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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.28.19

06/28/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Here's the roll call for this: "Amid escalating tensions with Tehran, the Senate on Friday rejected an attempt to require President Donald Trump to seek congressional approval for military action in Iran. The Senate chose not to attach an Iran amendment from Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia to a must-pass defense bill. The measure needed 60 votes to pass; supporters produced only 50 votes, with 40 senators voting against the amendment."

* Oregon: "Republicans in the Oregon Senate said Friday that they will end a more than weeklong walkout over emissions-lowering climate legislation that ground the Legislature to a halt, declaring victory in the political crisis that pitted 11 GOP lawmakers against a Democratic supermajority."

* Adding to this guy's many troubles: "Rep. Duncan Hunter denied an accusation from a former Capitol Hill staffer who said he drunkenly asked for her number and put his hand on her behind in 2014."

* Quite a story: "A 27-year-old woman in Alabama whose fetus died after she was shot in the stomach was charged with manslaughter by a grand jury. But the county district attorney said she may not face prosecution."

* SCOTUS: "The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will not take up Alabama's appeal involving the state's attempt to ban an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy."

* Speaking of SCOTUS, one of yesterday's rulings was important but overshadowed: "The Supreme Court has ruled that police may, without a warrant, order blood drawn from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol."

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Matt Gaetz

Leading Trump ally faces ethics probe over alleged witness tampering

06/28/19 02:45PM

The day before Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony, one of Donald Trump’s most flamboyantly partisan allies sent the former “fixer” an unusual message via Twitter.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wrote, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

As regular readers may recall, legal experts weighed in almost immediately, suggesting the online missive looked an awful lot like the Republican congressman was trying to influence Cohen’s testimony -- which would be witness tampering, which is a felony.

In the face of difficult questions, Gaetz initially refused to back down, but he hastily retreated soon after.

As Roll Call reported, the reversal didn't help.

Rep. Matt Gaetz faces an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee for a tweet that appeared to threaten former President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen with blackmail.

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it will establish an investigative subcommittee to review whether Gaetz, a staunch ally of the president, sought to intimidate Cohen before he testified to the House Oversight Committee.

It's worth noting that the Florida Republican might have been able to avoid the ethics investigation, but he refused to sit down with the committee for an interview.

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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

High court to decide whether Trump can end protections for Dreamers

06/28/19 12:25PM

The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the White House's effort to end DACA protections for Dreamers. Today, justices agreed to do exactly that.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide the fate of DACA, the federal program that has allowed 700,000 young people -- known as "Dreamers" -- to avoid deportation.

The court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.

The calendar is politically significant: if the justices hear oral arguments in the case in the fall or winter, we'll likely see a ruling around this time next year. Or put another way, the Supreme Court will likely issue its ruling on protections for Dreamers just as the major-party presidential nominating conventions are poised to get underway.

For those who need a refresher, it's worth considering the chain of events that brought us to this point. Barack Obama announced DACA protections for Dreamers shortly after the 2014 midterms, and the program worked exactly as intended -- right up until Donald Trump was elected.

As regular readers may recall, Candidate Trump vowed to pursue mass deportations, without exceptions. In a not-so-subtle shot at Dreamers, the Republican vowed, “[U]nlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.” This followed related comments in which he said Dreamers “have to go.”

As president, however, Trump seemed to realize how radical a posture this was. A few months into his term, the Republican said Dreamers should “rest easy” about his immigration policies. Trump told the Associated Press at the time that he’s “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

In September 2017, the administration changed course again, "rescinding" the program and its protections for the young immigrants.

For Trump, their fate became a bargaining chip, with the president telling congressional Democrats that the only way to save the Dreamers was to agree to finance a giant border wall. The gambit failed spectacularly for two reasons. First, when Dems grudgingly agreed to pay the ransom, the president balked and demanded even more concessions.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.28.19

06/28/19 12:00PM

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

* Last night's debate clearly wasn't great for former Vice President Joe Biden, but he nevertheless received some good news this morning: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) has decided to endorse him.

* Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro saw a dramatic increase in his presidential campaign's fundraising following Wednesday night's debate. This will help him, among other things, possibly qualify for future debates.

* Rachel asked South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg about a recent officer-involved shooting in his city and why the local police force has so few black officers. He was candid in taking responsibility: "Because I couldn't get it done. My community is in anguish right now because of an officer-involved shooting, a black man, Eric Logan, killed by a white officer. And I'm not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back. The officer said he was attacked with a knife, but he didn't have his body camera on. It's a mess. And we're hurting. And I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn't save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother's eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back."

