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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.7.18

09/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump's former campaign foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, is going to jail: "The man whose boozy conversation with a diplomat may have launched the federal government's investigation into Russian election interference was sentenced Friday to 14 days in jail and one year of supervised release for lying to the FBI."

* More trade threats: "President Trump said Friday that he is ready to impose tariffs on $267 billion in Chinese goods, on top of the additional $200 billion that he said will likely be hit with import taxes in a matter of days. If eventually carried out, Trump's latest threat could result in tariffs on all Chinese goods entering the United States, an unprecedented escalation of his trade war with China."

* Rudy Giuliani is bad at his job: "President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said Thursday that the president would not answer questions about obstruction of justice from the special counsel's team, but in a subsequent interview was less definitive."

* This was probably inevitable: "Twitter announced Thursday that it had banned the accounts of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his far-right media company Infowars because of 'abusive behavior' on the platform."

* This was apparently supposed to be funny because the congressman physically attacked a journalist and lied about it: "Last night, at his rally in Billings, Montana, President Trump singled out the state's Republican member of Congress for praise. 'I'll tell you what,' said Trump, 'This man has fought' -- at this point, he lowered his voice into the slightly comic tone one uses to deliver an elbow–to-the-ribs punch line -- 'in more ways than one, for your state. He has fought for your state. Greg Gianforte. He is a fighter and a winner.'"

* On a related note, it was kind of odd to see the president struggle quite a bit to pronounce the word "anonymous" while reading from his teleprompter.

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Obama looks ahead to the chance to restore 'sanity to our politics'

09/07/18 04:07PM

With just two days remaining in his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation's direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.

But as regular readers know, Obama also acknowledged at the time that there might be exceptions to the rule. "There's a difference," the outgoing president explained, "between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake."

What the Democratic president couldn't have known was just how frequently he'd find these core values in jeopardy. At last count, Obama has responded to major policy development with critical statements five times: the separation of immigrant children from their families, Trump's Muslim ban, the Republican campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump rescinding DACA protections for Dreamers, and Trump's abandonment of the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

In each instance, however, the former president exercised caution and pulled every punch, eager to remain above the fray. Obama showed less restraint today.

During a speech at the University of Illinois, Obama slammed the "crazy stuff" coming out of the Trump White House and blasted the president for politicizing the Justice Department. [...]

And Obama took Republicans in Congress to task for being "utterly unwilling to find the backbone to safeguard the institutions that make our democracy work." Even Republicans "who know better," Obama said, "are still bending over backwards" to protect Trump.

"This is not normal," Obama continued. "How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?!"

In a bit of a surprise, he was even willing to reference his successor by name.

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Trump wants AG Sessions to investigate author of anonymous op-ed

09/07/18 02:17PM

Barack Obama spoke earlier today at the University of Illinois, and in obvious reference to his presidential successor, he said, "It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents."

For much of American history, Obama's sentiment wouldn't have been seen as controversial in the slightest. But as it turns out, at nearly the same time the former president was condemning White House politicization of federal law enforcement, Obama's successor had some related thoughts.

President Donald Trump said Friday he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch an investigation into who authored the explosive anonymous opinion article published in The New York Times earlier this week.

"Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was, because I really believe it's national security," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One.

The fact that the White House is engaged in a "frantic hunt" to uncover the author of the piece is itself evidence of Team Trump's dysfunction. But now that the president wants the Justice Department to participate in the hunt, it's becoming a more serious issue.

The trouble, of course, is that Trump's call doesn't make much sense. In order for the New York Times opinion piece to warrant scrutiny from the attorney general, there would need to be some kind of evidence of a federal crime. There isn't. We've all read the op-ed and it does not describe illegal misconduct.

It also doesn't point to any national security threats, unless one is inclined to accept the op-ed author's concerns at face value and conclude that having an unfit president is itself a national security threat.

But the broader concern is the point Obama raised around the same time.

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A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Democratic control of the Senate won't be easy, but it's possible

09/07/18 12:46PM

Stuart Rothenberg, a longtime campaign observer, conceded on Twitter yesterday, "OK, so maybe the Senate is 'in play.' That's the first time I have said or written that." This morning, NBC News' First Read team came to a similar conclusion.

The takeaway from the trio of NBC/Marist polls we released this week is that, yes, Democrats do have a legitimate path to retaking the Senate in November. Given the Senate map, it's probably not the most likely outcome. But it's a real possibility -- more than most people might think.

As we've discussed before, at first glance, Republican control of the Senate probably appears fragile. After all, the GOP majority now stands at just 51 seats, which means the party has little margin for error. With signs of a possible "blue" wave building, a net gain of two Senate seats for Democrats hardly seems outrageous.

But the relevant details matter -- and the Senate map this year is tilted in Republicans' favor to an extraordinary degree. Nate Silver had a FiveThirtyEight piece earlier this year that explained, "Just how bad [is the 2018 map for Senate Democrats]? It's bad enough that it may be the worst Senate map that any party has faced ever, or at least since direct election of senators began in 1913. It's bad enough that Democrats could conceivably gain 35 or 40 seats in the House ... and not pick up the two seats they need in the Senate."

At the time, the path to Democratic control looked incredibly narrow. Many observers saw possible pick-up opportunities in Arizona and Nevada, but even if the party's candidates won those tough races, Democratic incumbents would then need to run the table, winning literally every other contest -- including a whole bunch of red-state races -- to eke out a majority.

