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Inviting the Taliban to Camp David, Trump was his own adviser

09/10/19 10:49AM

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a retired Marine who served in Iraq, asked a reasonable question on the minds of many: "[W]ho the f**k thought it was a good idea to invite the Taliban to Camp David -- let alone around September 11th?"

By all accounts, the idea originated with Donald Trump himself. The New York Times reported that it was the president who thought it'd be wise to bring "the leaders of a rugged militant organization" at "the mountain getaway used for presidents, prime ministers and kings just three days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that led to the Afghan war."

A reporter asked Trump yesterday if perhaps someone on his team talked him out of hosting the meeting. He replied:

"No. Actually, in terms of advisors, I took my own advice. I liked the idea of meeting.... We had a meeting scheduled. It was my idea, and it was my idea to terminate it. I didn't even -- I didn't discuss it with anybody else."

It's such a strange thing to brag about. The president wants credit for having invited Taliban leaders to Camp David around the 9/11 anniversary; he wants credit for uninviting them; and he wants credit for not discussing this with anyone.

There's a process in place for dramatic policy decisions like these, with qualified officials carefully doing their due diligence. But as the New York Times reported on Sunday, and as Trump effectively confirmed yesterday, the "usual National Security Council process was dispensed with."

Asked specifically about Camp David yesterday, the president added, "Well, Camp David has held meetings with a lot of people that would have been perceived as being pretty tough customers and pretty bad people. There have been plenty of so-called 'bad people' brought up to Camp David for meetings.... [Y]ou know, Camp David has had many meetings that, I guess, people would not have considered politically correct."

Perhaps. Eisenhower, for example, hosted Khrushchev at Camp David in 1959, and at the time, the Soviet Union was a dangerous and powerful foe. A generation later, Clinton welcomed Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to the same venue, in the hopes of helping negotiate a Middle East peace agreement.

But foreign "tough customers" who were welcomed to Camp David all had a degree of international legitimacy. It's not unreasonable to wonder whether the Taliban deserves such a status -- or whether Trump thought any of this through in advance.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump (falsely) thinks he's found proof of Obama failing to be 'great'

09/10/19 10:04AM

Donald Trump wasn't asked about Barack Obama or judicial nominees during a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, but the Republican shared some notable thoughts on the subject anyway.

"President Obama gave me a beautiful birthday present when he gave me 138 judges that weren't approved. And, frankly, how do you consider that being a great president when you hand to the opposition 138 slots of federal judges, including appellate court judges and one Supreme Court judge?"

Yes, Trump has heard quite enough about his predecessor being great, and he thinks he's uncovered some evidence to the contrary. If Obama were truly great, the argument goes, he wouldn't have left a bunch of vacancies on the federal judiciary for his Republican successor to fill with young, far-right ideologues.

Trump has made comments like these several times before, suggesting he's genuinely baffled. In his mind, Obama must've been outrageously incompetent to simply leave all of these vacancies on the federal bench.

It's at about this point that some of the folks that I know who worked in the Obama White House start having aneurysms.

Obama didn't hand Trump dozens of judicial vacancies, including a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court; Mitch McConnell did.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Team Trump claims to be gearing up for 'Tax Cuts 2.0'

09/10/19 09:21AM

Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, Donald Trump announced that he and congressional Republicans were working "around the clock" on a new, "very major" tax cut, which would exclusively benefit the middle class, and which would be ready no later than Nov. 1. Even by his standards, the president's claim was bizarre: lawmakers weren't on Capitol Hill; there was no work being done on the issue; and even White House officials were "mystified" by Trump's absurd rhetoric.

The whole endeavor, born of desperation, became an embarrassing fiasco for the president, but there was an underlying point of real significance: Trump and his allies realized that the American mainstream didn't see the value of the regressive GOP tax plan, which disproportionately benefited the wealthy and big corporations.

Republican leaders were ready for a second tax cut, in large part because the first one didn't produce the intended results.

While Trump's pre-election scheme was quickly exposed as a joke, his goal of another round of tax breaks was real. A few weeks ago, he again said he's determined to "approve a major middle income Tax Cut" -- possibly in 2021.

As Politico reported, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is eyeing tax cuts even earlier than that.

"I think there's no question the U.S. economy is in very good shape. As we look around the world, there's no question that China is slowing, Europe is slowing -- the U.S. is the bright spot of the world," Mnuchin told reporters.

"And regards to a middle-class tax cut, you know, we'll be looking at tax cuts 2.0, something that will be something we'll consider next year," he continued. "But right now, the economy is in very, very good shape."

For now, let's put aside the fact that every time top administration officials scramble to tell everyone how great the economy is, they sound a little less convincing. Let's instead turn to the vague idea Mnuchin and his boss are excited about.