* Last night, during his trip to the G-20 summit in Japan, Donald Trump turned to Twitter to talk about Democratic support for health-care benefits for undocumented immigrants. The president suggested he just won re-election: "That's the end of that race!"

* The Atlantic this week asked the Democratic presidential campaigns whether they support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump derailed in 2017. Though Joe Biden backed the agreement after the Obama administration helped negotiate it, his 2020 campaign wouldn't say whether the Delaware Democrat still supports it.

* In Miami yesterday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) tried to show support for striking workers at Miami International Airport, but he ended up inadvertently repeating a revolutionary rallying cry from Che Guevara. The presidential hopeful apologized soon after.

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

House Dems pass bill on election-security safeguards, paper ballots

06/28/19 10:57AM

During Nancy Pelosi's first stint as Speaker of the House, she had an ally on the other side of Capitol Hill. The California Democrat first took the gavel after the 2006 midterms and immediately got to work with a Senate led by Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and for four years, they were cooperative allies.

After the 2018 midterms, Pelosi has returned to the role, though her new congressional partner is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- who doesn't quite see things the way Pelosi does.

With this in mind, this week's fight over a $4.6 billion border bill clearly did not go the way the Speaker hoped. The Senate version ended up passing the lower chamber yesterday, but as the roll call showed, Pelosi lost a significant chunk of her own conference en route to passage.

That said, it wasn't the only bill on the schedule yesterday. Roll Call reported:

The House passed an election security measure Thursday that would require voting systems to use backup paper ballots in federal contests, while also mandating improvements to the higher-tech side of the polls. [...]

The measure, known as the Securing America's Federal Elections Act, passed Thursday would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security. It also would give states $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure.

It would also require implementation of cybersecurity safeguards for hardware and software used in elections, bar the use of wireless communication devices in election systems and require electronic voting machines be manufactured in the United States.

The bill, generally known as the SAFE Act, passed 225 to 184. Only one Republican -- Florida's Brian Mast -- supported the bill, and Democrats were unanimous on the proposal.

It now heads to McConnell's Senate, where the bill will almost certainly die. And if that dynamic sounds familiar, it's because we've seen quite a bit of it recently.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders exits the stage (for now)

06/28/19 10:07AM

Late last year, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sat down with Politico's Eliana Johnson at the Women Rule Summit, and the reporter asked Donald Trump's chief spokesperson about her legacy. She replied:

"I hope that it will be that I showed up every day and I did the very best job that I could to put forward the president's message, to do the best job that I could to answer questions, to be transparent and honest throughout that process and do everything I could to make America a little better that day than it was the day before."

As Sanders leaves the West Wing -- her last day is today -- it's probably safe to say "transparent" and "honest" aren't the first two adjectives most observers would use to describe her tenure.

If anything, Sanders is perhaps best known for effectively ending the daily White House press briefing, which has long been emblematic of Team Trump's antagonistic posture toward the free press.

But then there's her record for truthfulness to consider.

In May 2017, Sanders told reporters that "countless" FBI agents had told the White House that they had lost confidence in James Comey before the president fired him. When she was later asked about those comments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, Sanders conceded that she'd made up the claim.

It was a jarring incident, to be sure, but it was hardly the only time Sanders fell short of her "transparent and honest" standard.

The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan recently said of Sanders, "She would claim to represent the truth on behalf of a president who lies. She did it disrespectfully and apparently without shame or an understanding of what the role of White House press secretary should be. She misled reporters or tried to, and through them, misled the American people. And all with her distinctive curled-lip disdain."

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-INTELLIGENCE

An administration cannot expect to have two parallel foreign policies

06/28/19 09:20AM

It's no secret that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, throughout his troubled tenure in Donald Trump's cabinet, found himself marginalized and ignored. What we didn't know is the extent to which Jared Kushner, the president's young son-in-law, circumvented the nation's chief diplomat to pursue his own foreign policy.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner held frequent talks with Saudi Arabia's crown prince and other foreign government officials without briefing or informing senior U.S. diplomats about his discussions, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers in testimony released Thursday.

Tillerson recounted his experience in the top diplomatic job at a closed-door hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month and the transcript was released to NBC News and other media Thursday.

Tillerson, fired last year by Trump, said he was sometimes caught off guard by Kushner's talks with foreign officials. In one case, Tillerson said he was dining at a restaurant in Washington when the owner of the restaurant told him Mexico's foreign minister was seated at another table.

Apparently, the Mexican foreign minister "was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it." The Mexican official was "rather shocked" to learn that the things Kushner had said were totally new to the sitting U.S. secretary of State.

Worse, this wasn't an isolated example. Tillerson also addressed Kushner's efforts with Saudi Arabia, which operated largely outside the proper channels. As the former cabinet secretary put it, the presidential son-in-law "was in charge of his own agenda," and there was "typically not a lot of coordination" between Kushner and the U.S. embassy.

