaign."

* I hope you caught Rachel's coverage of this last night: "With President Trump facing an impeachment trial over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, Russian military hackers have been boring into the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the affair, according to security experts."

* Remember this one? "Most of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court expressed skepticism Tuesday about the federal government's case in the infamous 'Bridgegate' scandal, several of them peppering a Justice Department lawyer with questions as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie watched from the front row."

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Pentagon contradicts Trump again, this time on Saudi Arabia

01/14/20 02:40PM

Donald Trump continues to dispatch American troops to the Middle East, though in recent months, the president has peddled a line he seems to think casts his decision in a more favorable light: Saudi Arabia, Trump keeps telling us, is paying for our deployments.

"Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we're doing," the Republican said in October. "That's a first.... And we appreciate that." He made similar comments a month earlier, bragging about the Saudis' willingness to "pay cash."

As we discussed at the time, among the problems with this was the president's suggestion that there's a direct connection between the United States' willingness to use military force in the Middle East and the money foreign countries are prepared to give us -- as if our military could be rented.

But late last week, Trump went a little further, telling Fox News about Saudi Arabia paying us for our troop deployments, and describing a conversation he claimed to have had with officials in Riyadh: "I said, 'Listen, you're a very rich country. You want more troops? I'm going to send them to you, but you have to pay us.' They're paying us. They've already deposited $1 billion in the bank."

It wasn't at all clear what he was talking about, and as it turns out, the Defense Department appeared to contradict Trump's boast in a statement to Vox.

...Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said, "The Department of Defense has engaged Saudi Arabia on contributing to US activities that support regional security and dissuade hostility and aggression."

But the statement did not specify whether any sort of financial transaction took place -- on the contrary, it said that "discussions are ongoing to formalize these contributions."

There is, of course, a significant difference between Saudi Arabia already "depositing $1 billion in the bank" and "ongoing" discussions with Saudi Arabia about formalizing the country's "contributions."

And while it matters that Americans have a president who seems to lie quite routinely about the U.S. military, it's also worth stepping back to appreciate the frequency with which the Pentagon publicly contradicts Trump.

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Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol

Pelosi advances impeachment process, clearing way for Trump's trial

01/14/20 12:46PM

The original expectation was that the U.S. House would vote on articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, which would soon be followed by a trial in the U.S. Senate. That's not quite what happened: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held onto the articles, seeking more information on the Senate's process, which had the effect of delaying the proceedings.

Nearly a month later, the California Democrat is now prepared to advance the process. NBC News reported this morning:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the House will vote Wednesday to send the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, three sources in a Democratic caucus meeting told NBC News on Tuesday.

Sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate is necessary to begin the trial. Pelosi on Wednesday will also name the House "managers" who will prosecute the case against Trump in the Senate, the sources said.

As things stand, after tomorrow's floor vote in the House, the Senate can vote on its own process, and the general consensus is that the trial in the upper chamber will get under way a week from today.

Though Democrats hoped to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into adopting trial rules that would mandate the role of witnesses, that's almost certainly not going to happen. That said, several Republican senators are reportedly prepared to vote on whether to hear from witnesses after the trial is underway.

There's no shortage of questions about how the process is likely to unfold in the coming days -- we don't yet know who the impeachment managers will be, for example, or whether GOP senators will bother pushing a "motion to dismiss" -- but it's also worth pausing to consider what Pelosi has to show for her efforts.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.14.20

01/14/20 12:00PM

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

* The latest Monmouth poll out of Iowa found Joe Biden leading the Democrats' presidential field with 24% support, though the next three candidates are close behind. Bernie Sanders was second in the poll with 18%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 17%, and Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Amy Klobuchar was a solid fifth with 8%.

* Biden also led his party's field in the latest national Quinnipiac poll with 25%, followed by Sanders at 19%. Warren was third at 16%, followed by Buttigieg at 8%, and Michael Bloomberg at 6%.

* In Nevada, one of four early nominating contests, a new USA Today/Suffolk poll found Biden with the narrowest of leads over Sanders, 19% to 18%, followed by Warren at 11%. The same poll found Buttigieg and Tom Steyer at 8% each, thanks in part to Steyer's extremely aggressive advertising campaign in the state.

* Cory Booker, the day after ending his presidential bid, appeared on CBS News this morning and said he wasn't "taking anything off the table" with regards to a possible vice presidential nomination. The New Jersey senator added that he was on Hillary Clinton's 2016 shortlist and had already been vetted.

* In a move likely to have 2020 reverberations, a Wisconsin judge yesterday again ordered the state's election commission to begin removing more than 200,000 names from the state's voter rolls, even as the appeals process moves forward.

* Biden has added two more congressional endorsements to his list of backers, picking up support from Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). The latter had been a Booker supporter before the senator's departure from the race.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Polls show sizable public support for Trump's impeachment

01/14/20 10:47AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, his congressional detractors are committing political suicide by pursuing impeachment against him. The president recently published tweets arguing, "[T]he American people have had it with this," and, "The more people learn about impeachment, the less people want impeachment."

