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Markwayne Mullin

GOP rep asks constituents the wrong question at town-hall event

04/13/17 11:20AM

Why is it so important for members of Congress to hold town-hall events with their constituents? Because you just never know what they'll end up saying.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) faced off with constituents at a town hall this week, telling the audience that they don't pay his salary.

"You say you pay for me to do this? That's bullcrap," Mullin said at the town hall in Jay, Okla., according to a video of the incident.
A typical member of Congress receives an annual salary of $174,000 a year, financed entirely by taxpayers. As best as I can tell, the far-right Oklahoman does not forgo his compensation.

The Tulsa World, after speaking to the lawmaker's office, reported that when Mullin said it's "bullcrap" to believe taxpayers pay him to serve in Congress, what he meant was that he's "paid more in federal income taxes than he's received in congressional salary."

Indeed, the rest of the video shows the congressman saying he's paid his "own salary" through his taxes, adding, "No one here pays me to go."

Whether folks in Oklahoma's 2nd district will find this argument persuasive is unclear. (The fact that Mullin faced angry constituents is itself rather amazing: Oklahoma's 2nd has a PVI of R+24, making it one of the most Republican congressional districts in the United States.)
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The U.S. Capitol building stands at daybreak in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, 2015. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Tax reform shouldn't be decided by a debate over branding

04/13/17 10:42AM

With many Republican officials focusing attention on tax reform, the party is already divided over something called a border adjustment tax, which House Republican leaders support, but Senate Republicans hate. The provision, which would effectively impose a tax on imports, matters a great deal -- it's intended to help pay for the broader GOP goal of lower rates -- and some presidential leadership will be necessary to resolve the intra-party fight.

With that in mind, it raised a few eyebrows when Donald Trump declared earlier this year, "Anytime I hear 'border adjustment,' I don't love it."

That led many to believe the White House was, at best, skeptical of the idea, but that wasn't quite right. In this case, we needed to take Trump very literally: when he hears the words "border adjustment," he doesn't like it, not because he doubts the utility of the policy, but because he's uncomfortable with the phrase itself.

This came up during Trump's interview yesterday with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo:
BARTIROMO: How are you on the border adjustment tax? Have you decided?

TRUMP: I haven't really wanted to talk about it. I have my own feelings. I don't like the word "adjustment." ... I don't like the term "border adjustment."

BARTIROMO: Any tax at the border?

TRUMP: Weak. Let's call it an import tax. Let's call it a reciprocal tax.
Asked about his policy position, Trump responded by talking about word-choice. He has opinions about the underlying idea, but his perspective is shaped by his concerns about which words might sound "weak."

Trump might like the idea more if it were called something else.
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President-elect Donald Trump,  walks with his wife Melania Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Trump blasts obstructionism that exists only in his mind

04/13/17 10:03AM

In late February, Donald Trump sat down with Fox News, which asked the president about the vacancies in key posts throughout his administration. Trump said the question was based on a faulty assumption.

"When I see a story about 'Donald Trump didn't fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,' it's because, in many cases, we don't want to fill those jobs," the president argued with a straight face. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have... Many of those jobs, I don't want to fill."

Six weeks later, Trump apparently no longer remembers this argument. He sat down with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, and complained about "waiting right now for so many people" to get confirmed by the Senate.
BARTIROMO: You're under staffed.

TRUMP: Hundreds and hundreds of people. And then they'll say, "Why isn't Trump doing this faster?" You can't do it faster, because they're obstructing. They're obstructionists.  So I have people -- hundreds of people that we're trying to get through. I mean you have -- you see the backlog. We can't get them through.

BARTIROMO: Yes.

TRUMP: And then the newspapers will say, 'Trump doesn't get them through.' Well, not — nothing to do with me... I wish it would be explained better, the obstructionist nature, though, because a lot of times I'll say, "Why doesn't so and so have people under him or her?" The reason is because we can't get them approved.
Oh. Trump has gone from saying he wanted key executive-branch offices empty on purpose, which didn't make any sense, to blaming Democratic obstructionism for the fact that so many executive-branch offices are empty, which makes even less sense.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

There is no method to the White House's flip-flopping madness

04/13/17 09:20AM

Before he became a politician, Donald Trump was disgusted by President Obama's reluctance to classify China as a currency manipulator. As a candidate, Trump vowed to slap the label on China literally on his first day in office.

Last month, Trump blasted China as the "grand champions" of currency manipulation. Last week, he called China the "world champion" of currency manipulation. All of which brought us to yesterday, when Trump declared that China isn't manipulating its currency.

It was right around this time that Trump, after recently boasting about the NATO alliance being "obsolete," decided that NATO isn't obsolete after all. Justifying his reversal, the president said NATO members "made a change, and now they do fight terrorism." (In reality, NATO did not actually make a change; he just made this up.)

These were not isolated incidents. Politico noted overnight that Trump is "shifting positions at breakneck pace."
Donald Trump promised to be open-minded on a number of issues. Over the past week, he's delivered.

The man who pledged to cut deals rather than adhere to any ideology -- or to any detailed policy platform -- has, in recent days, demonstrated an incredible willingness to bend his past positions, or abandon them entirely.
A Washington Post report added, "Perhaps no politician is a bigger flip-flopper than President Trump."

