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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.18.18

09/18/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Scrambling in response to a bad idea: "U.S. intelligence officials, blindsided by President Donald Trump's order that they make public highly sensitive files in the Russia investigation, are hoping the White House will allow them to conduct a formal declassification review and damage assessment before they are forced to release the documents, current and former officials tell NBC News."

* North Carolina: "Rain-swollen rivers won't stop rising in North Carolina. Several of them teetered at record levels Tuesday as officials warned of relentless flooding and hazards in areas already swamped by historic rainfall produced by former Hurricane Florence."

* Trump's trade war: "President Donald Trump announced a new round of tariffs late on Monday, slapping a 10 percent tax on a $200 billion list of Chinese imports ranging from consumer goods to manufacturing materials. The new tariffs, effective September 24, will rise to 25 percent by January 1."

* And the retaliatory response: "China will impose retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion of American-made goods.... The Chinese Finance Ministry announced Tuesday it would go ahead with plans announced in August to tax 5,207 types of U.S. imports, ranging from coffee to farm machinery."

* That's quite a mistake: "Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military plane after an Israeli airstrike on Syrian territory, Kremlin officials said Tuesday, the worst case of friendly fire for Russia in the Syria war."

* Refugees: "The Trump administration will admit no more than 30,000 refugees to the U.S. in the coming year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, down from the current cap of 45,000."

* Lock him up? "Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to set a late November sentencing date for President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to a court document filed Monday by federal prosecutors."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In Trump's mind, no one was willing to talk to Obama

09/18/18 04:43PM

Donald Trump made a series of odd claims during a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, but this excerpt seemed especially odd.

"The European Union wouldn't talk to us. They wouldn't talk to President Obama. Wouldn't even talk to him."

In context, the American president seemed to be referring to trade, but if so, Trump is badly confused. As the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale explained, the EU engaged in full-scale trade negotiations for several years with Obama.

And while "Trump lies about his predecessor" isn't exactly an unfamiliar story, this is a very specific kind of lie, which Trump seems to turn to with unsettling frequency.

Last week, for example, talking to reporters on Air Force One, the Republican said, "Don't forget -- Japan would not deal with Obama. He wouldn't deal with President Obama. They wouldn't deal. They said, 'No, we're not going to talk trade.' Me? They're calling up."

Again, this isn't even close to being true. The Trans-Pacific Partnership included a variety of countries, but Japanese officials and the Obama administration were at the heart of the talks that led to the agreement (which Trump rejected despite not understanding it).

Also last week, Trump said, in reference to diplomacy with North Korean officials, "Obama couldn't meet, they wouldn't see him."

Reality points in the exact opposite direction: North Korea was eager, if not desperate, to meet with every recent American president, including Obama, but each U.S. leader had the good sense not to reward Pyongyang in exchange for nothing. Only Trump was willing to give up major diplomatic concessions without meaningful concessions from the rogue dictatorship.

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Image: North Korea

Nikki Haley: Russian election interference 'didn't work'

09/18/18 12:46PM

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley adopted a rather aggressive posture toward Russia yesterday, accusing the adversary of destabilizing efforts in a variety of areas. It Haley to declare:

"Deny, distract, and lie. We have heard this same song many times before. Whether it was aiding the Assad regime with chemical weapons, whether it was the attempted murder of the Skripals with the dangerous nerve agent in the United Kingdom, whether it was election meddling in the United States -- which didn't work, by the way."

If you watch the clip, it appears the ambassador was referencing pre-written notes, right up until those last six words, which Haley appeared to ad-lib.

And while it's always welcome when the Trump administration acknowledges Russian interference in American elections -- something the president has repeatedly failed to do -- Haley's assertion about Russia's failure struck a curious note.

Moscow's election interference "didn't work"?

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.18.18

09/18/18 12:00PM

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

* If Democrats are going to have any chance of a Senate majority, they'll almost certainly have to succeed in Arizona, where the latest CNN poll shows Kyrsten Sinema (D) leading Martha McSally (R), 50% to 43%.

* On a related note, Dems will be in even better shape if the Senate race in Tennessee goes their way, and CNN's poll found Phil Bredesen (D) ahead of Marsha Blackburn (R), 50% to 45%.

* Though Arizona's gubernatorial race isn't usually seen as among this year's most competitive contests, the CNN poll found incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey (R) leading David Garcia (D) by just three points, 49% to 46%.

* The news for Republicans was better in Tennessee, where CNN's poll found Bill Lee (R) with a larger advantage over Karl Dean (D) in the state's gubernatorial race, 52% to 43%.

* It took a little longer than expected, but the Democratic primary in Massachusetts' 3rd congressional district wrapped up yesterday, with Dan Koh conceding to Lori Trahan. The district is currently represented by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), who is retiring.

* Though the decision will ultimately be made by state officials, Beto O'Rourke (D), a competitive U.S. Senate candidate this year, endorsed Medicaid expansion in the Lone Star State yesterday.

* In California's 39th congressional district, a new Monmouth University poll found Young Kim (R) with a modest lead over Gil Cisneros (D), 46% to 42%. The seat is currently held by Rep. Ed Royce (R), who's retiring, creating a key pick-up opportunity for Dems.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Internal RNC polling report tells Republicans what they don't want to hear

09/18/18 11:20AM

After months in which Donald Trump has told Republican voters that they need not fear a "blue wave" in the 2018 midterms, his party is confronting an important problem: many GOP voters have accepted the president's claims at face value, leaving them complacent about the results of this year's elections.

