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GOP voters still question whether Russia targeted US election

07/17/17 11:02AM

About a week ago, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declared with confidence, "Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections." It's a defensible observation -- everybody should know about Russia's attack -- but it's regrettably not true. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shed some interesting light on public attitudes on Donald Trump's Russia scandal.

The Post-ABC poll finds 60 percent of Americans think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, up slightly from 56 percent in April. Some 44 percent suspect Russian interference and think Trump benefited from their efforts. Roughly 4 in 10 believe members of Trump's campaign intentionally aided Russian efforts to influence the election, though suspicions have changed little since the spring.

Americans' views on Russia's role in the election continue to divide along partisan lines. Among Democrats, 8 in 10 believe Russia attempted to influence the election and more than 6 in 10 think members of Trump's team attempted to aid their efforts. But among Republicans, one-third think Russia tried to influence the election outcome, and fewer than 1 in 10 think Trump's associates sought to help them [emphasis added].

This is roughly in line with the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which had results that pointed in a similar direction.

So, when Nikki Haley,says "everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections," she's right -- so long as voters in her own party are excluded from "everybody."

It was the crime of the century, the biggest attack on the United States since 9/11, and the basis for one of the most important political scandals in American history. And yet, eight months after the election, the clear majority of Republican voters -- 55 percent, to be exact -- believe the event did not actually occur.

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Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Press Briefing At White House

HHS's Tom Price wants to roll back the clock on health care

07/17/17 10:30AM

The latest iteration of the Senate Republicans' health care plan includes a provision from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), which would do systemic harm to Americans with pre-existing conditions. ABC News' Jonathan Karl brought up the subject yesterday with HHS Secretary Tom Price, and the Republican's response was probably more candid than he intended.

KARL: There's no doubt there's significant problems with the current system. But if you look at the Republican plan to modify it and replace it, more than 10 medical groups are against it. Thirty-two cancer organizations oppose it. And on Thursday, in a rare joint statement by the biggest insurance companies in the country, called the Cruz Amendment unworkable in any form and warned it would lead to, quote, "widespread terminations of coverage." So, Dr. Price, why this wall of opposition?

PRICE: It's really perplexing, especially from the insurance companies, because all they have to do is dust off how they did business before Obamacare.

Well, yes, I suppose that's true, but it's not much of a selling point. Price, a former far-right congressman before joining the Trump administration, is effectively admitting that he and other Republicans hope to turn back the clock to before the Affordable Care Act took effect.

For Price, the solution is apparently easy: private insurers can simply "dust off" their old policies, back when Americans with pre-existing conditions were screwed.

To a very real extent, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is making the same argument as health-care advocates who oppose the GOP legislation. Patient advocates have insisted that the Republican plan in general, and the Cruz amendment in specific, would return the country to the bad ol' days.

To which Price effectively suggested to a national television audience yesterday, "Yep, that's the plan."

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The wrong president to tout 'Made in America' week

07/17/17 10:00AM

You might have missed "energy week" at the White House. It followed "transportation week." And who can forget the unbridled excitement surrounding "workforce development week," which somehow escaped the nation's attention.

Donald Trump's communications apparatus -- still lacking a communications director -- apparently hopes to convey a sense of purpose and accomplishment with message-specific weeks, which no one actually seems to care anything about. It's not an inherently bad idea -- these little p.r. gimmicks are, in theory, a chance for an administration to highlight its priorities -- but in practice, the undisciplined president tends to shift attention elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Trump World keeps trying. According to the Washington Post, this week is "Made in America" week, which is certainly an issue the president pretends to care about, despite being the wrong messenger for this particular message.

President Trump, whose company outsources the manufacturing of many of its products to overseas factories, is unveiling "Made in America" week at the White House to promote products made in the United States.

In keeping with the "America First" theme of Trump's inauguration, the administration will highlight U.S. manufacturing in the coming week, the latest of its theme weeks orchestrated by aides to bring discipline to the White House and focus Trump's schedule and message on a set of policies.

What this week's events will likely exclude is an exploration of Trump's business practices, which have relied on product manufacturing in "a global network of factories in a dozen countries -- including Bangladesh, China and Mexico."

Trump administration officials hosted a background briefing with reporters yesterday to highlight this week's events. Asked whether the White House intends to comment about the Trump Organization's outsourcing, a spokesperson said, "We'll get back to you on that."

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Trump sees his historically awful public standing as 'not bad'

07/17/17 09:30AM

Donald Trump has convinced himself he's an extraordinary success. His constituents don't seem to agree.

President Trump's standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Approaching six months in office, Trump's overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. Overall, 48 percent say they "disapprove strongly" of Trump's performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling.

To help drive the point home, I put together the above chart, relying on data from Washington Post, ABC News, and Gallup, to show every president's public standing after six months in office since the dawn of modern American polling. Trump isn't just unpopular; he's unpopular in ways we haven't seen in modern times.

But that's not new. What is new is the president commenting on his woefully weak public support.

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A secret service agent keeps a watch in Vista, Calif. on May 22, 2016. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

Trump's lawyer makes a curious argument about the Secret Service

07/17/17 09:00AM

Jay Sekulow, one of Donald Trump's top attorneys working on the Russia scandal, appeared on all five Sunday morning public-affairs shows yesterday, mostly sticking to a fairly predictable script. The Republican lawyer, for example, accused former FBI director James Comey of having "illegally leaked information," which isn't true, and added that opposition research "is not a thing of value," which is absurd.