As some accounts emphasized, Kushner also routinely left then-Defense Secretary James Mattis in the dark, too. As the New York Times noted, "In some cases, as in the blockade of Qatar, where the United States has its main Middle East military air base, Mr. Kushner’s moves forced Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Mattis to scramble to contain the damage to American diplomacy, according to the accounts."

Part of the problem with this is that it's a governing dynamic that cannot work. An administration cannot expect to have two parallel foreign-policy operations. Indeed, it's practically farcical: Kushner wasn't coordinating with the actual foreign-policy team for reasons unknown, while Tillerson and Mattis weren't coordinating with Kushner because they didn't think they had to.

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Democratic presidential candidates wave as they enter the stage for the second night of the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami.

Twenty candidates, two debates, four hours, and a few happy campaigns

06/28/19 08:46AM

If you've seen any coverage of last night's debate, you've probably heard that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) walked away the big winner, while former Vice President Joe Biden fell far short. From where I sat, that assessment sounds about right.

It was the 10-word interjection that upended the trajectory of the night, if not the 2020 campaign so far. "I would like to speak on the issue of race," Ms. Harris declared. The room soon went silent.

Ms. Harris turned to address Mr. Biden, directly and personally, marrying her own identity as an African-American woman with a pointed critique of not just his recent rhetoric about working with segregationists but what they worked on together. "You also worked with them to oppose busing," she said. "And you know, there was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me." [...]

She pressed on, framing her follow-ups as the prosecutor she once was. "Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?"

No one should be surprised that the California senator excelled. To know anything about Kamala Harris is to recognize the kind of skills she brings to the table: watch her in any Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and it's obvious the former prosecutor and state attorney general is always prepared and sharp.

Transferring those skills to the debate stage obviously wasn't difficult.

As she dominated, I started thinking about the occasional political value of the luck of the draw. Ahead of the back-to-back debates, the DNC randomly assigned the contenders, and the campaigns had literally no control over which night they'd compete and against whom.

We'll never know, of course, but what would the conversation look like if Harris and Biden didn't share a stage? She would've excelled anyway -- Harris bested her rivals because of her talent, not because of luck -- but would a different lineup have left the former vice president less bruised?

Indeed, it's a fun counterfactual to consider as a thought experiment. What if Julian Castro hadn't competed against Beto O'Rourke? What if Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had shared a stage? If Warren had gone up against Biden, would the former vice president have struggled just as much?

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Alongside Putin, Trump makes light of foreign election interference

06/28/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the side of the G-20 summit in Japan a few hours ago, and as the two briefly addressed reporters, the American president reveled in the attention. "It's like the Academy Awards," Trump said to his Russian counterpart.

There was, however, one exchange of particular interest.

As reporters shouted questions and cameras clicked, Trump cocked his head when asked by NBC News whether he would tell Putin not to interfere in the vote next year.

"The answer to the question is, of course I will. 'Don't meddle in the election,'" Trump said. As Putin smiled broadly, Trump briefly raised his finger toward Putin before turning away and repeating: "Don't meddle in the election."

Over the din in the meeting room, it was unclear whether Trump had initially said "Don't meddle in the election, please," or "Don't meddle in the election, president." Journalists in the room and watching video of the exchange heard him say "please," but a White House transcript later maintained that Trump had said "president."

The official White House transcript is online here.

This is an instance in which the way Trump spoke matters at least as much as what he said. If you watch the clip, you'll hear NBC News' Freddie Tunnard ask, "Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?"

"Yes, of course, I will," the Republican replied lightheartedly. Turning his head a bit, he added, "Don't meddle in the election."

Trump smiled as if this were amusing -- and so did Putin.

Three years removed from a sophisticated military-intelligence operation that targeted American elections, the beneficiary of the most serious election attack in our nation's history finds this a subject worth joking about.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.27.19

06/27/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A predictable reaction: "President Donald Trump suggested that he wants to delay the U.S. Census following a Supreme Court ruling that the 2020 census form cannot include a question about citizenship."

* Not exactly the outcome many Dems hoped for: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reversed course and will accept a bipartisan $4.6 billion Senate-passed border aid bill, yielding to opposition from the White House, powerful Republicans, and moderates in her own party."

* He walked into court in a jail uniform: "Paul J. Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to mortgage fraud and other charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney in an effort to ensure Mr. Manafort could still face prison time if he is pardoned for his federal crimes."

* At the border: "A union representing federal asylum officers said in a court filing Wednesday that the Trump administration's policy forcing migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are decided risks violating international treaty obligations and 'abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted.'"

