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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.18.18

01/18/18 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A shutdown is more likely than not: "The possibility of a government shutdown grew dramatically Thursday as House and Senate GOP leaders struggled to round up the votes to keep the government open past midnight Friday."

* A bill to watch: "Taxpayers would no longer foot the bill for sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress under new bipartisan legislation released Thursday. Coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the bill would require members to pay such settlements themselves as part of an effort to overhaul a byzantine, secretive system that has been in place on Capitol Hill for decades."

* Guess what's been happening in the TRMS offices today: "The House Intelligence Committee decided on Thursday to release the transcript of its meeting with the man who commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier."

* Censure: "Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, about 130 House Democrats are backing a resolution to censure President Trump over remarks he made at a meeting over the fate of DACA recipients -- remarks in which he suggested that the United States' immigration policy should consider more applicants from nations such as Norway, and fewer from what he reportedly termed 'shithole' countries."

* CFPB: "Every quarter, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau formally requests its operating funds from the Federal Reserve. Last quarter, former director Richard Cordray asked for $217.1 million. Cordray, an appointee of President Barack Obama, needed just $86.6 million the quarter before that. And Wednesday, President Donald Trump's acting CFPB director, Mick Mulvaney, sent his first request to the Fed. He requested zero."

* Someone should let the White House know: "Despite a handful of high-profile announcements, the recent cuts in corporate taxes haven't yet had a meaningful impact on American companies' plans to boost investment or raise workers' pay, a CNBC survey of large companies found."

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Trump's lawyer tweaks his Mueller probe prediction (again)

01/18/18 02:31PM

This is starting to get amusing.

In an interview with CBS News' chief White House correspondent Major Garrett on this week's "The Takeout" podcast, [Donald Trump's attorney, Ty Cobb] said Mr. Trump wants to put [Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal] to rest, and he told Garrett there are "active discussions" about a special counsel interview, but no formal request has yet been made.

It is Cobb's belief that the Mueller investigation will ultimately be immaterial to Mr. Trump and his presidency. Cobb said he expects it to be wrapped up in 4-6 weeks [emphasis added].

For those keeping score, the president's attorney has had a series of expectations along these lines. Initially, Cobb told Trump the whole unpleasantness "would conclude by Thanksgiving."

The president was then led to believe the investigation would end "by the end of the year."

The Wall Street Journal soon after reported, "Attorneys for the president ... have said the date could stretch to the end of January."

Now, according to Cobb, the new end-date is six weeks from now.

So, the probe was going to wrap up by Thanksgiving, then Dec. 31, then Jan. 31, and now March 31. (Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are apparently more realistic: they're concerned about Mueller's investigation extending into the midterm election cycle.)

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Trump questions GOP idea, adding chaos ahead of shutdown deadline

01/18/18 12:51PM

House Republican leaders were already facing a challenge. With timing running out ahead of tomorrow night's shutdown deadline, GOP officials crafted a stopgap spending plan that would keep the government's lights on for a month, while also extending the Children's Health Insurance Program and delaying some taxes in the Affordable Care Act.

The plan, which has faced some far-right opposition, has been to pass this temporary spending measure -- called a "continuing resolution" (or CR) -- and see what the Senate does with it. What no one expected was for Donald Trump to publicly question a core element of the plan.

As Republicans in Congress scrambled Thursday to put together a short-term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, President Donald Trump threw a new wrinkle into the mix, saying an extension of the children's health care insurance program should not be part of it. [...]

The measure would extend the low-income children's health insurance program for six years while delaying some key Obamacare taxes for two years. But the president's tweet on Thursday called that effort into question when he said a CHIP extension should not be part of a short-term bill.

So, the House Republican plan is to include CHIP as part of a short-term extension. The Republican president, however, tweeted this morning, "CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!"

There's some debate as to what exactly Trump was trying to say -- as of this minute, there's been no follow-up tweet -- but at face value, it looks like the president isn't on board with his own party's solution, which was already struggling to shore up the votes to pass.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.18.18

01/18/18 12:00PM

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

* With Republicans feeling increased anxiety about Pennsylvania's congressional special election in March, Donald Trump said on Twitter this morning that he'll be in the district today, appearing in support of the GOP candidate, Rick Saccone, today.

