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House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., speaks during a news conference with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 10, 2018.

Arizona's McSally offers a case study in GOP primary politics

05/16/18 10:40AM

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) represents Arizona's 2nd congressional district, which is one of the most competitive in the Southwest. Indeed, when she first won her seat in 2014, the Arizona Republican eked out a 167-vote victory -- a margin of 0.08% of the vote.

And with this in mind, McSally has been eager to present herself as a relative moderate in Republican politics, even co-sponsoring a center-right Republican bill called the "Recognizing America's Children Act," designed to create a pathway to citizenship for many young undocumented immigrants popularly known as Dreamers. She spent much of 2017 championing the bill.

McSally then became a Senate candidate, running in a statewide Republican primary. HuffPost noted what happened next.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) withdrew her co-sponsorship of immigration legislation that would help young undocumented immigrants, as she fends off challenges from the right in her bid for her party's Senate nomination.

McSally is in a tight race for her party's Senate nomination for the open seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. The congresswoman has the backing of party leaders, but her opponents in the primary include conservative favorite Kelli Ward, who has the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former White House aide Steve Bannon and right-wing pundits Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, another right-wing darling for his harsh opposition to undocumented immigration, is also in the race.

In theory, McSally could've used her less-reactionary position on immigration to differentiate herself from her rival GOP candidates, but aware of Arizona Republicans' attitudes on this subject, she instead went to the House floor late last week to formally end her support for the moderate immigration legislation she backed for more than a year.

This is how Republican primaries work in 2018.

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Law enforcement officers, including a sniper perched atop an armored vehicle, watch as demonstrators protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.

Trump badly flubs facts on militarizing local police

05/16/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump spoke at the annual National Peace Officers' Memorial event in D.C. yesterday, and managed to say several things that weren't true, though one claim in particular stood out for me.

For example. the president focused some attention on deceased border patrol agent, Rogelio Martinez, but he echoed several dubious claims that are popular in conservative media, which aren't necessarily bolstered by the evidence. Trump also spoke about law-enforcement fatalities in a way that painted a misleading picture.

But what struck me as especially notable was the Republican's assertion that his administration is "allowing local police to access the surplus military equipment they need to protect our officers and law enforcement agents and save their lives." He added, "And they are taking equipment at a record clip."

Is that true? Actually, no. USA Today had an interesting report on this about a month ago, pointing to data that shows the opposite of what the president claimed yesterday.

The amount of surplus military equipment sent to local police departments across the nation has sharply declined in recent months despite an executive order President Trump signed that was intended to increase those transfers, a USA TODAY analysis has found.

Shipments of military gear in the first three months of 2018 fell by half compared with the same period last year, Department of Defense data show. The amount of armored vehicles, high-caliber rifles and other equipment measured by dollar value also slid.

A New York Times  report, relying data from the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees the transfers, added, "[S]o far in the 2018 fiscal year, law enforcement agencies received a monthly average of $14 million worth of military supplies. In the 2017 fiscal year -- which included several months of the Obama presidency -- that number was about $42 million worth of supplies per month. The monthly average was even higher in the 2016 fiscal year at $43 million, and peaked at $82 million in the 2014 fiscal year."

The broader question, though, is why Trump made the claim that's not true.

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

But his emails: EPA's Pruitt faces yet another investigation

05/16/18 09:20AM

Before Scott Pruitt became the scandal-plagued administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he was a scandal-plagued Republican official in Oklahoma. In fact, as regular readers may recall, before Pruitt joined Donald Trump's cabinet, he faced questions about hiding official emails that documented his cooperation with the oil and gas industries.

He also used multiple email accounts, including conducting official business on a private account, despite telling Congress the opposite.

Once Pruitt took the reins at the EPA, he returned to his old ways, utilizing four separate email accounts, and as of yesterday, the agency's inspector general has decided this is worthy of closer scrutiny. The Associated Press reported:

Inspector General Arthur Elkins said in a letter released Tuesday that his office will review the matter, the latest in a series of federal investigations of Pruitt's travel, security and spending and other issues.

The request for the email investigation came from Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon. Carper released a copy of the IG's response.

