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E.g., 7/16/2018
E.g., 7/16/2018

As North Korea balks at U.S. appeals, Trump's fantasy unravels

07/09/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump has presented North Korea with the kind of gifts that, not long ago, the rogue dictatorship could only dream of. For example, Kim Jong-un received a long-sought summit with an American president, elevating his country's legitimacy and stature, in exchange for basically nothing.

Trump then lavished public praise on the brutal dictator in exchange for nothing; he announced a cessation of U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises in exchange for nothing; followed by the Republican raising the prospect of easing economic sanctions against the United States' longtime adversary.

Trump did all of this because, at least in his mind, these were the steps necessary for him to "solve" a dangerous problem. As the Republican put it after his June 12 summit, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

That rhetoric appears awfully foolish now.

On Saturday, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finished talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un's foreign ministry accused the Trump administration of a "unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization." It was an immediate and sharp contradiction to President Donald Trump's rosy descriptions of his North Korea diplomacy. [...]

This dissonance between fact and fancy was made clear earlier this week. After NBC News first reported that Pyongyang was in fact expanding elements of its weapons program, the president tweeted, "Many good conversations with North Korea -- It is going well!"

It's not going well. Last month's summit created a theatrical spectacle, but officials are now trying to move forward toward substantive objectives -- goals that Trump told Americans he'd already achieved -- that appear to be well out of reach, at least at this point in the process.

This is, alas, what practically every knowledgeable observer predicted would happen in the wake of the talks in Singapore. Trump recently suggested he considered skepticism "almost treasonous," but it's becoming painfully obvious that he had no idea what he was talking about.

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Trump World finds new ways to resist cooperating with Mueller

07/09/18 08:00AM

It was nearly six months ago when Donald Trump spoke to reporters about how eager he was to answer Special Counsel Robert Mueller's questions.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," the president said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath, and he suggested the discussion would happen in roughly "two or three weeks."

That was January. This is July.

President Donald Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Sunday that the president wants to testify in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but his legal team won't recommend an interview unless "they can satisfy us that there is some basis for this investigation."

Giuliani said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Trump's legal team is asking investigators for a "factual basis" for any interview.... "What we're asking them for is: Is this the witch hunt that a lot of people think it is? Or is there a factual basis for this?"

The old line from Trump World was simple: Trump didn't do anything wrong, so he's eager to answer investigators' questions. The new line from Trump World is far less straightforward: Trump didn't do anything wrong, but he won't cooperate unless investigators satisfy the president's lawyers' questions about the legitimacy of their efforts.

For what it's worth, the "factual basis" for the special counsel's investigation is hardly in doubt. Not only is there a lengthy list of legitimate questions, but at last count, Mueller and his team have indicted 20 people -- some of whom have already pleaded guilty-- and three businesses. A total of 75 criminal charges have been filed, including a case against the president's former national security advisor. One person was already convicted and sentenced, while the man who oversaw Trump's political operation is currently in a jail cell.

Giuliani wants to know if there's "some basis for this investigation." Perhaps the former mayor isn't paying close enough attention to current events.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.6.18

07/06/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Family separations: "Government lawyers said Friday that they cannot locate the parents of 38 migrant children under the age of 5, as a federal judge indicated he is open to extending the deadline for reuniting nearly 3,000 children separated from their mothers and fathers while crossing the US-Mexico border."

* To paraphrase Yoda, begun, the trade-war has: "A trade war between the world's two largest economies officially began on Friday morning as the Trump administration followed through with its threat to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products, a significant escalation of a fight that could hurt companies and consumers in both the United States and China."

* In related news: "They voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, but generations of red-state farmers are bracing for impact on Friday with the knowledge that his trade war could destroy their livelihood -- and alter the agricultural map forever."

* Despite what Trump tweeted, this had nothing to do with the merits of the allegations: "A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump's campaign and former Trump adviser Roger Stone conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to publish hacked Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential race."

