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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.11.19

01/11/19 12:00PM

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

* After his initial attempt at an apology fell short, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) again yesterday expressed his regret in response to women who endured sexual harassment while working for his 2016 presidential campaign.

* In Texas, the Tarrant County Republican Party considered removing Shahid Shafi, a trauma surgeon and Southlake City Council member, as the local GOP's vice chairman because he's Muslim. Yesterday, local Republican officials decided to let him keep his post.

* In 2020 news, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will reportedly make a trip to Iowa next weekend. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is preparing a similar trip.

* On a related note, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has scheduled a few events in New Hampshire, where he'll be in a couple of weeks.

* Virginia's Corey Stewart, a controversial failed candidate for governor and U.S. Senate, announced this week that he's leaving politics "for the foreseeable future."

* The latest Public Policy Polling survey in North Carolina found Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in hypothetical 2020 presidential match-ups, and the Republican tied Elizabeth Warren.

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Trump claims 'professional' expertise when it comes to technology

01/11/19 11:20AM

Three weeks ago today, ahead of the government shutdown deadline, Donald Trump acknowledged technological advancements along the U.S./Mexico border, though the president dismissed them as insufficient. We should take his word for it, Trump argued at the time, because as he put it, "I know tech better than anyone."

Twelve days later, during his first-ever remarks in the White House press briefing room, the president noted proponents of using drones at the border. Again, Trump said they wouldn't make a significant difference. "I think nobody knows much more about technology, this kind of technology certainly, than I do," he said.

Yesterday, Trump inflated his expertise to a new level. The president isn't just a technological expert; he has "professional" skills in the area.

"The only [way] you're going to have border security -- there's only [one] way. You can have all the technology in the world. I'm a professional at technology. But if you don't have a steel barrier or a wall of some kind -- strong, powerful -- you're going to have human trafficking; you're going to have drugs pouring across the border; you're going to have MS-13 and the gangs coming in."

You and I might look at Donald J. Trump and see a television personality, an amateur politician, an amateur conspiracy theorist, and an overleveraged businessman who managed to lose money running a casino, but that's because our focus is too narrow.

We've evidently failed to see that Trump -- a man confused by Google News results -- is actually someone so proficient with technology that he's reached a "professional" level.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani wants to 'correct' Mueller's report before its release

01/11/19 10:45AM

We don't know whether or when Special Counsel Robert Mueller will prepare a report on his findings in the Russia scandal. It's often assumed that Mueller and his team will issue such a document, at least to top officials in the Justice Department, but that's never been officially confirmed.

Inside Donald Trump's legal defense team, however, the president's attorneys are apparently working from the assumption that the special counsel's office will prepare a report. And as of last night, members of Team Trump don't just want to read the document; they want to edit it.

Rudy Giuliani says President Trump's legal team should be allowed to "correct" special counsel Robert Mueller's final report before Congress or the American people get the chance to read it.

The claim, made in a telephone interview with The Hill on Thursday evening, goes further than the president's legal advisers have ever gone before in arguing they have a right to review the conclusions of Mueller's probe, which is now in its 20th month.

"As a matter of fairness, they should show it to you -- so we can correct it if they're wrong," said the former New York City mayor, who is a member of Trump's personal legal team. "They're not God, after all. They could be wrong."

So, in Giuliani's vision of how the process should work, Mueller and his team would prepare a final report, which may implicate Trump in serious wrongdoing. Before that report is circulated, however, the president's lawyers would have an opportunity to give the document some touch-ups.

This would be done, Trump's lawyer said, as "a matter of fairness."

Giuliani's argument is obviously quite foolish and wholly at odds with how any system of justice is supposed to work. (Name another target of a criminal investigation who'd get the chance to "correct" an investigative report on their suspected misconduct before its release.) But let's also not forget that this is at odds with Team Trump's original plan.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

If today's 'national emergency' is at the border, what about tomorrow's?

01/11/19 10:00AM

A week ago, Donald Trump for the first time publicly raised the prospect of building a wall through a "national emergency" declaration. The idea, which the president is apparently prepared to pursue, involves Trump granting himself emergency powers, borrowing the "power of the purse" the Constitution gives to Congress, and spending taxpayer money in defiance of lawmakers' wishes.

I suggested at the time that Republicans may want to consider the implications of such a gambit. What happens, for example, when a Democratic president declares a national health care emergency and begins pursuing a Medicare-for-All system?