As we discussed yesterday, a series of focus groups from America First Action, a political committee aligned with Trump, and a polling report from the Republican National Committee both came to the same conclusion: Republican leaders are far more concerned about the midterms than their party's voters, in part because they've received dubious assurances from the president.

But that's not all the RNC polling memo found. Bloomberg News reports today:

The study says GOP fortunes will hinge on the party's ability to activate "soft" supporters: "Those voters who 'somewhat approve' of Trump and those who support the President's policies but not his leadership style are the ones posing a challenge to the party."

Motivating these voters could be tricky. One hurdle is Trump's chaotic style, which shows no sign of changing. Another is that the issues soft Republicans care about most are ones involving government spending and are typically associated with Democrats. The survey found that increasing funding for veterans' mental health services, strengthening and preserving Medicare and Social Security, and reforming the student loan system all scored higher than Trump's favored subjects of tax cuts, border security, and preserving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The RNC's report added, "Special attention should be paid to the messaging regarding Social Security and Medicare.... [T]he challenge for GOP candidates is that most voters believe that the GOP wants to cut back on these programs in order to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy."

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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long delivers update on federal actions to support Hurricane Irma response in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

Trump's FEMA chief reportedly facing possible criminal probe

09/18/18 10:42AM

We've known for about a week that FEMA chief Brock Long isn't just dealing with the effects of Hurricane Florence; he's also found himself facing an ethics investigation. The Wall Street Journal  reported overnight that the matter appears to be increasingly serious.

An investigation targeting President Trump's top emergency-management official has been referred to federal prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and two other federal employees may have broken as many as six laws as they commuted frequently between Washington and Mr. Long's home in Hickory, N.C., at taxpayers' expense, said one of the people briefed on the investigation.

The Washington Post had a related report, noting that an internal investigation within the Department of Homeland Security has been "referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution."

Making matters slightly worse for the FEMA director, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) wrote to Long yesterday, "requesting documentation and other information related to his use of government vehicles and about the agency personnel who may have accompanied him on the trips."

For those just joining us, the Trump administration has already been burdened by a series of controversies over top officials misusing public funds for personal travel, though Brock Long appears to offer a rather extreme example of the problem.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Walker says he'll clean up the health care mess he's eager to create

09/18/18 10:00AM

There's a serious lawsuit pending in a federal court in Texas right now that hopes to gut the Affordable Care Act, with protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions hanging in the balance. The anti-health-care case was brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general and the Republican governors from Maine and Mississippi.

One of the 20 states that filed the case was Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R), currently running for a third consecutive term, signed off on state Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) joining a multi-state litigation. It made this Associated Press report all the more notable.

Gov. Scott Walker's campaign says he would call a special session of the Legislature if necessary to pass a bill guaranteeing health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

That guarantee is already provided under the federal health care law Walker wants to see repealed. But the Republican says he likes that provision and earlier this year called on the state Legislature to enact a protection. The bill did not pass.

Walker spokesman Brian Reisinger says Friday that "if something were to change" and people with pre-existing conditions were no longer covered in Wisconsin, "Walker would call a special session in a heartbeat and get it passed."

This is a curious posture. Walker has long opposed "Obamacare" and has called for its repeal. The Republican governor also supports the lawsuit that would strip Americans of protections they currently enjoy.

And Walker also wants voters to know that if the case he supports succeeds, he'll also scramble to rescue the families hurt by the outcome he wants. It sounds a bit like the governor has a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other -- and Walker wants the public to know that whatever fire he helps start he'll also try to put out.

We're nevertheless seeing related developments elsewhere. In Missouri, state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), running in one of the nation's most competitive U.S. Senate races, was only too pleased to join the anti-ACA lawsuit earlier this year. Now that families are starting to worry about the punishments the case will impose, however, Hawley "won't offer details about his role in the Republican lawsuit."

The GOP candidate says he supports protections for those with pre-existing conditions, even as his case tries to take those protections away.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Orrin Hatch defends Kavanaugh in the least persuasive way possible

09/18/18 09:20AM

It's not surprising that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has positioned himself as an ardent supporter of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. What is surprising is how bad Hatch's arguments are.

The retiring Utah Republican told Capitol Hill reporters yesterday, for example, in refence to Christine Blasey Ford's allegations, that Kavanaugh didn't even attend the party. Since Ford hasn't gone into any details about the event, it's difficult to know how the judge, or his GOP ally in the Senate, could say this with any certainty.

Hatch added that Ford must be "mixed up," evidently because Kavanaugh says so.

After gushing about the Supreme Court nominee's honesty, decency, and integrity, Hatch was asked about the possibility of the allegations being accurate. The senator told reporters:

"If that was true, I think it'd be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today -- because that's the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is."

This was a highly problematic answer. As The New Republic's Jeet Heer wrote, "So Hatch's position is: Ford is mistaken because Kavanaugh wasn't at a party that Ford didn't really describe but it wouldn't matter if Ford were telling the truth because Kavanaugh is a good man. The philosopher Jacques Derrida described this type of thinking as 'kettle logic': the making of contradictory arguments with no regard for internal coherence."

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