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The landmark CN Tower is lit blue, white and red in the colors of the French flag following Paris attacks, in Toronto, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Trump is starting to run out of U.S. allies to alienate

04/21/17 09:21AM

As his presidency wound down, Barack Obama visited Canada to thank the U.S. neighbor and ally for its friendship. When the Democrat spoke to the Canadian Parliament, he received a rapturous welcome, which culminated in a surprisingly loud chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Donald Trump will never receive that kind of outpouring of affection north of the border.
President Donald Trump has shifted his sharpest economic criticism away from the southern U.S. border and toward the neighbor to the north.

His tougher talk on Canada -- over longstanding dairy and lumber disputes -- is raising concerns that a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement could grow more complicated and affect Ottawa as much as Mexico City.
At an event in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump said he's not pleased with Canada. "We're going to get together and we're going to call Canada, and we're going to say, 'What happened?'" the president said. "And they might give us an answer, but we're going to get the solution, not just the answer, okay? Because we know what the solution is, all right?"

Trump didn't specify what kind of solution he had in mind. I hope he's not thinking of another border wall.

Yesterday, looking at some handwritten notes, Trump said he "wasn't going to do this," but he took rhetorical aim at Canada once again. While complaining about NAFTA, which he repeatedly labeled a "disaster," the president said, "We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers.... So we're gonna have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly."
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

White House's 'heavy hand' makes government shutdown more likely

04/21/17 08:43AM

When it comes to putting a price tag on Donald Trump's proposed border wall, estimates vary quite a bit. The White House started the year using a $12 billion figure, while congressional Republicans said $15 billion. The Department of Homeland Security thinks the costs may reach $20 billion, while congressional Democrats believe it's more realistic to say $70 billion.

There's no shortage of problems with this. The president may dream of a giant wall separating the United States and Mexico, but there's little public support for the project, and even less backing for spending billions of our taxpayer dollars on it. (The idea that Trump would get Mexico to pay for this has always been one of the Republican's more ridiculous campaign pledges.)

And yet, we're confronted with the possibility that short-term funding for Trump's wall may push the country towards a government shutdown next week. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney says that Democratic negotiators on a massive spending bill need to agree to funding top priorities of President Donald Trump such as a down payment on a border wall and hiring of additional immigration agents.

Mulvaney told The Associated Press in an interview that "elections have consequences" and that "we want wall funding" as part of the catchall spending bill, which lawmakers hope to unveil next week.
Look, avoiding a government shutdown a week from today poses plenty of existing challenges. Democratic and Republican lawmakers -- and their staffers who've been working on this during Congress' spring break -- are trying to reach agreements on several contentious issues, ranging from pensions to health care to reproductive rights. Since both parties want to avoid a shutdown, there's reason to believe they'll work something out, but no one should see this as easy.

But Team Trump's border-wall push yesterday made things worse. I heard from Matt House, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said via email, "Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand. Not only are Democrats opposed to the wall, there is significant Republican opposition as well."

The administration doesn't seem to care. Mulvaney, the far-right Budget Director told the AP, "We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don't like the wall, but they lost the election. And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration."
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Image: President Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Price and Vice President Pence, in Washington

Trump desperate to revive failed, unpopular GOP health care plan

04/21/17 08:00AM

In its latest national poll, released this week, Quinnipiac asked respondents an interesting question: "Do you think that Republicans in Congress should try to repeal and replace Obamacare again, or do you think they should move on to other issues?"

The results weren't close: only 36% of the public wants GOP lawmakers to keep trying, while 60% want Republicans to move on. What's more, the results were quite broad: men and women, people of different education levels, people of every age group, people of different races and ethnicities all said they don't want to see the repeal effort to continue.

And yet, Donald Trump, who said last month that he's prepared to move on, now insists he's not moving on. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump is pushing Congress toward another dramatic showdown over the Affordable Care Act, despite big outstanding obstacles to a beleaguered revision plan and a high-stakes deadline next week to keep the government running.

The fresh pressure from the White House to pass a revision was met with skepticism by some Capitol Hill Republicans and their aides, who were recently humiliated when their bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote and who worry now that little has changed to suggest a new revision would fare any better.
The president, referring to proposed changes to the GOP's existing American Health Care Act, told reporters yesterday, "The plan gets better and better and better, and it's gotten really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot."

