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Businessmen and shoppers walk on the street in New York City.

Judge blocks Trump admin from adding citizenship question to Census

01/15/19 11:20AM

The Trump administration announced in March 2018 that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants' participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.

More than a few White House critics accused the Republican administration of trying to "sabotage" the national count.

As of this morning, those same critics have reason to be pleased.

A federal judge in New York has barred the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said Tuesday that while such a question would be constitutional, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had added it arbitrarily and not followed proper procedure.

The ruling came in a case in which a dozen states or big cities and immigrants' rights groups argued that adding the question might frighten immigrant households away from participating in the census.

As satisfying as Furman's 277-page ruling is, it should probably be seen as the first round of a multi-round fight. There are multiple concurrent cases challenging the administration's efforts, and the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly weigh in before Census materials are printed this summer.

But in the meantime, there's one angle to this that worth re-emphasizing: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross playing fast and loose with the truth about how the Census change was made.

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A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investi

Right turns against FBI following revelations about Trump investigation

01/15/19 10:40AM

It's the kind of revelation that's still difficult to digest. The New York Times  reported on Friday night that after Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017, the FBI was so concerned about the president's behavior that federal law enforcement officials "began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests."

The same report added that counterintelligence investigators "had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security."

The good news is, Republicans are deeply concerned and are demanding answers. The bad news is, they're directing those concerns at the FBI, not the president.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested to Fox News that the investigation was improper, and he doesn't trust some of the FBI's former top officials. As TPM noted, he wasn't the only congressional Republican directing his ire at the bureau.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) seized on a White House talking point -- that reports of the FBI investigating whether President Trump was working for Russia prove Trump was right about the deep state -- and took it a step further Monday: "that's almost like a coup."

During an interview with Fox News on Monday, King called news of the probe "absolutely disgraceful."

The president himself this morning promoted a series of related messages via social media, including one that raises the prospect of the FBI having attempted a "coup" through its investigation.

Meanwhile, Fox News' Gregg Jarrett last night went so far as to tell a national television audience that he believes the FBI should be "reorganized and replaced with a new organization."

Well. That's different.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Courts balk at the Trump administration's new rules on birth control

01/15/19 09:27AM

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, existing law requires private employers' health insurance plans to provide birth control services. Donald Trump's administration, following directions from social conservatives, have tried to create new rules that would exempt anti-contraception employers from following the law.

It's not working out especially well for the White House. This was the news on Sunday night.

A federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked Trump administration rules allowing employers to refuse to provide free birth control from taking effect Monday in 13 states.

The regulations, which the Trump administration announced in October 2017, widened the pool of employers that are allowed to claim exemption from providing contraceptive coverage to include nonprofit groups, for-profit companies, other nongovernmental employers, and schools and universities.

Previously, only explicitly religious groups could opt out if they could show "sincerely held" religious objections.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam's order only applied to the 13 states and the District of Columbia which filed the case. Less than 24 hours later, however, a different judge came to a similar conclusion.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania stepped in at the last moment to pause Trump administration rules that would restrict the ability of some women to get birth control at no charge because their employers object on religious or moral grounds.

U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a nationwide preliminary injunction Monday afternoon, the same day the new policy was to take effect.

This clearly isn't what the Republican administration had in mind.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump attends a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels

With NATO withdrawal, Trump weighed 'gift of the century for Putin'

01/15/19 08:46AM

As retired Gen. John Kelly wrapped up his difficult tenure as White House chief of staff, he sought some credit for preventing Donald Trump from taking spectacularly damaging steps. Kelly told the L.A. Times he wanted his time in the West Wing to be judged, not by what he helped the president do, but by what he stopped the president from doing.

Such as? The retired general mentioned a handful of possible nightmare scenarios, including the possibility of American withdrawal from NATO.

Was that actually a step Trump was prepared to take? According to new reporting from the New York Times, the answer is an alarming yes.

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.... In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

Whether the Republican president understands this or not, NATO is almost certainly the most successful and important international alliance in modern world history.

It's also something Russian President Vladimir Putin hates and would love to see destroyed from within.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, told the Times an American abandonment of the alliance would be "a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion." The retired admiral added, "Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO -- let alone actually doing so -- would be the gift of the century for Putin."

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Rep. Steve King speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting, Oct. 4, 2013.

GOP's tolerance for Steve King is ending, after lasting too long

01/15/19 08:00AM

Last week, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose record on matters of race and immigration have made him a notorious figure in modern American politics, shared a line with the New York Times that was new, even for the far-right Iowan.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?" the eight-term Republican congressman said. "Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

Republicans wasted little time in denouncing King's comments, and on Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CBS News's "Face the Nation" that GOP lawmakers would take some kind of "action" in response to the controversy.

Last night, the party's plan started to come into focus.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Monday that the GOP had voted unanimously to remove Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, from all committees amid the rising uproar over his recent comments about white nationalism.

"We will not be seating Steve King on any committees in the 116th Congress. It was a unanimous decision..." McCarthy told reporters. "In light of the comments -- these are not the first time we have heard these comments. That is not the party of Lincoln, and it is definitely not America. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that."