* On a related note, White House officials had previously said the president's visit to Pennsylvania was not a campaign event, though Trump stepped all over that message.

* Trump also talked up Saccone in his Reuters interview yesterday, adding, "I'll be very much involved with [the midterm elections] -- not so much primaries -- other than I respect a lot of the people that are running.... I am going to spend probably four or five days a week helping people because we need more Republicans."

* Politico  reports, meanwhile, that Barack Obama is also getting ready to "shift into higher gear" in this year's midterms, "campaigning, focusing his endorsements on down-ballot candidates, and headlining fundraisers."

* For readers who've contacted me about this, yes, the McClatchy piece is on our radar: "The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy."

* Reports of Trump's polling turnaround have been greatly exaggerated: the new Quinnipiac poll puts the president's approval rating at 38%. When the poll asked, "Would you be inclined to vote to reelect Donald Trump as president, or not?" only 34% of respondents said they're prepared to support him.

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A Washington Post newspaper box (L) stands beside the empty box of competitor Washington Times (R) outside the Washington Post on August 5, 2013 in Washington, DC, after it was announced that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had agreed to purchase...

Trump's 'Fake News Awards' turn out to be a halfhearted flop

01/18/18 11:20AM

It started with a tweet. On Jan. 2, Donald Trump published a missive in which he declared, "I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o'clock. Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!"

As the big day drew closer, the president delayed his own deadline, boasting, in true Trumpian fashion, "The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!"

The New York Times, with a cutting tone that seemed more than appropriate given the circumstances, described the dynamic nicely:

President Trump — who gleefully questioned President Barack Obama's birthplace for years without evidence, long insisted on the guilt of the Central Park Five despite exonerating proof and claimed that millions of illegal ballots cost him the popular vote in 2016 — wanted to have a word with the American public about accuracy in reporting.

On Wednesday, after weeks of shifting deadlines, and cryptic clues, Mr. Trump released his long-promised "Fake News Awards," an anti-media project that had alarmed advocates of press freedom and heartened his political base.

"And the FAKE NEWS winners are …," he wrote on Twitter at 8 p.m.

Those who clicked on the link were taken to a page at the Republican National Committee's website, which, for a while, did not actually work. In time, however, the "winners" made the rounds, and we saw that Trump World had put together little more than a list of instances in which reporters made a mistake.

What the "awards" failed to note, of course, was that the news organizations Trump was eager to condemn had corrected those missteps. In other words, after a year of whining about "fake news," Trump managed to find some media professionals who made mistakes that were retracted and/or corrected.

Attempts at presidential fanfare notwithstanding, this turned out to be the one thing Trump never wants to be: boring.

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In Trump era, global support for US leadership drops sharply

01/18/18 10:40AM

In a Reuters interview yesterday, Donald Trump took pride in his presidency. "We've done a good job," he said. "I think we're much more respected throughout the world."

The president may want to believe this, but the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Consider, for example, Gallup's new report, published overnight.

One year into Donald Trump's presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors. Median approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low of 30%, according to a new Gallup report.

The most recent approval rating, based on Gallup World Poll surveys conducted between March and November last year, is down 18 percentage points from the 48% approval rating in the last year of President Barack Obama's administration, and is four points lower than the previous low of 34% in the last year of President George W. Bush's administration.

Or put in chart form:

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump's misplaced boast about passing a cognitive test

01/18/18 10:02AM

Donald Trump had an annual physical last week, and as we learned during a White House briefing on Tuesday, the president is apparently in good health. Dr. Ronny Jackson told reporters that the exam included the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which led the physician to conclude that Trump has no cognitive or mental issues.

This wouldn't ordinarily be a point of contention or concern with a sitting president, but Trump's often bizarre antics have led to many questions about his mental fitness.

I can't help but wonder, though, if the president fully appreciates what that test was all about. Consider his interview with Reuters yesterday:

[Trump] blamed his three immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for failing to resolve the [North Korean] crisis and, a day after his doctor gave him a perfect score on a cognitive test, suggested he had the mental acuity to solve it.