Some on the right have raised related questions. Erick Erickson, a prominent voice in conservative media, wrote on Twitter yesterday, "When the next Democratic president declares a national emergency over gun violence and takes executive actions to curtail gun purchases, you can thank the people urging Donald Trump to do the same with regards to the border."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) raised the same concern on CNBC yesterday, though he pointed to a different issue.

The Florida Republican contended that Trump was elected on the promise of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the president has to "keep that promise." But "we have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power," he added. "I'm not prepared to endorse that right now."

Such a declaration would set a precedent, Rubio said. "If today, the national emergency is border security ... tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change."

There are some statutory limits about emergency powers to consider, but broadly speaking, these conservatives are right to be concerned. Once the door is open, and presidents start pursuing their ambitions in defiance of Congress, it isn't just Republicans who'll walk through that opening.

In fact, Rubio's example is of particular interest -- since the climate crisis, unlike the need for a giant border wall, is real.

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters after reviewing border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Trump points to border concerns that a wall wouldn't (and couldn't) fix

01/11/19 09:20AM

Donald Trump traveled to McAllen, Texas, yesterday for a photo-op near the U.S./Mexico border, and as part of the public-relations display, the president examined photographs of tunnels criminals dug to smuggle guns and drugs across the border.

Time magazine picked up on the obvious point that the White House may have missed: "Neither border patrol agents nor President Trump explained how a border wall would help stop the flow of drugs through tunnels."

The same presentation featured money seized from a suspected criminal who had overstayed a visa. How would a wall address this? It wouldn't.

As the New York Times  reported, there was a lot of this dynamic to go around.

[Trump] surrounded himself with border agents, victims of horrible crimes, a display of methamphetamine and heroin, an AK-47 and an AR-15 rifle, and a trash bag stuffed with $362,062 in cash that had been confiscated by law enforcement officials.

In his view, it all added up to a single word, "crisis," with a lone solution, building a wall -- a point he emphasized in a discussion with the crime victims, law enforcement officers and McAllen residents. [...]

But there was another reality. The display of drugs, weapons and cash was mainly the product of law enforcement actions stopping criminals at international bridges, where most drugs are smuggled, and conventional ports of entry.

A giant border wall, of course, would not close international bridges or conventional ports of entry.

Similarly, Fox News last night aired Trump's latest interview with Sean Hannity, in which the president complained about the perceived dangers of Central American asylum-seekers. But again, seeking asylum is legal and this is largely unrelated to a possible wall.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Trump rejects shutdown deal Republicans negotiated with Republicans

01/11/19 08:41AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had credible reasons to believe he could help negotiate some kind of resolution to the ongoing government shutdown. Not only does the GOP senator enjoy close ties to Donald Trump, he's also played a key role within his party on immigration policy, having helped craft the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" bill.

With this in mind, when there was scuttlebutt on Capitol Hill this week about Graham working behind the scenes on a possible deal, it was at least worth watching. Yesterday, however, those efforts collapsed -- because of White House opposition. Politico reported:

President Donald Trump has rejected a plan proposed by a bloc of Senate Republicans who had hoped to break an impasse over the government shutdown, leaving Congress and the White House with little obvious way out of the extended battle over Trump's border wall.

On the 20th day of the shutdown, the GOP group tried to jump start bipartisan talks before Trump declares a national emergency to get his wall. But the president rejected their idea to allow congressional committees to sort out his border wall request while the government reopened, deeming the idea likely to leave him with nothing to show for the shutdown.

Some of the relevant details of the plan remain elusive, but by all accounts, there was a proposal on the table. Vice President Mike Pence and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney took it to the president, who balked.

Of particular interest, though, is whom Graham negotiated with. In this case, the Republican South Carolinian worked on a deal with other Republicans, and Democrats were excluded from the process altogether. Despite the fact that Dems control the House, and many Democratic votes would be needed in the Senate, the party was "left out" of the talks and "were never read in" on the proposal.

Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), arguably Congress' most conservative Democrat, and a lawmaker who said he's prepared to work on a possible compromise, wasn't invited to the discussions.

What we're left with is a dynamic in which Republicans negotiated a deal with other Republicans, only to be shot down by a Republican president.

