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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Ignoring his own record, Hatch complains of 'dumbass' Supreme Court antics

08/02/18 12:47PM

As the fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination continues to take shape, the ongoing dispute is over something seemingly mundane: reviewing documents from his professional background as part of the Senate's vetting process.

Democrats want access to Kavanaugh's work as the White House staff secretary in George W. Bush's West Wing, while Republicans, for reasons they haven't fully explained, have said those materials should be off-limits.

Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) decided not only to whine about Senate Dems' appeals, he also took partisan hypocrisy to levels rarely seen, even by contemporary standards.

"We can't keep going down this partisan, picky, stupid, dumbass road that has happened around here for so long. I am sick and tired of it to be honest with you and I'm tired of the partisanship." [...]

"Frankly, we didn't treat their candidates for these positions, the way they are treating ours. I would like to see us hopefully break through and change that," Hatch said.

The retiring Utah Republican was, as best as I can tell, not kidding. Hatch acted as if his complaints had real merit.

For now, let's put aside the oddity of the longtime GOP senator, who has complained about the decline of "decorum" in the chamber, using the word "dumbass" a bit too often.

Instead, let's take a quick stroll down memory land to a time Orrin Hatch has conveniently forgot. It's an era popularly known as "two years ago."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.2.18

08/02/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Primary Day in Tennessee, and the race to watch is probably the Republicans' gubernatorial contest. (As for why Tennessee's primaries are on Thursdays, instead of Tuesdays, it's been in the state Constitution since 1796 and no one seems to know why.)

* A federal judge yesterday barred Michigan from enforcing a ban on straight-ticket voting. The Republican-imposed policy, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain concluded, was designed to "intentionally discriminate" against African Americans.

* And speaking of the Wolverine State, now that Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement this week cleared the way for an anti-gerrymandering proposal to appear on the statewide ballot this year, the Michigan Republican Party may try to replace her. As the Detroit Free Press reported, Clement, an appointee of Gov. Rick Snyder (R), "must seek election in November for a full eight-year term." That won't happen if GOP officials reject her at their convention next month.

* In Massachusetts, where, Rep. Mike Capuano is facing an increasingly competitive Democratic primary against Ayanna Pressley, a new WBUR poll shows the incumbent lawmaker ahead, 48% to 35%.

* In an unfortunate new attack ad, the far-right Club for Growth is airing a spot in Missouri going after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) for a domestic-violence allegation against her husband from a previous marriage.

* Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) helped write a bipartisan education measure, which Donald Trump is poised to sign into law. But at the signing ceremony, the president will be joined by each of the bill's original sponsors, except Casey, who wasn't invited. Trump will be in Pennsylvania today to campaign for Casey's opponent, Rep. Lou Barletta (R).

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White House confirms interest in a new tax cut for the wealthy

08/02/18 11:21AM

Earlier this week, the New York Times  reported that the Trump administration is weighing a policy shift that would "grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy," and administration would create the policy while bypassing Congress. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed yesterday that Donald Trump "has asked the Treasury Department to take a look into it."

She added, "This is something that has a lot of support from various people."

And while that was hilariously vague, it'd be great to hear from some of these "various people," because for the rest of us, the president's plan is an awfully tough sell. The Washington Post's Matt O'Brien made the case yesterday that the new tax cut Trump has in mind "makes no sense."

President Trump campaigned as a different kind of Republican who would raise taxes on the rich so much that it was going to "cost" him "a fortune." So, of course, he's considering a plan that would almost exclusively give a near-exclusive tax cut to the wealthy investors who came out way ahead on his last tax plan -- and this time he'd even bypass Congress to do it.

Nothing says populism like giving billionaires a tax cut by executive fiat.

O'Brien went on to explain that the idea behind the gambit may be to spur increased investments, all of the evidence from recent years helps prove those investments simply don't materialize.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, meanwhile, estimates that 86% of the benefits of this plan, if implemented, would go to the top 1% of U.S. households -- a group of extremely wealthy people who really don't need yet another tax break.