That's not hyperbolic. Just this week, Trump has reversed course on labeling China a currency manipulator, NATO's utility, the administration's hiring freeze, the Export-Import Bank, Janet Yellen's job performance, his preference on interest rates, the White House's interest in paying the national debt, and Trump's willingness to move on from health care to tax reform.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump is still learning what most people already know

04/13/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump has spent a fair amount of time talking to China's Xi Jinping over the last week, including a summit of sorts at the president's private club in Florida, and a lengthy phone conversation with the Chinese leader this week. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he's actually learning a few things.
Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy," Mr. Trump recounted. "I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power" over North Korea," he said. "But it's not what you would think."
Trump clearly has quite a few problems as president, but for a quick summary of why his ignorance is such a hindrance to his success, you could do worse than pointing to these two paragraphs.

When Trump says, "But it's not what you would think," what he means, of course, is that the details aren't what he thought. The president believed the dynamic was simple -- he'd just tell China to control North Korea, as if the latter is reflexively subservient to the former -- but he "realized" after talking to Xi that it's not as "easy" as he'd assumed.

To be sure, I'm delighted that Trump has learned something important, but what the president may not realize is how embarrassing his acknowledgement is. He's effectively saying that he made a series of assumptions about two nuclear-powered countries; he campaigned on those assumptions for a year and a half; and after three months in the Oval Office, he's just now realizing -- following a private tutorial from the president of China -- that his overly simplistic understanding wasn't exactly accurate.

"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy" is perhaps the quintessential Donald Trump sentence.
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump considers provocative new hostage strategy on health care

04/13/17 08:00AM

After the Republican health care plan collapsed last month, beset by intra-party divisions and widespread public revulsion, Donald Trump immediately blamed Democrats. That didn't make any sense: no one reached out to congressional Dems; they played no role in the process; and it was GOP lawmakers who killed the bill.

But the confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should've helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare -- because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House's previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he's also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.
Nearly three weeks after Republican infighting sank an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump dug back into the battle on Wednesday, threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.
"Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn't get that money," Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. "I haven't made my viewpoint clear yet. I don't want people to get hurt.... What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating."

In other words, when the president says he doesn't "want people to get hurt," he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.

It's a bit like a criminal who declares, "I don't want to shoot the hostages, but I haven't yet received my ransom."

What Trump may not realize is how truly ridiculous his new posture is. For a guy who paid someone to write "Art of the Deal" for him, the president doesn't seem to have any idea how to negotiate effectively.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.12.17

04/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russia: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that relations between the two countries are at 'a low point' as clear divides remain over Syria, Moscow's alleged meddling in U.S. elections and a host of other major issues."

* United Nations: "Russia blocked a Western effort at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to condemn last week's deadly gas attack in Syria and push Moscow's ally President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate with international inquiries into the incident."

* This policy didn't last long: "The Trump administration on Wednesday will lift the hiring freeze that it had imposed on the federal work force, even as it directs agencies to submit plans for personnel cuts and other restructuring moves to fit the budget blueprint released by President Trump last month."

* Donald Trump spoke last night to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. The White House's description of their call was quite different from Beijing's.

* The facts matter: "After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN."

* Keep an eye on this: "The Trump administration is quickly identifying ways to assemble the nationwide deportation force that President Trump promised on the campaign trail as he railed against the [supposed] dangers posed by illegal immigration."

* Trump administration incompetence: "After just three weeks, the Trump administration has stopped publishing a weekly report designed to publicly shame 'sanctuary cities' that fail to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts after local police agencies complained the reports were filled with errors."
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FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

As FBI probe continues, Trump says it's 'not too late' to fire Comey

04/12/17 04:20PM

In an interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, Donald Trump was asked about "Obama-era staffers" that continue to serve in the executive branch. As the Washington Post reported, one official in particular stood out as important.
President Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday morning that he has "confidence" in FBI Director James B. Comey, but it was "not too late" to fire him.

Trump has long sent mixed signals on Comey and the bureau director's future in government, though his comments to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo are especially important because Comey has now confirmed that the bureau is investigating possible coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign to influence the presidential election.
This was all rather odd. For example, Bartiromo characterized Comey as an Obama-era "staffer," but that's not quite right. FBI directors are appointed to serve fixed 10-year terms -- in large part to help shield directors from overt political influence and pressures -- and in this case, the Democratic president chose a Republican to fill the post. That didn't mean Comey was part of Obama's "staff."

But even putting that aside, Trump went on to say, after noting that "it's not too late" to oust Comey from his post, "We'll see what happens. You know, it's going to be interesting."

The president didn't specify what, exactly, is "going to be interesting." I hope he didn't mean the results of the ongoing counter-espionage investigation into Russia's efforts to put Trump in the White House.

Because if that is what Trump meant, the on-air comments might start to resemble a veiled threat -- along the lines of, "It's a nice career at the FBI you have there; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
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In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.

On Syria, 'reflexive partisanship' doesn't apply to both parties

04/12/17 12:42PM

What do Americans think of U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war? The Washington Post noted yesterday that "reflexive partisanship" is evident in the latest polling.
More Americans than ever view the news through red-colored glasses. In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

A new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump's decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.
That's an astounding shift in attitudes, and partisan instincts almost certainly explain the rapid change. Republican voters opposed Obama, so they had no use for his plan to attack the Assad regime, and Republican voters generally back Trump, so they support last week's strikes.

But look a little closer at the details, and the asymmetry between the parties becomes more obvious: four years ago, 38% of Democratic voters backed Obama's proposed strikes in Syria, and now, 37% of Democratic voters support Trump doing the same thing. In other words, there's been effectively no change.

This isn't limited to rank-and-file voters; the dynamic affects elected officials, too. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been brazenly inconsistent on the issue, opposing Obama's approach because it was Obama's approach, and supporting Trump's offensive because it's Trump's offensive.
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