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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.12.19

11/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mulvaney: "[I]n a court filing Tuesday, a lawyer for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said he no longer plans to seek a judge's ruling on whether he should testify in the impeachment inquiry and will instead follow Trump's order not to cooperate."

* Bolton: "Former national security adviser John Bolton derided President Donald Trump's daughter and son-in-law during a private speech last week and suggested his former boss' approach to U.S. policy on Turkey is motivated by personal or financial interests, several people who were present for the remarks told NBC News."

* Prisoner swap: "The Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on a prisoner exchange that would free American and Australian professors who were abducted by the insurgents more than three years ago, officials on both sides said Tuesday."

* SCOTUS: "A bare majority of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely Tuesday to let the Trump administration follow through on its plan to shut down DACA, the federal program that has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as 'dreamers,' to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S."

* Turkey in Syria: "Footage captured by U.S. surveillance aircraft over northern Syria has documented several incidents that military officials say may constitute war crimes on the part of Turkish-backed forces there, a U.S. official said."

* Google's doing what? "Google is engaged with one of the U.S.'s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states."

* The Mina Chang story is amazing: "A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background -- even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it -- raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department."

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In this file photo taken on June 29, 2019 (front L-R) Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attend an event on women's empowerment during the G20 Summit

Despite reality, Trump credits Ivanka with creating 14 million jobs

11/12/19 04:00PM

Donald Trump said more than a few ridiculous things in his remarks today to the Economic Club of New York, but the president's claim about one of his adult children was especially jarring.

President Trump claimed Tuesday that his daughter Ivanka Trump -- who is also a White House senior adviser -- has created 14 million jobs, according to Mediaite. "My daughter Ivanka, that's all she wants to talk about... she wants to make these people have great lives. And when she started this, two and half years ago, her goal was 500,000 jobs," the president said at the Economic Club of New York while discussing the administration's "Pledge to America's Workers."

"She has now created 14 million jobs and they are being trained by these great companies, the greatest companies in the world, because the government cannot train them. It's a great thing."

If you watch the video clip, note that the president repeated the line more than once -- and then promoted it on Twitter.

If true, this would be quite an accomplishment for the president's adult daughter, wouldn't it? Donald Trump has already tasked Ivanka Trump for playing key roles in international diplomacy, and he's considered her for powerful positions, including posts at the World Bank and the United Nations.

What we didn't know is that, in addition to these other areas of her portfolio, the young White House official also managed "create 14 million jobs," apparently very quickly.

If true, that would be quite an accomplishment. In reality, however, the claim is not to be taken seriously.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Stone trial testimony sheds new light on Trump, WikiLeaks connections

11/12/19 12:53PM

Just hours after Julian Assange's arrest in April, Donald Trump fielded a question from reporters about the developments. "I know nothing about WikiLeaks," the president replied. "It's not my thing."

Even by Trump standards, this was ridiculously untrue, and the lie led to ample coverage of the Republican's enthusiastic embrace of WikiLeaks when it was disseminating materials stolen by Russia in order to help Trump gain power. The White House tried to spin away the president's obvious falsehood, but it did not go well.

Of course, Trump's dubious claims on the subject weren't limited to his public rhetoric. The president also submitted written responses as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal, and Trump claimed he didn't remember receiving advance word on WikiLeaks disclosures or discussing WikiLeaks with longtime associate Roger Stone.

It's against this backdrop that Stone is now on trial, accused of, among other things, obstructing justice and lying as part of the investigation into Russia's attack on our 2016 elections. And while time will tell what happens to the longtime Republican operative, of greater national significance is what we're learning by way of the trial about Donald Trump. Reuters reported this morning:

The 2016 Trump election campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails potentially damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, reaching all the way to Trump, the Republican's former deputy campaign chairman testified in court on Tuesday.

Rick Gates, testifying in the criminal trial of President Donald Trump's longtime political adviser Roger Stone, said he witnessed a call with Trump and Stone related to WikiLeaks website in July 2016.

Gates, you'll recall, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors while awaiting sentencing in his own criminal case, and as we were reminded this morning, Trump's former deputy campaign chairman has quite a few pertinent details to share on what transpired behind the scenes.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.12.19

11/12/19 12:00PM

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

* With just a few days remaining ahead of Louisiana's runoff gubernatorial election, the latest Mason-Dixon poll found incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) narrowly leading Eddie Rispone (R), 48% to 46%.

* On a related note, some of the attack ads targeting Edwards were so dishonest that local stations pulled the commercials from the airwaves.

* In New Hampshire, Quinnipiac's latest poll found a competitive four-way race in the Democrats' first presidential primary. Joe Biden led the field with 20%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 16%, and Pete Buttigieg at 15%. Bernie Sanders is right behind them with 14%.

* As you may have learned on the show last night, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, and the widow of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), will run in the special election to fill her late husband's vacancy in the U.S. House.

* Though Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) still hasn't conceded after losing last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told a local radio station yesterday that, as far as he's concerned, Bevin "came up short."

* If former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, his plan would apparently include skipping the first four nominating contests. Coincidentally, the last national candidate to try such an approach was Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who failed spectacularly in his 2008 campaign.