Like so much of what Trump says, there's no reason to believe any of this. In fact, let's take these two points one at a time.

Is the plan getting "better and better and better"? Well, no. Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have reportedly worked on an amendment that would restore essential health benefits that already exist in the ACA into the Republican alternative, while targeting a "community rating" provision that would hurt Americans with pre-existing conditions.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.20.17

04/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* France "was on high alert Thursday after one police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting in central Paris, the National Police Union reported. The person suspected of opening fire on the officers on the Champs-Elysees was also shot and killed, Reuters reported, citing a police source."

* Donald Trump said the incident "looks like another terrorist attack" before French authorities were prepared to offer any such assessment.

* Venezuela: "General Motors said Wednesday it has been forced to stop operating in Venezuela after one of its plants was illegally seized by local authorities. The seizure, in the country's industrial hub of Valencia, comes amid a deepening economic and political crisis that has sparked weeks of deadly street protests."

* This seems like a bad idea: "The Internal Revenue Service is about to start using four private debt-collection companies to chase down overdue payments from hundreds of thousands of people who owe money to the federal government, a job it has handled in house for years."

* Iran: "Former Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was barred from running in next month's election Thursday while President Hassan Rouhani was among six candidates approved by Iran's conservative-controlled Guardian Council, state media reported."

* The number of billionaires on Team Trump drops by one: "Unable to untangle his complex financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics, Cubs board member Todd Ricketts, tapped by President Donald Trump to be the Deputy Commerce Secretary, on Wednesday withdrew his nomination."

* This beats moving to a third state to launch another failed Senate campaign: "President Donald Trump announced Thursday his plan to nominate former Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown as ambassador to New Zealand. The Senate must confirm the nomination."
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Image: Jeff Sessions

AG Jeff Sessions seems to forget that Hawaii is a state

04/20/17 04:05PM

About a month ago, Donald Trump's second attempt at a Muslim ban ran into the same legal troubles as his first attempt. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, blocked implementation of the administration's policy.

The fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions disagreed with the judge is not surprising. What's notable, however, is how Sessions disagreed. CNN reported this afternoon:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week he was amazed that a judge in Hawaii could block President Donald Trump's executive order halting immigration from several majority Muslim countries.

Sessions made the comments on "The Mark Levin Show" Wednesday evening.
The Republican attorney general, after noting his optimism about future court proceedings, specifically told the far-right radio host, "I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power."

This is a pretty remarkable thing for the nation's chief law-enforcement official to say out loud, in public, and on purpose.
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A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

White House is 'gearing up' for a government shutdown fight

04/20/17 12:58PM

It's one of those annoying details that the political world probably doesn't want to think about, but current funding for the federal government expires a week from tomorrow. Without an agreement or an extension, the government will shut down at midnight, April 28.

The conventional wisdom, which I've largely believed, has said for weeks that a shutdown is very unlikely, but signals from Donald Trump's White House suggest such an outcome is quite possible. Politico reported late yesterday, for example:
The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration's spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday.... Congressional Republicans, desperately looking to avoid a shutdown scare, are eyeing a modest increase for border security -- perhaps an increase in funding for surveillance technology -- and a small uptick in military spending. But two senior White House officials say they want a bigger win out of the fight, and an important deadline might help.
The report added that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short are pushing for "billions" for Trump's agenda, including money for a border wall.

There is no scenario in which this is wise.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.20.17

04/20/17 12:00PM

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

* Two days after Georgia's congressional special election, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has already launched a new round of attack ads targeting Jon Ossoff ahead of the June runoff election.

* On a related note, Ossoff reportedly raised over $500,000 yesterday, which is an extraordinary one-day haul for any congressional candidate. Politico noted it was "the most lucrative day of the campaign so far for Ossoff."

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is still on a unity tour with DNC Chairman Tom Perez, but the Vermont independent indicated yesterday he won't throw his support behind Ossoff.

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump's approval rating improving a bit, climbing to 40%, thanks almost entirely to increased support from Republican voters.

* Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R-Utah) surprise retirement announcement yesterday has jolted Republican politics in Utah, and set off a scramble in the race to replace him.

* Indiana, which will be home to a competitive Senate race next year, is reportedly trying to clean up its voting rolls. The result, according to a report from the Northwest Indiana Times, is that "nearly half a million individuals have been deleted from Indiana's list of registered voters" since November.