* In case you missed this one: "A federal judge on Thursday rejected the bulk of a Trump administration demand to block three California sanctuary laws, allowing the state to keep in place its most significant legislative measures aimed at countering President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration."

* This is such a strange story: "A former Playboy model has sued top GOP donor Eliott Broidy over his decision to end a hush money agreement related to their extramarital affair that was brokered by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen."

* True to form, now that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) believes Pruitt's many scandals "necessitated a leadership change." A little late, big guy.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Senate Intelligence Committee rejects Trump line on Russian attack

07/06/18 04:22PM

It's a problem when important news is released late on a Friday, when the public is less likely to learn about it. It's an even bigger problem when important news is released shortly before a major national holiday.

For example, the Washington Post  reported on Tuesday afternoon -- shortly before the 4th of July -- on important findings from the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A Senate panel investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election released Tuesday a written summary of its determination that the U.S. intelligence community correctly concluded Moscow sought to help Donald Trump win. [...]

The Senate panel called the overall assessment a "sound intelligence product," saying evidence presented by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency supported their collective conclusion that the Russian government had "developed a clear preference for Trump" over his opponent in the race, Hillary Clinton. Where the agencies disagreed, the Senate panel found those differences were "reasonable."

The panel's seven-page document is available online here, and at face value, some may have dismissed its significance. After all, the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to have simply endorsed the findings of the CIA, the NSA and the FBI: Russia attacked our elections, in large part because Vladimir Putin's government wanted to put the Republican ticket in power. The panel also concluded that the intelligence community's findings were not influenced by partisan or political considerations, which also confirmed what we knew.

So why should you care? A couple of reasons.

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Trump's 'hire American' rule doesn't seem to apply to Mar-a-Lago

07/06/18 12:47PM

It was during his presidential transition process that Donald Trump seemed especially excited about a specific vow: "My administration will follow two very simple rules: buy American and hire American." The Republican repeated it, over and over, often to enthusiastic applause.

But even at the time, Trump's vow struck a discordant note. After all, he'd spent much of the last decade hiring foreign guest workers for his assorted properties, a practice he continued even as he promoted his "hire American" commitment.

Asked during the GOP primaries why he hires so many foreign workers, Trump said, "It's very, very hard to get people." Evidently, it hasn't gotten any easier. The Washington Post  reported this morning:

President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club has applied for permission to hire 61 foreign workers to serve as waiters and cooks during the winter social season in Palm Beach, Fla., according to data posted this week by the Labor Department.

The latest data was posted late Thursday on the department's website: Trump's club has asked to hire 21 cooks from overseas and employ them from October to May. At the end of that term, the workers would be expected to return home.

Earlier on Thursday, another posting showed Trump's club also wants to hire 40 foreigners to serve as waiters and waitresses at the club. Mar-a-Lago is a for-profit social club, catering to the wealthy wintertime residents of Palm Beach.

Trump's club, which insists it cannot find Americans to accept these positions at this pay, is offering the cooks $13.31 per hour, slightly less than last year's pay for the same position, and $12.68 per hour for waiters, which is up from $11.88 per hour last year.

BuzzFeed added, "The workers are being sought under the controversial H-2 visa program, which permits US employers to hire guest workers under temporary visas if no qualified US workers want the jobs."

And that's where the story gets a little tricky.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.6.18

07/06/18 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump remained preoccupied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) ethnicity last night, and after calling her "Pocahontas" at a campaign rally in Montana, the president described a scene at a debate in which he'd offer the senator $1 million to take a genetics test.

* Facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill (R) is facing pressure from several state GOP leaders, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, to resign.

* Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) clarified an earlier statement yesterday about his party's neo-Nazi congressional candidate near Chicago, saying he wants local residents to "vote for anybody" other than the GOP nominee.

* In response to a significant backlash, the Rhode Island Democratic Party yesterday rescinded two endorsements, including one of a Trump voter running as a Dem in a state House district.