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As Trump blasts NATO, senators from both parties do damage control

08/02/18 10:40AM

Earlier this week, at a brief press conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Donald Trump seemed oddly eager to blast NATO, insisting that the military alliance "was essentially going out of business," adding, "It was going down, down, down." None of what the American president said was true. He didn't appear to care.

A week earlier, Trump made a series of false claims about NATO during remarks to steelworkers in Illinois, where he complained bitterly about the alliance at a speech that wasn't supposed to have anything to do with foreign policy. Two weeks before that, the Republican president questioned the value of the NATO alliance's core principles during a Fox News interview.

Under the circumstances, it's easy to imagine the United States' allies questioning our commitment to NATO, given Trump's overt and difficult-to-understand hostility toward the successful international partnership. As the Associated Press reported, a bipartisan group of senators hosted a private meeting yesterday "to reassure diplomats from NATO and other European nations of the Senate's support for the alliance."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who helped initiate the meeting, said lawmakers wanted to "reassure these countries of our commitment to NATO and our commitment to their security." [...]

Participants said the meeting involved around 20 senators plus ambassadors and other representatives from around nine nations. That included diplomats from Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, Norway, Finland and NATO's newest member, Montenegro.

I suspect the gathering was at least somewhat reassuring, but we're again faced with a difficult foreign policy dynamic in which our allies no longer know whom to listen to: the American president or American officials who keep downplaying the relevance of our amateur president's strange antics.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his Topeka, Kan., office, Aug. 1, 2013. (Photo by John Hanna/AP)

Kansas' Kobach accused of running a lucrative national 'sham'

08/02/18 10:04AM

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) recently generated national headlines in the wake of some humiliating legal defeats, but as it turns out, the Kansas Republican's losing streak started several years ago. If you haven't seen this investigative report from the Kansas City Star and ProPublica, it's a doozy.

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Missouri. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town's hardline anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his "victory" there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But "victory" isn't the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach's work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them. But after two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants there -- something that was already illegal under federal law. The town's attorney can't recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

Grant Young, a former mayor of Valley Park, characterized Kobach's attitude as, "Let's find a town that's got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let's drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time."

It was quite a scheme. Kobach, before his rise to national prominence as a far-right opponent of voting rights and illegal immigration, would go from community to community, urging local officials to pass anti-immigration ordinances. He focused his energies on "small, largely white municipalities overwhelmed by real or perceived demographic shifts," where his message fell on fertile ground.

Kobach pitched proposals that made it effectively impossible for undocumented immigrants to live or work in the area. When local officials agreed, and the ordinances faced legal challenges, Kobach would make himself available to defend the local laws in court.

The results were disastrous for everyone involved -- except Kobach. Local communities ended spending money they couldn't afford to defend bad anti-immigration laws, which they didn't really need, and which kept failing in the courts.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani comments on a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision outside Los Angeles Superior court in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani's misplaced challenge to Mueller: 'Put up or shut up'

08/02/18 09:20AM

As part of his curious defense of his client in the Oval Office, Rudy Giuliani has said all kinds of strange things, at times making things worse for the president. But yesterday's rhetoric was especially odd, even by Giuliani standards.

Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for President Donald Trump and former mayor of New York City, on Wednesday called for special counsel Robert Mueller to wrap up his investigation on Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.

"We believe the investigation should be brought to a close," Giuliani told reporters.

"Put up or shut up," the president's lawyer added.

That's the sort of phrase one might use if the special counsel, after 15 months of investigating, had turned up nothing of legal significance. Federal probes often take time, and it's best to be patient as the investigatory process unfolds, but if Robert Mueller hadn't even secured a grand jury indictment after more than a year of effort, it would stand to reason a defense attorney might say, "Put up or shut up."

The trouble is, reality tells a very different story. Mueller has, at last count, indicted 32 people and three businesses. He's also secured a series of guilty pleas, including one from Donald Trump's disgraced former White House national security advisor.

What's more, while Giuliani was making these comments, the criminal trial of Paul Manafort -- who led Trump's political operation in 2016 -- was underway, following charges brought by the special counsel.

