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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.25.19

07/25/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello "announced his resignation Wednesday days after demonstrators at the island's largest protest in recent history called for his ouster over a scandal involving leaked private chats, as well as corruption investigations and arrests."

* Asylum restrictions: "A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration's latest move to widely restrict asylum for migrants coming to the southern border, according to court documents."

* Oh my: "Sixteen U.S. Marines were arrested Thursday on human smuggling and drug allegations at a base in Southern California, military officials said."

* The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report today "on Russian election interference that found the U.S. election infrastructure was unprepared to combat 'extensive activity' by Russia that began in 2014 and carried on at least into 2017."

* I have a hunch these subpoenas will be ignored, too: "The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted on Thursday to authorize subpoenas for senior White House officials' communications via private email accounts and messaging applications, a significant escalation in a years-long, bipartisan effort to learn more about potential violations of federal record-keeping laws."

* In related news: "The Justice Department will not bring criminal charges against Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after the Democrat-led House voted last week to hold them in contempt."

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

In a blow to Trump, auto manufacturers reach deal with California

07/25/19 01:00PM

When it comes to pollution standards, this isn't the news the Trump administration wanted to see.

Four automakers from three continents have struck a deal with California to produce more fuel-efficient cars for their U.S. fleets in coming years, undercutting one of the Trump administration's most aggressive climate policy rollbacks.

The compromise between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America came after weeks of secret negotiations and could shape future U.S. vehicle production, even as White House officials aim to relax gas mileage standards for the nation's cars, pickup trucks and SUVs.

While the original plan involved Trump administration officials negotiating with California, some of the leading auto manufacturers ended up quietly going around the White House and talking to Sacramento directly. Now, as the Washington Post's report added, the industry is hoping the administration will join the deal it failed to negotiate.

If you're new to this story, let's review how we got here. To address the climate crisis, the Obama administration created tough fuel-efficiency standards for the auto industry, to be phased in gradually.

Manufacturers, not surprisingly, weren't thrilled, but there was a broad realization that the policy, in conjunction with a series of related efforts, would make a positive difference.

Then Donald Trump got elected. Last summer, the Republican White House announced plans to roll back the tougher standards, making it easier for the automotive industry to sell less efficient vehicles that pollute more.

The president assumed he was helping the industry at the expense of the environment – a trade-off Trump was happy to make since he rejects climate science anyway. What the White House didn't anticipate was the fact that auto manufacturers concluded that Trump's anti-climate plans went too far.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.25.19

07/25/19 12:00PM

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

* In an unexpected announcement, Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) said this week that he's retiring from Congress after just two terms. Michigan's 10th district is heavily Republican -- Donald Trump won it by more than 30 points -- and the GOP is all but certain to keep the seat.

* Quinnipiac released a new poll out of Ohio this morning, and it found that of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, only former Vice President Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in a hypothetical match-up. In the Buckeye State, Biden leads the president by eight points, 50% to 42%, while the other Dems either tie or narrowly trail Trump.

* On a related note, the same poll found Biden leading the Democratic pack in Ohio with 31%, followed by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 14% each. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is right behind them with 13%.

* One other tidbit of note in Quinnipiac's Ohio poll: Rep. Tim Ryan (D), who's also running for president, finished with just 1% support. Given that Ohio is his home state, that's not a great sign.

* Several of the top Democratic presidential contenders were in Detroit yesterday for the national NAACP convention.

* Incidentally, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R), who's challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, also spoke at the NAACP convention, where he described the president as a "raging racist."

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Why we've seen three presidential vetoes in four months

07/25/19 11:22AM

With his party firmly in control for the first two years of his presidency, Donald Trump's veto pen gathered dust. That's no longer the case.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday vetoed a trio of congressional resolutions aimed at blocking his administration from bypassing Congress and selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month cited threats from Iran as a reason to approve the $8.1 billion arms sale to the two U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, which are enemies of Tehran.

But Trump's decision in May to sell the weapons in a way intended to bypass congressional review infuriated lawmakers. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate banded together to introduce resolutions to block the weapons sale in what was viewed as a bipartisan pushback to Trump's foreign policy.

Trump's first-ever veto came in mid-March, after Congress balked at the White House's emergency declaration on border-barrier construction. A month later, Congress also voted to end U.S. involvement in Yemen's civil war, pushing back against the administration's support for Saudi Arabia's military campaign.

And then earlier this month, Congress approved -- with bipartisan majorities -- a measure to block an arms deal that would benefit Saudi Arabia. Trump approved the deal without lawmakers' approval in May, citing "emergency" circumstances that were more than a little dubious.

Predictably, Congress failed to override Trump's first two vetoes, and we're likely to see the same thing happen again following yesterday's developments. But that doesn't mean the vetoes are unimportant.

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Trump pretends Mueller didn't say he could face post-presidency charges

07/25/19 10:51AM

For the most part, when former Special Counsel Robert Mueller fielded questions from congressional Republicans, there wasn't much of value for the public to learn. In one especially farcical instance, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) complained that the Mueller report didn't have as many references to Fox News as she would've liked.

But there were exceptions. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), for example, asked the former special counsel, "Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?" Mueller replied, "Yes."

Taken aback, Buck asked again, "You believe that you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?" Again, Mueller replied, "Yes."

