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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.13.18

06/13/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The United States in 2018: "The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally."

* Climate crisis: "Antarctica's ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday. The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded."

* Immigration: "The Trump administration is urging a federal court in Texas to declare DACA illegal, setting up a potential conflict that could allow the government to shut the program down within a matter of weeks."

* He's in a position to do more than complain: "Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday chided his GOP colleagues for being 'cultish' and 'fearful' under President Donald Trump, and said some are concerned about their prospects in the midterm elections."

* Interest rates: "The Federal Reserve approved another rate hike on Wednesday, bumping up the nation's benchmark interest rate by one-quarter of a point. It's the second time Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has raised rates since he took over the nation's central bank in February."

* Is Pruitt starting to lose the right? "Conservative pundit and radio host Laura Ingraham called on President Donald Trump Wednesday to fire Scott Pruitt after a report that the EPA administrator had an aide press GOP donors to give his wife a job."

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Image: House GOP Pulls Vote On Trump's American Health Care Act

Moderate Republicans suffer a 'staggering loss' on immigration

06/13/18 03:20PM

A sizable group of House Republicans launched an audacious initiative in early May, introducing a discharge petition on immigration reform. And while discharge petitions nearly always fail, this one had a real chance at success.

That is, until yesterday. Politico  reported overnight:

House Republicans will vote next week on two bills addressing the plight of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who face possible deportation, circumventing an intra-party war over immigration and delivering a major blow to moderate Republicans.

The floor votes will effectively stop the effort by moderate Republicans in tandem with Democrats to force a vote on their immigration plans through a so-called discharge petition.... The development effectively kills the discharge petition campaign, a staggering loss for moderates seeking to pass legislation protecting Dreamers.

The more moderate GOP members needed to get 218 signatures to force a bipartisan reform package onto the floor, which would have protected Dreamers and codified the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into law.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was reportedly "desperate" to avoid a vote on bipartisan immigration legislation, and his leadership team successfully persuaded just enough Republicans not to sign the discharge petition.

Yesterday afternoon, the moderates ended up with 216 signatures, not 218.

As a result, the House will have two votes on immigration measures next week -- one far-right plan written by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and another that's still a work in progress -- though as Politico's report added, "Neither is expected to pass, according to Republicans in all camps."

So, who wins and who loses here?

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

GOP senator makes a clumsy case on nuclear proliferation

06/13/18 12:46PM

While the Bush/Cheney administration struggled with its fiasco in Iraq, a related problem unfolded thousands of miles away: North Korea joined the small circle of nations with nuclear weapons. In response, the Republican White House at the time did effectively nothing.

The result wasn't just a frightening security dynamic, the administration also inadvertently sent an alarming signal to U.S. adversaries: if you want to avoid a military confrontation, you're better off having nuclear weapons (like North Korea), than not having them (like Iraq).

It was a lesson Iran understood all too well: it was on Bush/Cheney's watch that Iran's total number of centrifuges grew from 164 to 8,000.

A decade later, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) raised a related point during an interview yesterday with Hugh Hewitt. The conservative host asked the Republican senator for his response to assertions that Donald Trump gave away too much to Kim Jong-un during this week's summit, and the senator replied:

"There is a school of thought that the United States should not sit down, that the United States president should not sit down with two-bit dictators. I think there's some validity to that school of thought with the exception once those dictators have nuclear weapons.

"You know, countries like Iran and Cuba and other two-bit rogue regimes don't have nuclear weapons, yet. They can't threaten the United States in that way. Once North Korea had nuclear weapons, once they have missiles that can deliver them to use, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators. It's not something that we should celebrate. It's not a pretty sight. But it's a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat."

There's quite a bit wrong with this, starting with the idea that presidential negotiations with North Korea's dictatorship are somehow "necessary." They're not. Trump didn't have to give Kim one of his most sought-after goals in exchange for nothing; he chose to.

And even among those who believe direct and bilateral talks are "necessary," that doesn't explain Trump's effusive praise and affection for one of the world's most brutal authoritarians.

But looking past these relevant details, there's a broader significance to Cotton's vision: it creates a powerful incentive for "two-bit dictators" to get nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.13.18

06/13/18 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia's 10th congressional district, widely seen as one of the nation's most competitive House contests, Democratic leaders got the candidate they wanted: state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D) easily won her primary yesterday, and will take on incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in the fall.

