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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.23.19

07/23/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The final vote on this was 97 to 2: "The Senate passed a bill Tuesday to ensure a fund to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks never runs out of money -- and that first responders won't have to return to Congress to plead for more funding. The vote came after intense lobbying from ailing 9/11 first responders -- including one who died shortly after testifying before Congress last month."

* Best of luck to the new prime minister: "Boris Johnson faces perhaps the most daunting immediate challenge of any incoming British prime minister since Winston Churchill during World War II."

* Some 11th-hour drama: "One of former special counsel Robert Mueller's longtime aides will appear alongside him during his highly-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, a spokesperson said Tuesday, but is not expected to be sworn in."

* Cesar Sayoc: "The man who mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and supporters of liberal causes before the 2018 midterms is a steroid-addicted sexual abuse survivor who 'found light in Donald J. Trump,' federal defenders representing him say." Their memo also pointed Sayoc being influenced by Fox News.

* 35 doesn't sound like a lot: "More than 2,000 migrants who were in the United States illegally were targeted in widely publicized raids that unfolded across the country last week. But figures the government provided to The New York Times on Monday show that just 35 people were detained in the operation."

* EPA: "The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general will investigate allegations that William L. Wehrum, the agency's former air quality chief, violated ethics rules when he met with former clients from his days as a lawyer and lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries."

* No good can come of this: "President Donald Trump recently spoke to top House Intelligence Republican Devin Nunes about replacements for the country's intelligence chief -- the latest sign that Dan Coats' tenure may be short-lived."

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump adds yet another lobbyist to his cabinet

07/23/19 02:57PM

James Mattis' original plan was to serve as Donald Trump's Defense secretary through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, choose a nominee, and create the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

As regular readers may recall, the president blew up that plan when someone told him what Mattis said in the resignation letter Trump hadn't bothered to read.

What followed was months of unprecedented upheaval at the Pentagon, which took a step closer to resolution with the confirmation of Mattis' successor.

It took seven months, but President Donald Trump finally has a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense.

Mark Esper, an Army veteran and former defense industry lobbyist, won Senate confirmation Tuesday by a vote of 90-8. He was to be officially sworn in by the end of the day, ending the longest period the Pentagon has gone without a confirmed leader in its history.

The final Senate roll call on Esper's nomination is here. Of the eight "no" votes, all were from Democrats, five of whom are running for president. (Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to support the nominee.)

It's undoubtedly a good thing that the Defense department finally has a confirmed cabinet secretary, though there is one part of Esper's background that often goes overlooked:

The new Pentagon chief is a former lobbyist for a major defense contractor. In fact, Esper was a lobbyist for Raytheon as recently as 2017, and by some accounts, he'll have to recuse himself from Trump administration negotiations with Turkey that would affect his former employer.

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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)

Why Graham will call a former Trump campaign adviser to testify

07/23/19 12:46PM

The contrasts between Congress' Judiciary committees are quite striking. Tomorrow, for example, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller will appear before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, where he'll presumably shed light on his lengthy investigation into the Russia scandal.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, there's the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently conceded he hadn't even read the Mueller report. The South Carolina Republican, who's up for re-election next year, added that he's "done" evaluating the findings.

Asked in a recent interview about evidence of Donald Trump possibly having committed obstruction of justice, Graham said, more than once, "I don't care."

That's not to say, however, that the GOP senator is prepared to direct his attention elsewhere. Graham's still interested in the scandal; he just wants to approach it from a more partisan direction.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he plans to call former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to testify as part of a "deep dive" into the early stages of the FBI probe into Russian election interference.

"The committee will be looking at the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. We will call Papadopoulos and we will find out what happened," Graham said at the start of a hearing Tuesday with FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Graham said that the panel would conduct a "deep dive into 2016 surveillance by the FBI," reiterating plans he has long had to investigate the origins of the Russia probe.

Or put another way, Graham cares about the Russia scandal the same way Attorney General Bill Barr does.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.23.19

07/23/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll found, "[B]y a 53%-to-39% margin, Americans said they would definitely vote against" Donald Trump in 2020.

* That said, the same poll showed the president's approval rating inching higher, reaching 44%.

* Things have been a little quiet on the congressional-endorsement front lately, but yesterday, Joe Biden (D) picked up an important new supporter: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, threw her backing behind the former vice president.

* Speaking of Biden, the Delaware Democrat is unveiling a new criminal-justice agenda today, which would, ironically, undo some of the provisions of the 1994 crime bill he helped author during his time in the Senate.

* Unionized employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign have reached a new labor agreement with management, including raises for field organizers.