* This one might actually become law: "The House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed a $300 million bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in public housing Wednesday — a rare Democratic initiative that drew bipartisan support and immediate praise from the Trump administration."

* Is Kevin McAleenan in trouble, too? "Hard-liners inside and outside the Trump administration are pressing for the removal of President Donald Trump's acting Homeland Security secretary amid a rolling leadership purge that began in April and shows no signs of ending, according to five people in the Trump administration and four former Department of Homeland Security officials."

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The front columns at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump's census scheme suffers a major setback at the Supreme Court

06/27/19 01:21PM

We know what the Trump administration did when it added a citizenship question to the 2020 census. We also know why the administration did it and the degree to which officials lied about the rationale behind the scheme.

What we didn't know is whether Donald Trump and his team would get away with it. In a bit of a surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court handed the White House a major setback this morning.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census form that goes to every U.S. household, giving a win to mostly Democratic populous states that said the question would discourage legal and illegal immigrants from responding and make the population count less accurate.

The court was deeply fractured on the issue, but on the section that essentially eliminated the citizenship question, the vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four-member liberal wing of the court.

The full ruling in Department of Commerce v. New York is online here (pdf).

If you read it, you'll notice that this one gets a little messy. Roberts didn't say the citizenship question is improper; rather, he took aim at the Trump administration's motivations and reasoning.

At one point in the decision, for example, the chief justice highlighted the "significant mismatch" between what Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross did "and the rationale he provided." Roberts added that the administration's stated justification was "contrived."

It was a polite way for the Supreme Court's five-member majority to say the Trump administration offered a brazenly dishonest defense.

As Slate's Mark Joseph Stern put it, "Roberts couldn't ignore the mountain of evidence that Ross lied about the reason for a census citizenship question."

That's right, though it suggests four other Supreme Court justices were perfectly comfortable ignoring the mountain of evidence that Ross lied about the reason for a census citizenship question.

Nevertheless, the next obvious question is straightforward: what happens now?

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A guard stands on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Kagan calls Supreme Court's gerrymandering ruling 'tragically wrong'

06/27/19 12:46PM

Voting-rights advocates have been working for years, carefully and methodically, to make a compelling legal case against partisan gerrymandering. Today, those efforts collapsed in the face of a 5-4 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to find that political partisanship was so extreme in drawing the maps for congressional districts in two states that it violated the Constitution. The result was a setback for advocates of political reform.

In separate votes, the court rejected claims that partisan politics played too great a role in the way congressional districts were designed in North Carolina to the benefit of Republicans and in Maryland to the advantage of Democrats.

On a 5-4 vote in the North Carolina case, the justices found that the "partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts." Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that states and Congress could pass laws to prevent politically oriented districts, but asking the courts to do so would be "an unprecedented expansion of judicial power."

The full ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause is online here (pdf.)

Racial gerrymandering is still impermissible, though those protections now appear more limited. As The Atlantic's Adam Serwer noted, "All this means is that when parties discriminate against minorities, they'll say they're being partisan and not racist so they can get away with it."

I've seen some reactions this morning that emphasized that the high court's ruling is good for Republicans, and I suppose that's true. But the larger point should be that the decision is bad for democrats, not Democrats.

Gerrymandering is routinely abused in ways that undermine the health and integrity of the electoral system. That such corruption is generally associated with GOP politics is, in its own way, a legitimate scandal, but today's setback is for those principally concerned with the integrity of the process, not for one party over another.

It's a point Justice Elena Kagan drove home nicely in an unforgiving dissent:

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.27.19

06/27/19 12:00PM

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

* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) may not have qualified for this week's Democratic presidential primary debates, but he's nevertheless finding some success in Iowa, where he received an endorsement yesterday from Story County Democratic Chair Jan Bauer, one of the state's biggest players in party politics. This comes a month after Bullock also received an endorsement from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D).

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised a few eyebrows yesterday when MSNBC's Kasie Hunt asked if he'd commit to supporting the Democratic 2020 ticket, even if he's not on it, and the Vermont senator hedged.

* Though there's likely to be a Democratic primary in Maine's U.S. Senate race, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) picked up several endorsements this week, including one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is working hard to make sure he doesn't face a primary rival in South Carolina next year, and so far, that's working out quite well for him.

* Speaking of GOP primaries, Roy Moore certainly made a splash by kicking off a U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama last week, but he's going to have plenty of intra-party rivals. They'll include Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R), who announced his candidacy on Tuesday.

* Though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed to officially close the door on running for Kansas' open U.S. Senate seat next year, Politico reports that he's still "quietly evaluating the next steps in his political career."

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