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Team Trump's assurances about the deficit suddenly look quite a bit worse

07/19/18 09:20AM

A couple of months ago, Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House's National Economic Council, boasted that the U.S. budget deficit "is coming down, and it's coming down rapidly." This was, of course, spectacularly wrong. Though the deficit shrunk during Barack Obama's presidency, it's grown considerably larger since Donald Trump took office.

Asked soon after how he managed to get reality backwards, Kudlow conceded that the deficit isn't really coming down now, but he believes it will start shrinking in the near future as Republican economic policies continue to kick in.

Maybe he ought to take a fresh look at this. The Wall Street Journal  reported yesterday:

The Trump administration expects annual budget deficits to rise nearly $100 billion more than previously forecast in each of the next three years, pushing the federal deficit above $1 trillion starting next year. [...]

The White House budget office now estimates that the deficit will rise to nearly $1.1 trillion in the fiscal year that begins this October, or 5.1% of gross domestic product, up from $984 billion projected in February's budget proposal.

According to the White House budget blueprint from February, the Trump administration expected to add $7.1 trillion in cumulative deficits to the national debt over the next 10 years. This new revision has increased that total to $8 trillion.

These latest figures tell us a few important things. First, Larry Kudlow's track record for accuracy on issues like these really is embarrassing. Second, Donald Trump's campaign commitments about balancing the budget should probably be near the top of the list of his broken promises.

Third, every Republican who said the GOP tax breaks for the wealthy would pay for themselves ought to face some renewed questioning about how very wrong they were.

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Coming to terms with Trump's new 'agreements' with Russia's Putin

07/19/18 08:42AM

The Washington Post  reported the other day that in the days leading up to Donald Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House officials repeatedly told European allies "not to worry" about the talks amounting to anything substantive. The article added that the White House told our allies that "no deals would be made between Putin and Trump."

Those assurances may have been wrong. The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Russia's Defense Ministry says it's ready to boost cooperation with the U.S. military in Syria, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it's ready for "practical implementation" of agreements reached by Trump and Putin.

To which the appropriate response was, "What agreement reached by Trump and Putin?" There has been no official announcement from the Trump administration about a new agreement on policy toward Syria, though Moscow is apparently under the impression that some kind of deal was reached.

The trouble, of course, is that we don't really know what was discussed behind closed doors for nearly two-and-a-half hours, largely because the two presidents met for a one-on-one session in Helsinki without aides.

But as far as Russia is concerned, this wasn't just a friendly chat. Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters yesterday that Trump and Putin struck "important verbal agreements" on, among other things, issues related to national security.

The Washington Post  reported this morning, however, that "officials at the most senior levels across the U.S. military, scrambling since Monday to determine what Trump may have agreed to on national security issues in Helsinki, had little to no information Wednesday."

The article added, "At the Pentagon, as press officers remained unable to answer media questions about how the summit might impact the military, the paucity of information exposed an awkward gap in internal administration communications."

Given the circumstances, "awkward" seems like an exceedingly polite adjective.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

Trump admin considers Putin request to question American diplomat

07/19/18 08:00AM

It's increasingly difficult to be surprised by Donald Trump's presidency, but once in a while, the White House manages to take a position that seems truly bonkers, even by 2018 standards.

The White House is reviewing a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow Russian investigators to question a number of Americans they say are implicated in criminal activity, including a former U.S. ambassador, a spokeswoman said.

At the top of Moscow's wish list, evidently, is Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration (and who spoke with Rachel about these latest developments on the show last night).

Note, we're not talking about information from an anonymous source, leaking word of a ridiculous behind-the-scenes plan. On the contrary, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke about this, on the record, during yesterday's briefing.

A reporter asked, "Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder's 'crimes,' in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?"

Sanders responded that the president "is going to meet with his team" on this, adding that "there was some conversation" about this between Trump and Putin.

So to recap, Russia's authoritarian president has an obsessive grudge against a former U.S. ambassador, and wants access to this American for questioning. America's president, who seems unnervingly eager to make his Russian counterpart happy, should've dismissed the idea out of hand, but he's instead considering the possibility.

This all stems from what Trump considered an "incredible offer" from Putin.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.18.18

07/18/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mariia Butina's case: "The Russian woman arrested this week on charges of being a foreign agent had ties to Russian intelligence operatives and was in contact with them while in the United States, federal prosecutors said Wednesday."

* In case you missed this yesterday: "A federal judge has rejected former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's bid to have his looming trial on tax and bank-fraud charges moved from Alexandria, Virginia, to Roanoke, about 200 miles outside the Beltway."

* The OSU controversy: "Five former Ohio State University wrestlers have filed two separate class-action lawsuits in federal court, alleging the university knew about sexual abuse by physician Richard Strauss decades ago but failed to stop his misconduct."

* In related news: "Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio met with investigators on Monday as part of Ohio State University's ongoing investigation into accusations that a wrestling team doctor sexually abused athletes more than 20 years ago."

* More tariffs on the way? "The Commerce Department is opening an investigation into whether imports of uranium -- the chemical element that fuels nuclear power -- pose a risk to national security."

* Even by 2018 standards, this was foolish: "Members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday pushed executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter about purported political biases on their platforms -- and used conspiracy theories from far-right websites to do so."