During a brief Q&A with reporters on the South Lawn yesterday afternoon, it seemed Donald Trump didn't fully understand the testimony. NBC News' Hallie Jackson asked the president whether he's concerned about a possible indictment after leaving office. Trump threw a little tantrum.

"[Mueller] did a correction later on in the afternoon. And you know what that correction was, and you still asked the question. Do you know why? Because you're fake news. And you're one of the most.

"And let me just tell you, the fact that you even asked that question, you're fake news. Because you know what? He totally corrected himself in the afternoon."

Mueller did not totally correct himself in the afternoon, probably because there was nothing to correct. He was right about this the first time.

The more Trump was presented with reality, the more he resisted it, saying over and over again that Mueller didn't say that Trump could be charged after leaving office, reality be damned. The more he was patiently presented with the truth, the more the president stubbornly refused to believe it.

Trump insisted -- three times -- that the reporter should "read his correction," which led Jackson to again explain that Mueller's "correction" had nothing to do with whether Trump could be charged after leaving office.

Either unwilling or unable to understand these rather simple details, the Republican eventually said, "That's why people don't deal with you, because you're not an honest reporter."

Trump's ignorance was cringe-worthy, but it struck me as notable for a couple of reasons.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Why Mitch McConnell's striking unpopularity matters

07/25/19 10:00AM

The latest national Fox News poll gauged public attitudes on a variety of prominent political figures, and it's worth noting who finished last.

Donald Trump: 45% favorable, 51% unfavorable
Nancy Pelosi: 39% favorable, 50% unfavorable
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: 34% favorable, 41% unfavorable
Ilhan Omar: 26% favorable, 37% unfavorable
Mitch McConnell: 25% favorable, 47% unfavorable

To a very real extent, conducting national polling on the popularity of first-term congresswomen, seven months into their careers on Capitol Hill, seems a little odd. That said, the president has invested considerable energy into attacking Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar in recent weeks, desperately trying to convince the public that they and their allies are anti-American communists who support terrorism.

And yet, they both have higher favorability ratings than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In recent years, the conventional wisdom in Republican circles has been that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's public standing is so poor, it's effectively toxic. According to a recent book from Cliff Sims, a former aide in Trump's White House, the president told then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a couple of years ago, in reference to Pelosi, "Have you seen her? She's a disaster. Every time she opens her mouth another Republican gets elected."

With this in mind, GOP candidates and campaigns obsessively try to tie Democrats -- even in races that have literally nothing to do with the U.S. House -- to the San Francisco congresswoman.

In the Fox News poll, Pelosi may not be winning any popularity contests, but her favorability rating did reach a new high.

All of which raises the prospect of a new political dynamic.

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks to greet Donald Trump at the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019.

North Korea manages to make Trump's failures even more obvious

07/25/19 09:20AM

Donald Trump boasted to reporters earlier this week about the state of his policy toward North Korea. "[T]here's no missile testing, there's no nothing," the Republican said.

Yeah, about that....

North Korea fired two short-range missiles early Thursday local time, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

South Korea's presidential office said in a statement that "a meticulous assessment by South Korea and the U.S." found both devices were a new type of short-ranged ballistic missile.

This is getting a little embarrassing. In April, about a week after a North Korean missile launch, Trump inexplicably bragged, "There's been no tests. There's been no nothing."

In May, the American president again insisted, "There have been no ballistic missiles going out," which is only true if one overlooks the ballistic missiles North Korea keeps launching.

In June, Trump again said there's been no "ballistic missile testing," despite, you know, all the ballistic missile testing.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the president’s strange rhetoric comes against a backdrop in which John Bolton, his own White House national security adviser, concluded that there’s “no doubt” the North Korean missile launches violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. Soon after, Pat Shanahan, Trump’s then-acting Defense secretary, came to the same conclusion.

Their boss, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to care. It’s worth considering why.

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After Mueller's testimony, Trump concocts an alternate reality

07/25/19 08:40AM

As former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress about the Russia scandal and the federal investigation's findings, one of the day's central themes was simple: dishonesty.

We learned that Donald Trump and his team lied about what transpired in 2016 during the Russian attack on our elections. We learned that the president lied after the Mueller report's completion, falsely telling the public, for example, that the document offered him a "complete and total exoneration."

But in a weird twist, we also learned that Team Trump lied immediately after Mueller wrapped up his testimony. As a Washington Post analysis explained:

Before Robert S. Mueller III's Capitol Hill testimony had ended, President Trump's reelection campaign sent out an email summarizing what the former special counsel said. Or, really, summarizing what they wish he had said.

"MUELLER CONFIRMS: NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, TOTALLY UNPRECEDENTED TREATMENT," the email's headline reads.... According to the email, "Mueller confirmed what we've known from the very beginning: there was NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, and the treatment of President Trump is TOTALLY UNPRECEDENTED."

There was no such "confirmation" from Mueller or anyone else. The events described in the Trump campaign's message were fiction.

The president added in the letter to supporters, "How many times do I have to be exonerated before they stop?"

It was probably a rhetorical question, but I'll take a moment to answer it with a related question: how about once? Perhaps the questions about Trump and the Russia scandal would fade if he were exonerated a single time? Maybe there's reason for public skepticism after Trump's seventh bogus exoneration claim?

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