The senators asked the IG to review whether Pruitt was complying with federal law and EPA policy when using multiple email accounts and whether all accounts are searched when responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

I can't help but wonder how much attention a story like this will generate. Remind me, does the political mainstream care about cabinet secretaries and their email practices?

Putting that aside, some of you might be thinking right about now, "Wait, wasn't this already the subject of an investigation?" I'm glad you asked.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Team Trump picks an odd time to scrap top cyber-security position

05/16/18 08:41AM

At a congressional hearing in February, the top intelligence and law enforcement officials from the Trump administration expressed serious concerns about Russian intentions to once again attack U.S. elections, likely through cyber attacks. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) then pressed the officials on whether Donald Trump had directed any of them to take "specific actions to confront and to blunt" Russian interference activities.

As regular readers may recall, the administration officials hemmed and hawed, but none pointed to any specific presidential directives.

Two weeks later, something similar happened: the head of the National Security Agency said he had not been authorized by Trump to disrupt Russian cyber-attacks targeting our elections.

And yesterday, the Trump White House went just a little further, eliminating the job of the nation's cyber-security czar.

Trump signed an executive order rearranging the federal information technology infrastructure that includes no mention of the White House cybersecurity coordinator or of a replacement for Rob Joyce, who said last month that he is leaving the position to return to the National Security Agency, where he previously directed cyber-defense programs. [...]

John Bolton, Trump's new national security adviser, has widely been reported to have sought to eliminate the job as part of a top-to-bottom reorganization of the National Security Council. Joyce and his predecessors reported to the president; the senior NSC directors report to Bolton.

The outgoing White House cyber-security coordinator's responsibilities will now shift to two other members of the NSC's team -- one of whom has little background in this area.

Politico, which first raised the prospect of this happening, broke the story yesterday.

A New York Times  report added, "Cybersecurity experts and members of Congress said they were mystified by the move.... It was the latest in a series of steps that appeared to run counter to the prevailing view in Washington of cybersecurity's importance."

The cynical among us might be tempted to note that Trump, the beneficiary of a foreign adversary's cyber-attacks on our elections, doesn't seem altogether eager to defend the United States against the next expected offensive.

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

In face-to-face meeting, Senate GOP fails to confront Trump

05/16/18 08:00AM

When Barack Obama would make annual trips to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats, the then-president routinely got an earful from his allies. As Adam Jentleson, a top aide to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, noted yesterday, members routinely "confronted" Obama -- in a forceful but respectful manner -- "with disagreements on many issues."

With this in mind, when Donald Trump went to the Hill to meet with Senate Republicans yesterday, there was an opportunity for real fireworks. GOP senators have voiced quite a few concerns lately about, among other things, the White House's criticisms of John McCain, Trump's eagerness to help China's ZTE, the president's trade tariffs, and a variety of ongoing Trump-related scandals.

But given an opportunity to confront their party's president, Senate Republicans balked. As NBC News' report put it, "[T]he elephants in the room didn't want to talk about the elephants in the room."

Instead, after Trump spoke of shared legislative accomplishments, his confidence that Republicans can win in the upcoming midterm elections and the foreign policy victories he expects in the near future, there were just two questions -- statements, really, according to Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. -- about immigration and about how well Republicans have done with power in Washington.

What about the questions on McCain, China, trade, and Trump's scandals? There weren't any.

What's more, while these meetings traditionally include some version of marching orders from a president to his legislative allies, Trump evidently didn't have any meaningful instructions for the Senate Republican majority, either. The GOP officials appear to have spent an hour reflecting on how impressed they are with their own awesomeness.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.15.18

05/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* North Korea "is calling off high-level talks with South Korea because of ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the United States, South Korean media reported Wednesday local time."

* On a related note, let's note for context that now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted in March that Kim Jung-un "has allowed [us] to continue our [military] exercises on the peninsula."

* Breaking late this afternoon: "A federal judge on Tuesday denied former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's motion to dismiss the indictment returned against him by a grand jury in Washington, DC -- rejecting Manafort's challenge to special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment."

* Following dozens of Palestinian deaths yesterday: "U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walked out of a Security Council meeting on Tuesday when the Palestinian envoy began to speak, just hours after she praised Israel for acting with 'restraint' in handling the protests in Gaza."

* Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) "declared victory as prosecutors abruptly dropped a felony invasion-of-privacy charge alleging he had taken a revealing photo of a woman with whom he has acknowledged having an affair. The St. Louis circuit attorney's office said it still plans to pursue the case, either through a special prosecutor or an appointed assistant."

* With Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.) announcing their support for CIA director-nominee Gina Haspel, her confirmation is staring to look like a foregone conclusion.

* Iraq: "Moktada al-Sadr, a firebrand militia leader whose forces once battled American troops in Iraq and were implicated in widespread atrocities against civilians, has emerged as the surprise front-runner in the Iraqi national elections, according to Iraqi election officials."

* What's the defense? "Scott Pruitt began receiving round-the-clock security from the moment he stepped foot inside the Environmental Protection Agency in February 2017, at the behest of a Trump administration political appointee, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post."

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

White House, EPA reportedly blocked embarrassing pollution report

05/15/18 02:22PM

It's not the nation's most recognizable federal office: the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Nevertheless, earlier this year, the agency put together a report of great significance -- which you didn't hear about for a reason.

Federal officials uncovered a water-contamination crisis affecting several areas, with toxic chemicals reaching water supplies near military bases, chemical plants, and other sites in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

Common sense suggests officials would learn of these finding and think, "Quick, let's take action to address the problem." Trump administration officials, however, apparently thought, "Quick, let's make sure people don't hear about this."

Politico reported yesterday on Scott Pruitt's EPA and the Trump White House taking steps in January to effectively cover up a federal health study.

The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.

"The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge," one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: "The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

This, of course, helps explain why some knowledgeable officials were apparently motivated to reach out to Politico.

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Trump drives a deeper wedge between the US and its European allies

05/15/18 12:48PM

The latest cover of Der Spiegel, a leading German news magazine, is not subtle. It shows an orange hand with an extended middle finger, wearing an angry Donald Trump finger puppet. The text reads, "Goodbye, Europe!"

The American president and his backers frequently insist that, thanks to Trump's leadership, the United States is held in high regard across the globe. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, and when it comes to America's closest European allies, the Republican has actually created a rift unlike anything the world has seen in modern times. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

America's three closest friends in Europe — Britain, France and Germany — are near-bursting with anger and exasperation at the United States. In a frenzy of meetings and phone calls among them over the past week, their leaders have tried to figure out what they can do about President Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran and his plans to impose sanctions on their companies that continue doing business there. [...]

Trump's continuing effort to circumvent global rules has thrown the multilateral order into "real crisis," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday in a speech to a religious conference.

The same day, Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, appeared at a conference, and while she didn't mention Trump by name, there were no doubts about her intended rhetorical target. "It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times," Mogherini said, adding, "This impulse to destroy is not leading us anywhere good. It is not solving any of our problems."

She went on to argue that even the United States needs global partners, explaining, "No country is big enough to face this world alone."

None of this stopped White House National Security Advisor John Bolton two days later from threatening our European allies with sanctions if they do business with Iran -- which came on the heels of his boss from threatening our European allies with trade tariffs.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.15.18

05/15/18 12:00PM

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

* Remember, today is Primary Day in four states: Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. There are plenty of interesting races to watch, most notably in the Keystone State, which is dealing with a newly drawn congressional map.

* A new statewide poll in Missouri shows incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) with a four-point lead over state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), 48% to 44%.

* On a related note, Hawley has two Republican rivals ahead of Missouri's Aug. 7 primary, but they appear to be arguing with one another about which one should drop out.

* This will seem hard to believe, but in Florida's U.S. Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his allies are outspending incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and his allies by roughly 48 to 1.

* In South Dakota's congressional race, Republican state Sen. Neal Tapio, Donald Trump's former state director and one of three GOP candidates, recently said a terrorist attack would help propel his candidacy.

* Disgraced former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who still owes taxpayers $84,000, appears to have landed on his feet. Just a month after resigning from Congress, the Texas Republican will return to Capitol Hill as a lobbyist.

* In Montana, where Trump and his allies are trying to destroy Sen. Jon Tester (D) over his handling of Ronny Jackson's VA nomination, VoteVets is spending over $350,000 to defend the senator.

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