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Obama blasts leaders who reject 'facts' and 'make stuff up'

07/18/18 04:23PM

On a handful of occasions, former President Barack Obama has spoken out, carefully and judiciously, when Donald Trump has pursued policies that put "our core values" at stake, at least as far as the Democrat is concerned. In each instance, however, Obama has gone out of his way to avoid mentioning his successor by name.

But as a rule, when the former president shares his thoughts on major political developments, it's not difficult to read between the lines.

Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday laid out a progressive vision for the future in direct rebuke to what he called the "politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment" that have taken hold around the world.

In remarks honoring the 100th anniversary of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela's birth, delivered in South Africa a day after President Donald Trump was roundly criticized for cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama denounced creeping authoritarianism and warned against "strongman politics" practiced by leaders who ignore facts and "seek to undermine every institution ... that gives democracy meaning."

Among other things, the former American president touted the importance of international cooperation, lamented the prevalence of "racial nationalism," denounced the fact that the "free press is under attack," and condemned immigration policies "based on race, or ethnicity, or religion."

Obama went on to say, "Those who traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy, whether it's on the left or the right, they make democracy unworkable. You can't expect to get 100 percent of what you want all the time; sometimes, you have to compromise. That doesn't mean abandoning your principles, but instead it means holding on to those principles and then having the confidence that they're going to stand up to a serious democratic debate. That's how America's founders intended our system to work -- that through the testing of ideas and the application of reason and proof it would be possible to arrive at a basis for common ground.

"And I should add for this to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality. This is another one of these things that I didn't have to lecture about. You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation..... Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up."

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington.

Is Russia targeting the midterms? Trump again contradicts intel agencies

07/18/18 02:10PM

Given recent developments, Donald Trump should probably go out of his way to endorse the U.S. intelligence community's findings, especially when it comes to Russia and election interference.

And yet, the president just can't seem to help himself. [Update: see below]

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he does not believe Russia is still targeting the U.S., day after he attempted to quell the backlash over his widely rebuked comments in Helsinki where he contradicted his intelligence community's assessment that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election.

"No," the president answered when asked if Russia is still trying to influence American elections.

That may seem like an unusually brief quote, so pay careful attention to the context. Trump was wrapping up a White House meeting, and an aide was trying to clear reporters from the room. What often happens, however, is that the president will engage in some brief, impromptu Q&A.

With that in mind, a reporter asked if Russia is still targeting the United States ahead of this year's midterm elections, and Trump offered a one-word response: "No."

The trouble, of course, is that the president is almost certainly wrong. We know this with some certainty because the Trump administration has told us so.

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A man walks across the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building at the CIA headquarters on Feb. 19, 2009 in McLean, Va. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Tensions between Trump and US intelligence agencies reach a new level

07/18/18 12:47PM

There was an unexpected development in the White House yesterday, when Donald Trump tried to express support for the American intelligence professionals he insulted on the international stage the day before. "Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America's intelligence agencies -- I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies," the president said.

And as the sentence ended, the lights in the Roosevelt Room went out, briefly leaving everyone there in the dark.

As metaphors go, this was a little over the top, but it was nevertheless important. Because while the Republican president may claim to have "a full faith in our intelligence agencies," Trump's actions have created a dynamic in which our intelligence agencies don't have full faith in him. The New York Times  reported yesterday:

Few other currently serving intelligence officials were willing to speak publicly about Mr. Trump's remarks — intelligence officials are, after all, expected to work for any president no matter their politics and, in any case, most work in offices where they cannot easily speak with reporters or any outsiders. Those that would talk spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their careers. But all were unanimous in saying that they and their colleagues were aghast at how Mr. Trump had handled himself with Mr. Putin.

One official summed up what appeared to be the consensus view, saying that it was clear whose side Mr. Trump was on, and "it isn't ours."

Axios spoke to one of Trump's own former National Security Council officials who described the situation as "a total [effing] disgrace," adding, "The president has lost his mind."

Well then.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.18.18

07/18/18 12:00PM

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

* As expected, incumbent Rep. Martha Roby (R) easily won her primary runoff in Alabama yesterday, defeating former Rep. Bobby Bright by 35 points. Also as expected, Donald Trump quickly claimed credit for the results.

* As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted yesterday, the Democrats' lead in the generic congressional ballot, according to FiveThirtyEight's averages of all polling, is now back above 9 points. The Dems' advantage is currently at its highest level since mid-March.

* We're still two months away from New York's gubernatorial primary, but a new Quinnipiac poll suggests Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is likely to prevail: the results showed the incumbent leading Cynthia Nixon, 59% to 23%.

* In a bit of a surprise, former FBI Director James Comey, a long-time Republican, published a tweet last night urging Americans to vote Democratic this year. "All who believe in this country's values must vote for Democrats this fall," Comey wrote. "Policy differences don't matter right now. History has its eyes on us."

* GOP operative Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, told McClatchy News this week that Trump's condemnations of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe "is doing more to mobilize base voters than any legislative issue we've seen."

* Less than a month out from Hawaii's primaries, a new Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll shows a tightening Democratic gubernatorial race, with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa leading Gov. David Ige by just four points, 44% to 40%. Earlier this year, Hanabusa led by as many as 20 points.

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