I guess it depends on which "people" we're referring to. Consider the latest Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday afternoon:

A slight majority of voters, 51 - 46 percent, approve of the House of Representatives' vote to impeach President Trump. [...]

Similar to the opinion on the House vote to impeach President Trump, a majority of voters, 52 - 45 percent, say they are troubled by President Trump's actions involving Ukraine. Two thirds, 66 percent, would like to see John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump, testify in the Senate impeachment trial, including 39 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents, and 91 percent of Democrats.

In fairness, the results were slightly better on the question of whether the president should be removed from office by the Senate, with the public more closely divided: 48% believe senators should not bring Trump's term to a premature end, while 46% believe senators should kick him out.

But given the circumstances, it's awfully tough for Republicans to argue that only 46% of Americans -- effectively the same percentage of Americans who actually voted for Trump in 2016 -- want to see their president removed from office as a result of his misdeeds.

What's more, FiveThirtyEight maintains averages across all polling, and as of this morning, it showed public support for Trump's impeachment at 50.4% -- its highest point to date.

This isn't just a piece of political trivia.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump: 'It doesn't really matter' whether airstrike rationale is true

01/14/20 10:00AM

Nearly two weeks ago, Donald Trump authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, risking a war, creating new threats, and bringing new instability to the Middle East. The rational for the military offensive has been ... complicated.

The official line was that killing the Quds Force general was necessary to prevent an imminent attack. Or maybe it was a retaliatory measure in response to an attack that killed an American contractor. Or perhaps Soleimani had to be executed because he was targeting an embassy. Maybe the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Maybe there was more than one embassy. Perhaps even four embassies.

Asked yesterday about the intelligence that might bolster his ever-changing rationale, Trump told reporters the White House's line has been "totally consistent" -- a line he somehow delivered with a straight face. The president then quickly changed the subject.

But that's not all the Republican had to say on the subject. The New York Times reported:

In the 10 days since it carried out the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the Trump administration has been struggling to draft an after-the-fact narrative to justify it. On Monday, President Trump put an end to that hash of explanations. "It doesn't really matter," he tweeted, "because of his horrible past."

I suppose this was inevitable. As Team Trump's rationale changed nearly every day for a week and a half, it stood to reason that the president would eventually give up and declare that he considers the truth to be irrelevant.

Except the truth isn't the sort of thing a president has the power to veto.

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A doctor measures the blood pressure of a patient. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty)

Why Trump's demonstrable lies about health care reform matter

01/14/20 09:20AM

Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir yesterday, falsely claiming on Twitter, "I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare." He added, "I will always protect your Pre-Existing Conditions, the Dems will not!"

As we discussed soon after, it was as brazen a lie as Trump has ever told. In reality, Trump didn't "save" protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions -- protections created by Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act -- the Republican fought to take those protections away through a series of far-right repeal-and-replace proposals he couldn't get through a Congress led by his own party.

Trump, of course, is also helping champion an ongoing federal lawsuit that would strip protections from Americans with pre-existing conditions.

When the president's lie generated some public discussion, he did what he usually does after getting caught trying to deceive the public: Trump published another tweet repeating the lie.

"I stand stronger than anyone in protecting your Healthcare with Pre-Existing Conditions. I am honored to have terminated the very unfair, costly and unpopular individual mandate for you!"

On the latter sentence, the individual mandate wasn't "very unfair" -- it enjoyed bipartisan support as recently as 2009 -- and it wasn't especially "costly." In fact, more than a few health care policy experts have argued that the policy would've been even more effective if the penalty cost more, not less.

But it's the repetition of the lie about protections for those with pre-existing conditions that stands out. In this case, it's worth appreciating not just the extent to which Trump is lying, but also why he's so committed to this specific lie.

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Rick Scott picks the wrong adjective to defend Trump on scandal

01/14/20 08:40AM

When Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal first started coming into focus in the fall, the public learned of an abusive scheme in which the president extorted a vulnerable ally in the hopes of receiving domestic political assistance. Republicans experimented with a variety of underwhelming talking points, but Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) seemed fond of one in particular.

Assessing the controversy, the Florida Republican told Fox News in October, "[T]he only person that's been transparent so far is President Trump." A month later, Scott appeared on Fox Business to claim that Trump was "the only person in this who's been transparent."

Yesterday, the GOP senator appeared on Hugh Hewitt's conservative talk show and once again repeated a familiar line.

HEWITT: [I]f I was [a senator] right now, based on everything I have read and seen, I would vote to dismiss the articles [of impeachment]. If you had to vote only on the basis of what you have seen and read produced by the House, will you vote to acquit President Trump?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, the Democrats have proven the guy's, Trump's innocence. The only guy that's been transparent during this is Trump.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride, Rick Scott keeps using that word, transparent, but I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

Just for the sake of conversation, let's put aside the broader questions about whether senators should value the rule of law and have a problem with presidents who are so eager to cheat in an election that they extort allies. That's obviously the fundamental concern at the heart of the scandal, but it appears Rick Scott is unfazed by the core allegations.

Let's instead consider the Florida Republican's argument on the merits.

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