"I guess they all realized they're going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests," he joked.

Now, I didn't hear the recording of the interview, and if Reuters says the president was kidding, I'll accept that at face value.

But as long as Trump is talking about this, it's probably taking a moment to understand what his high score is all about.

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Image: US Secretary of State Tillerson rebukes resignation reports

So much for 'we're not going into Syria'

01/18/18 09:20AM

Just a few months into his presidency, Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian airbase controlled by the Assad regime. The Republican was quick to make clear, however, that this wasn't the start of a major shift in U.S. strategy. "We're not going into Syria," Trump declared in April.

Even at the time, it was an odd thing for him to say. After all, as readers may recall, not only had the president just launched a new military offensive against Bashar al Assad's government -- putting the United States on more than one side in Syria's civil war -- but there's also the fact that American troops were already serving in Syria when Trump said we weren't going into Syria.

The administration's posture took yet another turn yesterday. The New York Times reported:

American troops will remain in Syria long after their fight against the Islamic State to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria take over areas that have been newly liberated with help from the United States, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said on Wednesday. [...]

Mr. Tillerson's comments were the first time a senior Trump administration official pledged to keep American troops in Syria well after the current battle ends. They also marked another step in President Trump's gradual evolution from a populist firebrand who promised to extricate the United States from foreign military entanglements to one who is grudgingly accepting many of the national security strategies he once derided.

Under the circumstances, "gradual evolution" seems quite charitable, because by any fair measure, the Trump administration's current posture bears no resemblance to what the president said it would be.

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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Republicans play a deeply cynical game with children's health care

01/18/18 08:41AM

The basic contours of a bipartisan agreement on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been in place for months. Thanks to a favorable report from the Congressional Budget Office, financing was no longer a concern. All Congress had to do was pass the bill and protect millions of kids.

But that hasn't happened. Axios reported last week, "At this point, Congress' best excuse for not passing a bill to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program has nothing to do with CHIP itself. It's about keeping it around for leverage to help pass other, more controversial measures."

In other words, Republicans saw CHIP has a handy bargaining chip to be exploited for political gain -- which is precisely what they decided to do this week.

With time running out before a government shutdown, House GOP leaders added a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program to their stopgap spending bill, along with a series of tax breaks intended to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The House Republican leadership published this stunning tweet yesterday:

"Children's lives are at stake. It's time for our friends across the aisle to stop playing games with CHIP funding."

It followed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) telling reporters that it's "unconscionable" for Democrats to oppose CHIP funding. Several GOP lawmakers held a press conference accusing congressional Dems of failing to support "American children."

I've been following politics for quite a while. I'm not sure I've ever seen political tactics this cynical.

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

In a failure of self-awareness, Trump picks a fight over 'trust'

01/18/18 08:00AM

With a government-shutdown deadline looming, and much of the fight focused on immigration policy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly assured Democratic lawmakers yesterday that Donald Trump's posture has "evolved" since his 2016 presidential campaign.

The president, Kelly said, made promises that were not "fully informed" at the time. Trump no longer sees a 2,000-mile border wall as necessary, the chief of staff added, and he understands that Mexico won't finance the project.

It was around this time that Trump sat down with Reuters, complained bitterly about a "horrible" bipartisan immigration compromise pending in the Senate, and concluded, "It's the opposite of what I campaigned for." The president added this morning on Twitter that he still expects Mexico to pay for a wall.

Which of these competing visions is the actual White House policy? No one, including congressional Republicans, has any idea. The Washington Post  reported:

While talking about languishing discussions to attach a DACA compromise and border security to the government-funding bill that is due Friday, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] suggested that the White House had failed to even make its demands known.

"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign," McConnell said. "As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels."

Of course, this presumes the president has actual, coherent policy preferences that can help guide bicameral negotiations. And yet, at this point, Trump has made clear he wants lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution; he doesn't care what's in it; except when someone tells him that he does care, at which point he rejects it without explanation, shortly before contradicting his own chief of staff's assurances to lawmakers.

It's against this backdrop that Trump says he has concerns about "trust." From the Reuters report:

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