But on ABC's "This Week," Sekulow raised a point I hadn't heard before. Referring to the controversial June 2016 meeting between members of Trump's inner circle, a Kremlin-linked lawyer, and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, Sekulow said:

"I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me."

That's an odd thing to say. In Sekulow's mind, it was up to the Secret Service to intervene and prevent "nefarious" meetings from taking place between Trump campaign officials and foreign nationals? Is this some sort of new buck-passing argument?

In a statement released yesterday, a spokesperson for the Secret Service said Donald Trump Jr., who helped organize the meeting in order to receive campaign information from the Russian government, did not have a protective detail at the time. "Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016," the statement said. "Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016. (Photo by  Carlo Allegri/Reuters )

Trump again blurs the line between his office and his business

07/17/17 08:30AM

There's reason to believe Donald Trump takes the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament seriously, and not because he's a fan of the game. USA Today reported last week, for example, that Trump allegedly threatened to sue the U.S. Golf Association if it moved the event from the club he owns in Bedminster, N.J.

It's against this backdrop that the president used his Twitter account to heavily promote the tournament, starting with this tweet on Friday morning:

"Left Paris for U.S.A. Will be heading to New Jersey and attending the #USWomensOpen, their most important tournament, this afternoon."

From there, Trump tweeted about the U.S. Women's Open again and again and again and again and again. He let American know that the event would be "very exciting" and he'd personally be in attendance.

In all, over the course of 48 hours, Trump used his social-media bullhorn to promote the golf tournament six times -- effectively doing commercials for an event held at a private club he continues to own and profit from.

And then once the tournament was over, the president published a seventh tweet on the subject, congratulating the winner.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks to reporters at Trump Tower, Nov. 29, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

It's not just the Russia scandal: Pence lies about health care, too

07/17/17 08:00AM

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) could barely contain his frustration over the weekend. "[T]here is real evil in the epidemic rate of lying that is going on right now," the Connecticut senator wrote, pointing to the latest comments from Vice President Mike Pence. "This is not normal."

We've unfortunately reached a point in contemporary politics where a quote like that, in isolation, needs some clarification -- because Mike Pence says untrue things about a great many things.

The far-right vice president, for example, has been caught making all kinds of demonstrably false claims about Donald Trump and the Russia scandal, but the latest controversy surrounds Pence's mendacious rhetoric on health care, starting with a speech to the National Governors Association. The Washington Post reported that Pence singled out Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), arguing that Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act in the Buckeye State has caused widespread problems.

"I know Governor Kasich isn't with us, but I suspect that he's very troubled to know that in Ohio alone, nearly 60,000 disabled citizens are stuck on waiting lists, leaving them without the care they need for months or even years," said Pence.

The waiting lists Pence referred to apply to Medicaid's home and community-based services, and have not been affected by the program's expansion under the ACA. States have long had waiting lists for these services, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's executive vice president, Diane Rowland, noted that waiting lists in non-expansion states are often longer than in expansion states, which currently receive a 95 percent federal match for their newly covered beneficiaries.

Kasich's office explained that the vice president's claims are "not accurate," and are "the opposite of what actually happened." The governor's press secretary added, "That's what we call #fakenews."

Pence's office said in response that he wasn't trying to connect Medicaid expansion and the waiting lists, but that, too, wasn't true.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.14.17

07/14/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Muslim ban: "A federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday ruled that the U.S. government cannot apply a key part of President Donald Trump's so-called 'travel ban' to bar entry of grandparents and some other relatives of people legally in the country."

* Legal shake-up: "President Donald Trump is adding to his growing roster of lawyers handling investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, NBC News confirmed Friday. Veteran Washington lawyer Ty Cobb is the latest to join the president's legal team, a White House official said."

* On a related note: "The National Law Journal reported Friday that Jamie Gorelick will no longer represent [Jared] Kushner in the Russia investigation and that Abbe Lowell, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, will be Kushner's main counsel on those matters."

* Striking new details: "Peter W. Smith, a Republican political activist and financier from Chicago who mounted an effort to obtain former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers, died on May 14 after asphyxiating himself in a hotel room in Rochester, Minn., according to local authorities. He was 81 years old."

* Desiree Fairooz: "The activist who was convicted of disrupting Congress after laughing during a confirmation hearing for now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had her conviction thrown out by a District of Columbia Superior Court judge on Friday."

* The White House is considering a plan that would return some Russian compounds in the U.S. to Putin's government. Sebastian Gorka said, "We want to give collaboration and cooperation a chance."

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A Madison County election worker checks a voter's identification against a voting poll list before allowing him to vote in the party primary in Madison, Miss., June 3, 2014.

Trump's voting commission already failing to protect private info

07/14/17 04:47PM

After Donald Trump, still annoyed about losing the popular vote, created a ridiculous "voter integrity" commission, a public-comment process began, offering Americans an opportunity to submit their thoughts on the panel's work.

And as it turns out, plenty of voters aren't pleased. The White House released a lengthy document this morning, showing some of the initial American reactions to Trump's absurd project, some of which aren't suitable for publication on a family blog. "You are evil. Pray there is no hell," one concerned citizen wrote. "You're a disgusting fraud with no moral bearing whatsoever," said another.

But what stood out as especially significant is how Trump World chose to release that information to the public. From the NBC News report:

When the panel released the public comments, some of them included voters' phone numbers and email addresses.

The problem isn't that the White House published the submissions from the public-comment process. Rather, the problem is the White House didn't do any redactions.

If you weighed in on the commission's work, and you included any personal information, Trump's panel just released those details to anyone who cares to look.

There is a certain irony to this.

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