* Things were less encouraging for Democratic Party leaders in South Carolina, where Archie Parnell (D) also won his congressional primary in the 5th district, despite losing party support in response to revelations about spousal abuse in his past.

* The latest Public Policy Polling survey, released today, shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 46% to 40%. That's roughly in line with recent national averages.

* After Virginia's Corey Stewart's won his Republican Senate primary last night, the crowd at his victory party chanted, "Lock her up." The GOP nominee told his supporters in response, "That might just happen, by the way."

* Because Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) dislikes his state's ranked-choice voting -- a reform approved by his constituents -- he's threatening not to certify the results of yesterday's primaries.

* On a related note, Mainers are keeping the system in place, at least for now.

* The National Rifle Association has apparently pulled its old scorecards, which give letter grades to lawmakers based on how often they voted with the NRA's position, from the group's website. Why hide them from public view? "I think our enemies were using that," an NRA source told the Washington Post.

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A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York

Trump admin backs away from president's promise on lower drug costs

06/13/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump loves to tell people great things will happen "in two weeks," though more often than not, the president has just made up that timeline, and the promised results never materialize.

Consider Trump's rhetoric at a White House event on May 30. Referring to an imminent drop in the cost of prescription medication, the president declared with pride, "You're going to have some big news. I think we're going to have some of the big drug companies in two weeks, and they're going to announce -- because of what we did -- they're going to announce voluntary massive drops in prices.... That's going to be a fantastic thing."

Many of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies had absolutely no idea what Trump was talking about, but the White House made no effort to walk back the president's vow.

That changed yesterday. Two weeks after Trump talked up the "fantastic thing" that would happen on June 13 -- which is to say, today -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for an update on the presidential promise. It didn't go especially well.

WARREN: The same day that the president made those statements, [Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota] and I sent letters to the top 10 drug manufacturers to see how many had lowered prices in response to the blueprint, and all 10 of them have now responded. Zero out of 10 said that they had lowered any prices. Zero out of 10 gave any indication that they plan to do so. And in fact, 1 out of 10 said prices are going to go up later this year. So maybe you can clear this up for us. Secretary Azar, which drug companies will be voluntarily lowering their prices massively, for which drugs, and how much money will the American people save as a result?

AZAR: So there are actually several drug companies that are looking at substantial and material decreases of drug prices in competitive classes....

The Democratic senator interrupted Trump's cabinet secretary, zeroing in on his "looking at" phrasing as proof that the president's promise from 14 days ago was untrue.

The only thing "massive" in this case is the scope of Trump's willingness to make stuff up.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Scott Pruitt's brazenness apparently knows no bounds

06/13/18 10:43AM

Even those who've come to expect the worst from EPA chief Scott Pruitt were taken aback last week. The Washington Post  reported that the Oklahoma Republican used government employees, during work hours, to reach out to the CEO of a fast-food company about "a potential business opportunity."

Or more specifically, Pruitt wanted to use his position in the hopes of getting his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Soon after, several congressional Democrats urged the Justice Department to begin a criminal probe of the scandal-plagued cabinet official.

Making matters just a little worse, this apparently wasn't the only example of the EPA administrator using his position to advance his wife's interests. The Washington Post moved the ball forward this morning:

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt last year had a top aide help contact Republican donors who might offer his wife a job, eventually securing her a position at a conservative political group that has backed him for years, according to multiple individuals familiar with the matter.

The job hunt included Pruitt's approaching wealthy party supporters and conservative figures with ties to the Trump administration. The individuals said he enlisted Samantha Dravis, then serving as associate administrator for the EPA's Office of Policy, to line up work for his wife.

And when one donor, Doug Deason, said he could not hire Marlyn Pruitt because of a conflict of interest, Pruitt continued to solicit his help in trying to find other possibilities.

In case this isn't obvious, cabinet secretaries are not supposed to use their offices to advance their spouses' financial interests. That's very likely illegal.

Indeed, consider what Lawrence Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, told the Washington Post last week -- before we knew about this latest controversy:

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers remarks while campaigning at Regent University Oct. 22, 2016 in Virginia Beach, Va. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Virginia Republicans rally behind Trump acolyte in Senate race

06/13/18 10:07AM

In Virginia's gubernatorial race last year, Republican officials weren't especially concerned about their primary contest. Ed Gillespie was expected to cruise to an easy victory, easily dispatching Corey Stewart, who served as the Trump campaign's chairman in Virginia, and who was running an explicitly pro-Confederate platform.