Asked whether he would support a campaign challenge to King, McCarthy said that decision was up to the voters -- but "I think we spoke very loud and clear that we will not tolerate this type of language in the Republican Party."

This was probably the first step, not the last. The House is also expected to vote this week on a resolution formally condemning King for his comments.

The Iowa Republican, not surprisingly, is outraged, and has accused his own party's leaders of launching an "unprecedented assault" on his free-speech rights. (It's an unpersuasive case: no one has a First Amendment right to a congressional committee assignment.)

But what stood out for me is Kevin McCarthy's boast that GOP officials have made clear that they "will not tolerate this type of language in the Republican Party." Haven't they spent several years proving the opposite?

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Embarrassment for Trump looms in vote on Russia sanctions

Embarrassment for Trump looms in vote on Russia sanctions

01/14/19 09:52PM

Ken Vogel, political reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about the political dynamics at play as Senate Democrats look to force a vote to delay the easing of some Russia sanctions while the White House lobbies Senate Republicans to reject the natural inclinations and support Trump on easing the sanctions. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 1.14.19

01/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's hard not to find this alarming: "President Trump's National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said."

* The administration's latest legal setback: "A federal judge on Sunday granted a request by more than a dozen states to temporarily block the Trump administration from putting into effect new rules that would make it easier for employers to deny women health insurance coverage for contraceptives."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to the appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general."

* Whether Barr can be counted on to honor this commitment is a separate question: "President Donald Trump's nominee to serve as the next attorney general, William Barr, plans to tell Congress this week at his confirmation hearings that Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign should continue unimpeded -- and that the public should be informed of the results of that probe."

* Stefan Passantino was the Trump White House's top ethics lawyer: "The Trump Organization has hired a lawyer who formerly worked in the White House Counsel's Office to handle the expected onslaught of investigations from House Democrats, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Oops: "A union that represents Border Patrol agents recently deleted a webpage that said building walls and fences along the border to stop illegal immigration would be 'wasting taxpayer money.'"

* That sounds awkward: "President Trump chastised his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, over his handling of shutdown talks, creating an awkward scene in front of congressional leaders of both parties, according to two sources who were present."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump pretends 'many' Dems secretly agree with him about wall, shutdown

01/14/19 04:25PM

Donald Trump declared publicly last week that he'd spoken privately to some of his presidential predecessors who'd made a secret confession to him: they admitted that they should've built a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. This immediately became problematic, not only because it was an absurd claim, but because reporters can call every living president.

And last week, each of Trump's predecessors made clear that the Republican was lying about the conversations that only occurred in his imagination.

This morning, the president approached this in a way that's harder to disprove:

"We have a very big crisis, a humanitarian crisis on the border. Everybody knows it, [congressional Democrats] know it. And many of them are saying, 'We agree with you.' Many of them are calling and many of them are breaking. The Republicans are rock-solid."

For now, let's put aside the fact that Republicans are not unified, Trump's efforts to pretend otherwise notwithstanding. Similarly, we can look past the fact that literally zero congressional Democrats, at least publicly, have broken with their party and endorsed the idea of paying the president his ransom.

What I find interesting is the idea that Trump wants us to believe that Dems have secretly called the White House to say how correct they think he is.

Unlike last week's incident with the former presidents, this is practically impossible to definitively disprove. There are, after all, nearly 300 Democrats in Congress (between both chambers). Is it possible two or three of them reached out to the White House to signal sympathy for the president's position? I seriously doubt it, but sure.

The trouble is, it'd be easier to believe Trump's fanciful boast if he weren't frequently describing imagined conversations with people whom he insists have secretly told him how right he is.

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This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York.

Trump picks a curious time to praise his favorite supermarket tabloid

01/14/19 12:50PM

Even before taking office, Donald Trump made no secret of his affection for the National Enquirer. The Republican insisted that the supermarket tabloid "should be very respected" and deserves "Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting."

As president, his support hasn't faded. Take yesterday, for example.

Four days after Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos announced a divorce with his wife MacKenzie, a prominent figure took to Twitter to comment on the matter: Donald Trump.

The president appeared to mock the business giant and Washington Post owner in a tweet Sunday night, referring to Bezos as "Jeff Bozo."

"So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post," Trump wrote. "Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!"

The confluence of events was apparently too much for the president. Trump hates the Washington Post because of its coverage of his White House, which leads Trump to also hate Jeff Bezos, because he publishes the newspaper, and Amazon, because Bezos owns the online retailer.

The Republican also, of course, loves the National Enquirer, which has helped Trump with glowing coverage, and which reportedly uncovered damaging information about Bezos, contributing to the breakup of his marriage.

Trump thought it'd be a good idea to tie all of this together, declaring that the supermarket tabloid is "far more accurate" than one of the nation's premier news organizations -- all while demonstrating the maturity of an ill-tempered child. ("Jeff Bozo"? Seriously?)

But what makes this of particular note is the timing of the developments.

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