* A progressive group called Demand Justice is reportedly launching a multimillion-dollar campaign in the Supreme Court fight, and it's targeting much of its focus on Maine and Alaska, no doubt in the hopes of influencing Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

* California Republicans are struggling badly this year, but they're hoping a ballot initiative to rescind a new state gas tax -- implemented to improve California infrastructure -- will give the GOP a boost.

* Trump continues to tell audiences that he's the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1952. That's not even close to being correct.

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On immigration, Trump changes his instructions to the GOP (again)

07/06/18 11:20AM

It's not entirely clear what prompted Donald Trump to start tweeting about immigration yesterday -- it's a safe bet he saw something on television that got him worked up -- but the president issued new directions to lawmakers on the subject.

"Congress must pass smart, fast and reasonable Immigration Laws now.... Congress - FIX OUR INSANE IMMIGRATION LAWS NOW!"

And while those instructions may seem straightforward and unsubtle, Trump also told lawmakers two weeks ago that they "should stop wasting their time on Immigration" until after the 2018 midterm elections.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Congress can try to act on immigration "now," or it can stop "wasting" its time on immigration until next year, but it can't do both.

The trouble is, Trump can't seem to make up his mind -- so he keeps giving his allies contradictory advice.

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St Basil's Cathedral

Republican lawmakers face Russian mockery following Moscow trip

07/06/18 10:40AM

It's hard not to wonder what they were thinking. Eight Republican members of Congress -- seven senators and one House member -- traveled to Moscow ahead of the July 4th holiday, sounding a "conciliatory tone," even as their colleagues released a report on the Russian attack on the American elections in 2016.

Rather than taking a firm stand against Russian aggression, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and has limited foreign policy responsibilities, told a leading official in Moscow, "I'm not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth."

At the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, the Alabama Republican added, "We know that we need a new beginning, that we can go over recriminations on both sides for days in. But I believe Russia and the United States and the world will be a lot better off if we improve our relationship."

The key phrase was "both sides" -- as if, in Richard Shelby's mind, Russia can credibly accuse the United States of having damaged relations.

The weakness did not go unnoticed. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president's visit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there. [...]

On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington "changed a bit" by the time they got to Moscow.

Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov added on Tuesday that he's met with many American lawmakers before, but this week's meeting "was one of the easiest ones in my life."

Congratulations to these seven GOP lawmakers. It's not easy to generate mockery in two hemispheres simultaneously, but they managed to find a way.

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Mark Harris, Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon, Heather Grant

House GOP candidate questioned whether careers were women's 'healthiest pursuit'

07/06/18 10:00AM

One of the bigger upsets of the 2018 elections thus far came in North Carolina's 9th congressional district, where incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger lost in a Republican primary to a former pastor named Mark Harris. Right about now, some GOP officials probably wish that contest had gone the other way.

ABC News reported yesterday on a 2013 sermon Harris delivered on "God's plan for biblical womanhood" and the modern difficulties for American women "to live out and fulfill God's design."

"In our culture today, girls are taught from grade school that we tell them that what is most honorable in life is a career, and their ultimate goal in life is simply to be able to grow up and be independent of anyone or anything," said Harris, then the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, adding, "But nobody has seemed to ask the question that I think is critically important to ask: Is that a healthy pursuit for society? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our homes? Is that the healthiest pursuit for our children? Is that the healthiest pursuit for the sexes in our generation?" [...]

In an earlier portion of Harris' sermon, Harris tells parishioners that "only one title is given to a woman in all of scripture ... the title given to a woman is 'helper.'"

In the same remarks, Harry rejected the idea that women must be "barefoot and pregnant," and said he believes women can excel in the workplace, but he added that women "must understand" their biblical "core calling."

The then-pastor acknowledged at the time that his views may not be "politically correct in 2013."

Or, it turns out, in 2018.

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