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Following hurricane, Trump balks at welcoming residents of the Bahamas

09/10/19 08:40AM

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump filmed a video statement at the White House extending his best wishes to the people of the Bahamas, who are struggling in the wake of a deadly hurricane. After explaining that American agencies are going to help with recovery efforts, the president said, "On behalf of the United States and the people of the United States, we're working hard, we're with you, and God bless you."

Four days later, it seems "we're with you" may have been an unfortunate choice of words.

There were reports over the weekend on the Trump administration allegedly denying Bahamians without a visa access to the United States -- in some cases, being removed from ships ready to leave the island -- despite the emergency conditions. I'd initially hoped this was the result of a bureaucratic mix-up that could be easily fixed.

Those hopes were bolstered, at least initially, when acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan told reporters yesterday that he believed it would be "appropriate" to extend temporary protected status to residents of the Bahamas, giving them the legal ability to live and work in the United States temporarily while recovery efforts are underway.

"This is a humanitarian mission," the CBP chief said. "If your life is in jeopardy and you're in the Bahamas ... you're going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not."

Morgan's boss didn't quite see it the same way.

President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering.

"We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren't supposed to be there," Trump said on the White House South Lawn before departing for a campaign rally in North Carolina, where he also planned to survey Dorian damage.

"I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers."

The Republican went on to emphasize that there are "large sections" of the Bahamas that were not devastated by Hurricane Dorian -- suggesting that Trump believes people whose communities were destroyed should simply go to a different part of their country.

Or put another way, when the president told Bahamians, "We're with you," he may not have fully meant 'with."

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Image: Donald Trump, William Barr, Wilbur Ross

Why a Trump cabinet sec reportedly threatened to fire NOAA officials

09/10/19 08:00AM

After a week of farcical presidential antics, Donald Trump's campaign to politicize hurricane forecasts took a truly ridiculous turn on Friday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a written statement endorsing the Republican's false claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama. The NOAA also took the extraordinary step of criticizing professionals at the National Weather Service for having told the truth.

It stood to reason NOAA leaders didn't come up with this scheme to prioritize politics over science on their own; someone must have directed the agency to embarrass itself. And who was it, pray tell, who told NOAA to reject reality? According to the New York Times, it was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the cabinet secretary who oversees the agency.

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency's Birmingham office contradicted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion. [...]

[A]ccording to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency's perceived contradiction of the president.

Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.

Apparently feeling as if he had little choice, Jacobs did as he was directed and rejected what was true.

There's no shortage of angles to a story like this. There are the potentially dangerous consequences, for example, of politicizing and undermining public confidence in weather forecasts. There's the question of authoritarian strong-arm tactics in which government officials are told that the misjudgments of The Leader must be made true, science and reality be damned.

There are the investigations into the ordeal, including one announced yesterday from the Commerce Department's Inspector General's office.

But I'm also curious about Wilbur Ross' future.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.9.19

09/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Keep a close eye on this one: "President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering."

* NOAA: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting chief scientist said that he would investigate why the agency backed President Donald Trump's claims about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama over its own forecasters."

* In related news: "Also on Monday, the director of the National Weather Service broke with NOAA leadership over its handling of Trump's Dorian tweets and statements."

* Whether this will remain his position, no one knows: "President Trump declared that peace talks with the Taliban were 'dead, as far as I'm concerned,' saying he called off a meeting at Camp David after the militant group in Afghanistan killed 12 people, including one American soldier."

* This is bound to be interesting: "House Democrats announced Monday that they will investigate the role of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in what they characterized as efforts to influence the government of Ukraine to help the Trump re-election campaign."

* In related news: "The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging the White House to release security assistance funds for Ukraine meant to deter Russia."

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

White House struggles to explain underwhelming job growth

09/09/19 02:58PM

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest jobs numbers late last week, and the results were less than encouraging. The economy added 130,000 jobs in August, short of expectations, and a number that was artificially inflated by 25,000 temporary workers hired by the Census Bureau.

It's never wise to overreact to one month's jobs figures -- we routinely see outliers for one reason or another -- but for those concerned about a possible recession, the latest data didn't help. Making matters slightly worse, U.S. job growth has slowed quite a bit since Donald Trump took office.

The White House has offered some responses. They're not especially persuasive.

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, shrugged off a disappointing jobs report by saying August "is always a quirky month."

Well, maybe. Looking back over the last few years, some Augusts have looked great, others less so. But what Kudlow should probably appreciate is the fact that the broader concerns aren't limited to August. As things stand, 2019 is on track to be the worst year for American job creation this decade. The White House may find it tough to dismiss it as a "quirky" year.

Which led us to the second talking point.

President Trump lashed out Friday at the news media after the release of an underwhelming August jobs report, accusing journalists of stoking anxiety about a potential recession.

"The Economy is great. The only thing adding to 'uncertainty' is the Fake News!" Trump tweeted Friday, hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released an August jobs report that fell below expectations.

American news organizations were around last year, when job growth was stronger. The president will have to do better than this.

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