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attends a Penn. campaign kickoff event held on N.Y. presidential primary night at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

Fresh evidence suggests Ted Cruz could lose his re-election race

08/02/18 08:40AM

Partisan control of the U.S. House is very much up for grabs in 2018, but the Senate map is far more complex. On the surface, the arithmetic may appear favorable to Democrats -- the current Republican majority of 51 seats couldn't be much smaller -- but below the surface, it's more complex.

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."

Part of the issue is the tiny number of vulnerable GOP incumbents. In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller (R) is, by any fair measure, the most endangered of the senators up this year, but finding another Senate Republican who's in trouble is extremely difficult.

Or is it? Consider the latest polling news out of Texas.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz holds a 6-point lead over Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke in the Texas Senate race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.

Cruz had the support of 49 percent of respondents, compared to 43 percent for O'Rourke, with just 6 percent undecided, according to the poll. That's a slightly tighter race than in May, when Quinnipiac showed Cruz with an 11-point lead.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in his analysis, "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead. Congressman Beto O'Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive."

And while I'm generally loath to make too big a fuss about individual polls, especially at this point in the cycle, let's also note that Texas Lyceum also released a poll yesterday and it found Cruz's lead over O'Rourke at just two points.

The same results found Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) up by 16 points over his Democratic challenger, suggesting the Texas Lyceum sample wasn't tilted against the GOP.

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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)

Trump-aligned pastor inexplicably praises president as 'pro-black'

08/02/18 08:00AM

Just last week, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyers and personal "fixer," released an audio recording from the campaign season, featuring a candid chat with the future president about a possible payment involving one of Trump's former alleged mistresses. But that wasn't the only thing on the tape.

We also heard part of a behind-the-scenes conversation in which the then-candidate talked about using Darrell Scott, a Christian pastor associated with the Republican campaign in 2016, for purposes that weren't altogether clear in the recording. There was no ambiguity, however, about Trump's sentiment: he saw the conservative Ohio pastor as an ally.

With this recent history in mind, Scott was at the White House yesterday for a roundtable discussion with nearly 20 inner city pastors and faith leaders, where he used rhetoric that no doubt made the president happy, but which is difficult to take seriously.

The largely pro-Trump group present at the public event praised the president for his efforts on criminal justice reform and the economy. "This is probably the most pro-active administration regarding urban America and the faith-based community in my lifetime," said Scott, a Trump surrogate during the 2016 campaign.

"This president actually wants to prove something to our community, our faith-based community and our ethnic community. The last president didn't feel like he had to. He got a pass," he added, referring to President Obama. "This is probably going to be ... the most pro-black president I've seen in my lifetime."

As best as I can tell, this wasn't a joke. The pastor actually expected people to believe what he was saying.

That would be a mistake.

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Mueller's prosecutors may save Gates for second Manafort trial

Mueller's prosecutors may save Gates for second Manafort trial

08/01/18 09:27PM

Among the developments on Day 2 of the criminal trial of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is that the prosecution may not call Rick Gates, Manafort's former assistant, as a witness. Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, and Josh Gerstein, Justice Department correspondent for Politico discuss this and the outsize... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.1.18

08/01/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump's latest legal defeat: "A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that the Trump administration may not withhold federal funds from California's immigrant-friendly 'sanctuary' cities and counties."

* Speaking of courtrooms, the second day of Paul Manafort's trial was pretty lively.

* Trade war: "President Trump has instructed his top trade representative to consider imposing a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion in Chinese imports, a stiffer penalty than previously proposed, senior administration officials said Wednesday."

* Following up on a story we talked about yesterday: "A federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday to stop the release of blueprints to make untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic guns, saying they could end up in the wrong hands."

* Team Mueller outsources another case: "Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York who are already handling the case against President Trump's former lawyer, according to multiple people familiar with the cases."

* A diplomatic breakthrough in northeastern Africa: "Eritrea and Somalia plan to establish diplomatic relations, their presidents said on Monday, the latest sign of thawing relations across the Horn of Africa following Eritrea's rapprochement with Ethiopia."

* Mark Warner is starting a worthwhile conversation: "The Senate's best-known tech magnate and top Intelligence Committee Democrat has identified a set of 20 legislative proposals to combat the proliferation of disinformation campaigns on social media platforms, as the panel prepares to scrutinize the practices of such companies in hearings over the next several weeks."

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