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A Capitol police officer walks through the Capitol Rotunda, empty of visitors after being closed to tours, during the government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 1, 2013.

Ignoring pressure, more Republicans break with Trump on shutdown

01/11/19 08:00AM

Assuming there's no breakthrough today, the current government shutdown is poised to become the longest in American history. It's against this backdrop that the White House has an obsessive focus -- and it's not on finding a solution.

When Donald Trump traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, he huddled with Senate Republicans and offered nothing in terms of plans or proposed compromises. Instead, the president focused all of his energy in urging GOP lawmakers to remain united in opposition to Democratic efforts to re-open the government -- despite the fact that Democrats are proposing the same policy Trump and Senate Republicans supported last month.

There's some evidence that the president's lobbying efforts are falling short.

The group of House Republicans voting to buck President Trump and end the government shutdown grew to a dozen members on Thursday -- including the GOP's most recent campaign chairman.

Twelve Republicans voted to fully fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development Thursday afternoon, up a bit from a previous high of eight members on Wednesday.

Joining the defectors yesterday was Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the most recent Congress.

For those keeping score, the first Democratic proposal to pass a clean spending bill and end the shutdown, considered last week, garnered five House Republican votes. The next measure received support from seven House GOP members. On Wednesday, eight House Republicans broke ranks, and yesterday, the number climbed to 12.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.10.19

01/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's a safe bet this is going to be interesting: "Michael Cohen, former lawyer and fixer to President Donald Trump, has agreed to testify publicly before Congress early next month before he goes to prison."

* Points for effort? "Senate Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, asked for a request for unanimous consent -- agreement from all 100 senators -- to vote on bills to reopen the government on Thursday, only for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deny it."

* Seems relevant: "President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as 'absolutely critical to border security' in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS."

* Radical nonsense: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration's Mideast policies on Thursday, accusing the former president of "misguided" thinking that diminished America's role in the region while harming its longtime friends and emboldening Iran."

* The effects of the shutdown continue: "The two-week-old shutdown has halted one of the federal government's most important public health activities, the inspections of chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries, water treatment plants, and thousands of other industrial sites for pollution violations."

* This, too: "The association that represents thousands of FBI agents warned Thursday that a partial government shutdown could cause laboratory delays, reduce money for investigations and make it harder to recruit and retain agents."

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Rep. Steve King

Iowa's Steve King faces pushback after new comments on race

01/10/19 04:38PM

The week before Election Day 2018, some Republican leaders were prepared to effectively cut Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) loose. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) publicly denounced the Iowan's "racist" antics, adding, "We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior."

King won re-election anyway -- though J.D. Scholten (D) did keep it close -- which affords him the opportunity to make comments like these to the New York Times.

Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist. He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office. (The same office once displayed a Confederate flag on his desk.)

At the same time, he said, he supports immigrants who enter the country legally and fully assimilate because what matters more than race is "the culture of America" based on values brought to the United States by whites from Europe.

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

This afternoon, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the House Republican Conference chair, wrote on Twitter, in reference to her colleague's quotes, "These comments are abhorrent and racist and should have no place in our national discourse."

Of course, the question isn't just about the national discourse; it's also about whether King's perspective has a place among congressional Republicans.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes a point as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York, June 16, 2015. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Rejecting responsibility, Trump declares, 'The buck stops with everybody'

01/10/19 04:04PM

Donald Trump offered his definition of "leadership" in a tweet in 2013: "Whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible." The future president liked this so much, he ended up publishing the same phrase four times over the course of a couple of years.

In fact, before reaching the White House, the New York Republican had all kinds of thoughts about the importance of people in positions of authority taking responsibility. In a 2012 tweet complaining about Barack Obama -- one of many such missives -- Trump wrote, "Obama's complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility."

When Trump entered politics, he signaled to voters that his approach wouldn't change. In his infamous 2016 convention speech, the then-candidate declared, "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."

And yet, as it turns out, his posture seems quite different now that he's in office. Take this morning, for example.

Q: Does the buck stop with you over this shutdown?

TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.

Remember, it was just last month when the president -- on camera, for all the world to see -- told Democratic leaders, "I am proud to shut down the government for border security.... I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.... I will take the mantle of shutting down."

Now, however, the "buck stops with everybody."

It'd be less ridiculous if it weren't part of a pattern in which Trump seems to have a responsibility allergy.

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