* Despite his frequent campaign-season criticisms, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he's now "all in" with Donald Trump. The Republican senator told Fox News this morning, "I am like the happiest dude in America right now."
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Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, testifies at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on March 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick...

Why Richard Cordray is still on the job at the CFPB

04/20/17 11:22AM

In an era of Republican dominance, the future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is very much in doubt. Ask congressional Republicans which federal offices they'd most like to eliminate, and it's a safe bet the CFPB would be the first agency most of them mention.

But at least for now, the CFPB still exists, and its director, Richard Cordray, is still on the job -- a dynamic a Wall Street Journal piece recently described as "the greatest mystery in Washington."

Why hasn't Donald Trump kicked him to the curb? Let's unwrap this mystery.

The way the CFPB is structured, its director is not just another member of an administration. Instead, when President Obama chose Cordray for the post in 2013, it was for a five-year appointment, which doesn't end until 2018.

Trump, of course, would love to replace Cordray with someone who'd be far friendlier with the financial industry and less aggressive on protecting consumers, but as USA Today recently reported, "the law says the director may be removed by the president only for 'inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.'"

The estimable David Dayen explained the White House's dilemma this week.
[I]f Trump did try to fire Cordray, the director could sue for wrongful termination, arguing that Trump was pursuing a policy goal instead of following the for-cause language in the statute. As Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin explains, that would lead to a public lawsuit in which Cordray could seek, and possibly get, discovery, including a deposition of the president and maybe a peek at his tax returns, to see if Trump was benefiting himself personally by tossing out a consumer watchdog that affects his personal business interests.

Clearly the White House wants to steer clear of anything like that.
Team Trump does, however, have a back-up plan of sorts.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House solicits public input on eliminating agencies

04/20/17 10:49AM

Seven years ago, House Republicans unveiled an online gimmick they were excited about, which was called "YouCut." The way the system was set up, GOP lawmakers would offer the public five options for cutting government spending; Americans would vote online; and then the House would force a vote on the top vote-getter the following week.

In practice, the whole endeavor was rather silly. The public wasn't given any real information about the spending or the associated programs; the Democratic-led Senate didn't much care about the House's stunt; and the whole initiative was forgotten soon after.

It appears, however, that the concept behind "YouCut" is making something of a comeback. New York magazine reported the other day:
The White House moved forward with its effort to drastically reduce the size of the federal government [last week], directing agencies to produce a plan to reduce their personnel.... The changes outlined in a 14-page memo issued by [OMB Director Mick Mulvaney] were based on the budget outline President Trump released last month, which called for sharp cuts to many agencies to finance large increases in military and Homeland Security spending.

Many were taken aback by Trump's proposal to slash funding for agencies like the EPA, State Department, and Health and Human Services, and eliminate many smaller programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.

But if anyone has even more radical ideas, the White House is all ears.
And to that end, the White House has created an online tool in which -- you guessed it -- Americans can vote on which federal agencies should be scrapped.

Visitors are asked, "What agency would you like to reform?" and are presented with dozens of options. That's followed by the second question, "What agency would you like to eliminate?"
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A laptop in use. (Photo by TEK/Science Photo Library/Corbis)

Despite his promises, Trump's cybersecurity plan doesn't exist

04/20/17 10:09AM

Two weeks before his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump met with leaders of the U.S. intelligence community, who briefed him on the Russian hacking scandal. Almost immediately after the private discussion, Trump straight-up lied about what he'd learned, insisting in a statement that intelligence professionals told him Russia's operation had "absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election."

The intelligence community hadn't said that at all. Trump just made it up.

But in the same written statement, the Republican added that the nation's cyber infrastructure is at risk and he announced that his team would produce a new cybersecurity plan "within 90 days " of his inauguration. A week later, he had a related tweet pointing to the same deadline.

Politico published an interesting status-check today.
Thursday, Trump hits his 90-day mark. There is no team, there is no plan, and there is no clear answer from the White House on who would even be working on what.
It's quite a fine-tuned machine, isn't it?

There was some talk of Rudy Giuliani having a cybersecurity role on Team Trump, but Politico reports that the former mayor is not working on the White House's plan. Neither is the National Security Council.
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