Indeed, as Slate's Jamelle Bouie noted at the time, Stewart "was running as a voice for Trumpism, railing against 'illegal immigration,' condemning 'transgender bathrooms,' slamming Gillespie as a 'cuckservative,' and centering his campaign on an aggressive defense of the state's Confederate monuments and memorials."

Stewart lost that primary, but he came very close, which only emboldened him further. The right-wing Republican soon after launched a Senate bid, and this primary turned out better for the Trump acolyte.

In Virginia, Corey Stewart, a Trump-supporting, immigration hardliner who campaigned on keeping up Confederate monuments, narrowly won the GOP U.S. Senate primary, and will go up against incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine this fall.

With 100 percent of Virginia precincts in, Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, had 44.9 percent of the vote, compared with state Delegate Nick Freitas, a former Green Beret who'd received backing from a key conservative group, with 43.1 percent.

Stewart's victory could be a gift for Kaine in blue-leaning Virginia, where a Republican hasn't won a statewide race since 2009. Stewart campaigned as an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and even revived false "birther" allegations that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

To get a flavor of what Stewart brings to the table, note that when he launched his campaign, he declared that "the era of the kinder, gentler Republican is over."

His candidacy, Stewart added, would be "vicious."

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Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford looks down while he browses at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market in Mount Pleasant, S.C., May 7, 2013. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Why Mark Sanford's loss in South Carolina is so important

06/13/18 09:20AM

About a month before Donald Trump's inauguration, congressional Republicans realized that their party's incoming president could pose problems for the party, but few were willing to say so out loud. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said at the time, "People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks."

The South Carolina Republican nevertheless spoke up from time to time, usually on matters of principle. Sanford, a former governor and a conservative, made clear he wasn't comfortable with Trump's style of leadership, and though he voted with the White House's position most of the time, he broke ranks more than most in his House GOP conference.

And yesterday, that cost Sanford his career.

Sanford had been running an ad buy in recent days that hit back at Arrington's criticism that he hasn't been sufficiently supportive of the president, who won the congressional district by double digits in 2016.

Sanford had previously called the president's steel and aluminum tariffs "an experiment with stupidity," and he suggested that Trump's rhetoric has been divisive and bad for the country.

He is the second House Republican incumbent to lose in a primary this year, following Rep. Robert Pittenger's loss in North Carolina last month.

Sanford lost to state legislator Katie Arrington (R), who received a late presidential endorsement yesterday, and who narrowly defeated the incumbent in the Republican primary. She declared after her victory, "We are the party of President Donald J. Trump."

And while there are a variety of interesting angles to this contest -- including the trouble House Republicans are having nationwide this year -- that one sentence from Arrington summarizes the significance of yesterday's results.

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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)

After Wisconsin's Walker tried to block election, Dems flip a GOP seat

06/13/18 08:40AM

In January, a Democratic candidate won a state Senate special election in a district that Donald Trump won by 17 points, defeating a Republican who enjoyed considerable support from the party and its far-right allies. Three months later, a liberal judge easily won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time in 23 years.

Against this backdrop, when two state legislative seats became vacant in the Badger State, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) came up with a plan to prevent his party from suffering more setbacks: he simply didn't schedule special elections.

Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee filed suit, and a judge ruled in March that the Republican governor had to allow voters to fill the vacancies.

We now know Walker was right to worry. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported overnight:

Wisconsin Democrats came one step closer to gaining control of the state Senate by picking up a seat held by Republicans for more than 40 years, while the GOP held on to an Assembly seat in a pair of special elections Tuesday.

Caleb Frostman topped Rep. Andre Jacque in the 1st Senate District and Jon Plumer defeated Ann Groves Lloyd in the 42nd Assembly District.

Frostman will be the first Democrat to represent the northeast Wisconsin district since the 1970s -- a win Democrats are hailing as more evidence of a so-called blue wave ready to flip more Republican-held seats in elections later this year.

The Democratic victory came in a district Donald Trump won by 17 points during his successful presidential bid.

Or as Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, put it a few months ago, Democrats are "winning elections in places where they shouldn't be."

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