But the landscape has evolved in recent months in some unexpected ways.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.7.18

09/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In Delaware, the Democratic U.S. Senate primary turned out to be far less competitive than many observers expected: incumbent Sen. Tom Carper ended up defeating Kerri Evelyn Harris by nearly 30 points.

* In the closely watched gubernatorial race in Georgia, a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 poll found Stacey Abrams (D) and Brian Kemp (R) tied at 45% each.

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely tied to the House Republican leadership, continues to use information from a confidential document to attack former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger's (D) congressional campaign in Virginia. National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) conceded this morning that the attacks "probably deserves some examination."

* Barack Obama will be in California tomorrow, headlining an event for seven Democratic congressional hopefuls. Next week, the former president will also be in Ohio, campaigning in support of Richard Cordray's (D) gubernatorial candidacy.

* On a related note, we learned this week that Michelle Obama is slated to host voter-registration rallies in Las Vegas and Miami later this month.

* The New York Times and Siena College have partnered for an interesting polling experiment, covering dozens of competitive U.S. House races, and three of the polls are already complete. Of particular interest: in California's 50th district, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) appears to be tied with Harley Rouda (D), 45% to 45%.

* Though Vice President Mike Pence once vowed to permanently steer clear of negative campaigning, he appears in three new attack ads paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

GOP picks an odd fight over which party is Medicare's true champion

09/07/18 11:20AM

At a White House event on Wednesday, Donald Trump not only described himself as having more successes than any president in American history at this point in his tenure, he added a new boast to his talking points:

"We're saving Medicare. The Democrats want to destroy Medicare. If you look at what they're doing, they're going to destroy Medicare. And we will save it."

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a U.S. Senate candidate this year, echoed the sentiment, tweeting, "If you want to protect Medicare, vote Republican."

Given Rick Scott's past -- he ran Columbia/HCA at a time when it was accused of widespread Medicare fraud, and the company was forced to pay $1.7 billion in restitution -- this seems like a subject he should probably try to avoid. But even putting the Florida Republican's scandalous past aside, why in the world would GOP leaders pretend to be the nation's true champions of the socialized Medicare system?

For those who keep up on current events, it's an awfully tough sell. For example, prominent Republican officials have already said they plan to pursue Medicare cuts in order to help offset the costs of the GOP's tax breaks for the wealthy.

Complicating matters, as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was quick to remind Rick Scott last night, the latest House Republican budget proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare system.

So what in the world are folks like Donald Trump and Rick Scott talking about?

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

Republicans balk at proposed deal on hacked campaign materials

09/07/18 10:42AM

About a year ago, with U.S. intelligence officials warning of future foreign attacks on American elections, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported on a formal request from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to its Republican counterpart, seeking a "united front" against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 midterm elections.

As regular readers may recall, the basic idea was pretty straightforward: if the parties agreed in advance not to use hacked materials, it would signal to Russian operatives that there's no point in trying to steal more campaign documents.

The initial round of talks, however, didn't go well. In July 2017, Republicans rejected the outreach, questioning the Dems' sincerity.

Earlier this year, Democrats gave the effort another try, but a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee told The Atlantic that the party hadn't responded due to a lack of "trust."

Eventually, however, the two sides began meaningful talks. The New York Times  reports today that those talks have now failed.

House Republicans withdrew on Thursday from negotiations with Democrats over a pact that would have effectively barred both parties from using hacked or stolen material on the campaign trail this fall.

Leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, and their counterparts at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had labored for much of the summer over rules that would have governed the way the congressionally run committees and their candidates treated material like the thousands of pages of damaging Democratic documents stolen and leaked by Russian hackers in 2016.

Naturally, both sides are blaming their rivals, but it's worth highlighting the sticking point that contributed to the negotiations' collapse.

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(FILES)Associate Editor of the Washington Post Bob Woodward speaks at the Newseum during an event. AFP PHOTO/Jim Watson / FILESJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Targeting Woodward, Trump crafts odd new conspiracy theory

09/07/18 10:08AM

Five years ago, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "Only the Obama [White House] can get away with attacking Bob Woodward." Evidently, the Republican has changed his mind.

As regular readers know, Woodward's new book presents Trump's White House as a chaotic "crazytown," led by a hapless and dishonest president, whose orders are often ignored, and who is tricked by aides who steal documents from his desk. The book appears to have gotten under Trump's skin: this morning he called the book a "scam," written by someone who used "tricks" to make the president look bad.

But to fully appreciate Trump's perspective, it's worth noting his conspiracy theories about the book. At a White House event on Wednesday, the president said, in reference to Woodward's book, "Really, if you look at it, it was put out to interfere, in my opinion, at this time, with the Kavanaugh hearings."

In other words, a legendary Washington Post journalist, and one of the nation's leading publishers, Simon and Schuster, set out to interfere with Supreme Court confirmation hearings with a book that has nothing to do with the nominee. That's plainly absurd, and it's belied by relevant details. As Zack Beauchamp explained, "The date of publication for the Woodward book was announced before the Kavanaugh hearings were scheduled. In order to schedule around Kavanaugh, the book's publishers would have needed a time machine."

Undeterred, Trump rolled out a new conspiracy theory last night at a campaign rally in Montana.

"Ronnie Jackson, he's a doctor, he's an admiral. He's actually the doctor that gave me my physical. And he said that I'm in great shape.

"And the Democrats and liberals, and deep state, they were very upset to hear that. So they got tougher and tougher, and they lied more, and they write more books now."

I guess he deserves some credit for creativity?

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