* In Louisiana, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R) reportedly pledged to serve no more than three terms before getting elected in 2014, but he officially filed for a fourth yesterday. The Republican congressman is also running for governor this year.

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) yesterday published a new warning about a looming economic disaster, though her reasoning wasn't as strong as it could've been.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

As Mueller prepares to testify, Trump flubs every relevant fact

07/23/19 11:20AM

During a brief Q&A on Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Donald Trump if he planned to watch Robert Mueller's congressional testimony. "No, I don't," the president replied. "I don't.... No, I won't be watching Muller."

Asked yesterday if he's "worried" about what the former special counsel might say, Trump said, "No, I'm not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller."

Well, that certainly cleared things up.

The president quickly added:

"We had no collusion, no obstruction. We had no nothing. We had a total 'no collusion' finding. The Democrats were devastated by it. They went crazy. They've gone off the deep end. They're not doing anything. [...]

"And Robert Mueller, I know he's conflicted -- he had a lot -- there's a lot of conflicts that he's got, including the fact that his best friend is Comey. But he's got conflicts with me, too. He's got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI Director. He didn't get it. And we had a business relationship where I said, 'No.' And I would say that he wasn't happy. Then, all of a sudden, he gets this position. But you know what? He still ruled -- and I respect him for it -- he still ruled 'no collusion, no obstruction.'"

It's not easy to pack this many lies into 90 seconds of rhetoric, but when it comes to deceiving the public, Trump gets a lot of practice.

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

As his boasts are debunked, Trump gets defensive over border-wall failure

07/23/19 10:50AM

Donald Trump's claims about a border wall are among his strangest lies. For months, the president has insisted that he and his administration have expanded a physical barrier along the U.S./Mexico border, and those rascally fact-checkers who say otherwise are not to be believed.

The Republican has even instructed his followers at various rallies to stop chanting, "Build the wall," and start chanting, "Finish the wall." Implicit in the directions is the idea that Trump has already made great progress in completing his goal.

In reality, he hasn't. The Washington Examiner, a conservative online outlet, reported over the weekend that the administration "has not installed a single mile of new wall in a previously fenceless part of the U.S.-Mexico border in the 30 months since President Trump assumed office."

The Examiner added, "In a statement last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency overseeing border barrier construction, confirmed that all the fencing completed since Trump took office is 'in place of dilapidated designs' because the existing fence was in need of replacement."

It's not complicated: old barriers have, in some cases, been replaced with new barriers, but the parts of the border in which there was no structure separating the two countries haven't changed since Trump took office.

And that's apparently led the president to try to move the goalposts a bit. Here was his tweet on the subject last night:

"When we rip down and totally replace a badly broken and dilapidated Barrier on the Southern Border, something which cannot do the job, the Fake News Media gives us zero credit for building a new Wall. We have replaced many miles of old Barrier with powerful new Walls!"

And this was the follow-up this morning:

"When an old Wall at the Southern Border, that is crumbling and falling over, built in an important section to keep out problems, is replaced with a brand new 30 foot high steel and concrete Wall, the Media says no new Wall has been built. Fake News! Building lots of Wall!"

Trump is playing a tiresome little game in which he wants to apply his own creative definition of the word "wall" -- and the word "new."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Despite reality, Trump denies the existence of 'racial tension'

07/23/19 10:12AM

Over the weekend, Fox News' Chris Wallace conducted an interesting interview with the White House's Stephen Miller, and the host described what he sees as the core problem with Donald Trump and the issue of race.

"It's when he goes into stoking racial fears," Wallace said of the president. "I've never called any of his tweets racist, but there's no question that he is stoking racial divisions."

Trump offered a very different perspective yesterday, when a reporter asked him specifically about whether he's "stoking racial tensions." The Republican replied:

"No, I don't think — no, no, no racial tension. No, no, there's no racial tension.

"Look, I had my best numbers recently, and it's because of the economy and what I've done for the African American.... We have fantastic relationships with the African-American community. I think you'll see that. Certainly, you're going to see that in 2020, I believe."

I should note that the phrase "done for the African American" is how the president's words were officially transcribed by the White House. If you watch the clip, it's what he actually appeared to say.

Stepping back, there are a couple of problems with Trump's assertions. Right off the bat, the idea that Trump has "fantastic relationships with the African-American community" is very difficult to take seriously. Not only has the president been at the center of far too many racist incidents, but a recent poll found his approval rating among black voters at just 13%.

At a rally in August 2016, Trump boasted, "At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over 95 percent of the African-American vote. I promise you."

Now would probably be a good time for him to start lowering his expectations.

As for Trump's confidence that "racial tension" does not exist, there's some striking evidence to the contrary.

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