* Speaking of candidates considering 11th-hour bids, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) is reportedly now eyeing a 2020 race. For what it's worth, the filing deadline in New Hampshire is Friday.

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Trump waited for the Baghdadi bounce that never arrived

11/12/19 11:30AM

After Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces, George W. Bush saw a boost in his popularity. After Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces, Barack Obama also enjoyed a bump in support. Polls showed the increases were temporary but, at least for a while, quite real.

And with this in mind, it stood to reason that Donald Trump's standing might improve at least a little in the wake of U.S. forces killing ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. So, let's take stock. The day before the Baghdadi announcement, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Republican president's approval rating stood at 42.8%.

Two weeks later, as of this morning, Trump's rating is 41.2%. There have been some minor fluctuations over the 17 days since the Baghdadi announcement, but nothing that anyone could plausibly characterize as a "bump" in the polls.

All of which suggests the developments didn't affect the president's public standing at all. It's worth considering why.

It's obviously speculative, but much of this probably stems from the public's unfamiliarity with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Americans were very familiar with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden for many years, but for the most part, the ISIS founder was not a household name.

Second, it's a rather crowded news environment. While the Baghdadi news generated considerable national coverage, it was announced on a weekend morning, and it wasn't long before attention shifted back to the impeachment crisis dogging Trump and his team.

But part of me also wonders whether the president might have seen a different public reaction if he'd handled the announcement more responsibly.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

GOP arms members with (unpersuasive) impeachment talking points

11/12/19 10:46AM

It was two weeks ago when Donald Trump turned to Twitter to offer some strategic advise to his GOP allies on Capitol Hill. "Rupublicans [sic], go with Substance and close it out!" the president declared with his own unique brand of spelling and capitalization.

By "close it out," Trump seemed to suggest that he and his allies had already won the procedural argument over impeachment; all Republicans -- or "Rupublicans" -- had to do to finish this off was build on this imagined success and knock down the substantive elements of the scandal, too.

With this in mind, Axios and NBC News ran separate reports on a staff memo, circulated among House Republicans on the relevant investigative committees, with four points GOP members are supposed to emphasize as part of the effort to "go with substance."

* The July 25 call summary -- the best evidence of the conversation -- shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure, the memo claims.

* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call, it says.

* The Ukrainian government was not aware of a hold on U.S. security assistance at the time of the July 25 call.

* Trump met with Zelenskiy and U.S. security assistance flowed to Ukraine in September 2019 -- both of which occurred without Ukraine investigating Trump's political rivals, the memo says.

The first point is wrong, rejected by many Republicans, and oblivious to the fact that the scandal is about more than just Trump's July 25 phone meeting with Zelensky. The second point has never made any sense. The third point has been debunked, as has the fourth.

But other than that, it's a great list of talking points.

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DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) listen to speakers during a "United we Dream," rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013.  (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Trump adds Dreamers to his 'no angels' club

11/12/19 10:10AM

When it comes to Dreamers and the young immigrants' fate, Donald Trump has long struggled to maintain some semblance of coherence. At various times, the Republican president has both assured Dreamers that they need not worry about deportation and taken steps to destroy the DACA program that protects them from deportation.

It's against this backdrop that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this morning in a case that will likely determine whether the administration can tear down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The president marked the occasion by publishing a very odd tweet this morning:

"Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from 'angels.' Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!"

It was last month when Trump first admonished our Kurdish allies, arguing that they're "no angels." Evidently, as of this morning, he's adding Dreamers to the same club.

Putting that aside, let's do a little fact checking. Are some of the Dreamers "hardened criminals"? No. As Trump really ought to know, immigrants with significant criminal records are not eligible for the DACA program. Did Barack Obama say he had no legal right to create DACA? No. Trump's peddled this one before, and it's plainly ridiculous.

What I found especially entertaining, though, was what happens when we connect Trump's second sentence with his fourth: the president seemed to argue this morning that some Dreamers are dangerous criminals, whom he'll allow to remain in the United States if Democrats agree to give him what he wants.

As for the terms of the "deal" Trump is eager to make, it's worth remembering how important this detail is to the larger debate. He's spent much of his presidency looking desperately for leverage over Democrats, whom Trump wants to force into giving him deep cuts to legal immigration, among other things.

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Why did so many Trump allies benefit from a lucrative HHS contract?

11/12/19 09:24AM

For much of the country, I imagine Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma is a relatively obscure figure in the Trump administration. She occasionally enters the fray -- pushing Medicaid work requirements, blasting "Obamacare," and making underwhelming political arguments -- but for the most part, Verma is only known to public officials, industry stakeholders, health care wonks, and journalists who follow health care issues closely.

It's against this backdrop that Politico has a new report on eight former members of Donald Trump's operation -- from his campaign, presidential transition team, or White House -- who were paid quite a bit to reportedly work as outside public-relations consultants on Verma's behalf.

They were among at least 40 consultants who worked on a one-year, $2.25 million contract directed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. The contractors were hired to burnish Verma's personal brand and provide "strategic communications" support. They charged up to $380 per hour for work traditionally handled by dozens of career civil servants in CMS's communications department.

The arrangement allowed the Trump allies to cycle through the federal government's opaque contracting system, charging hefty fees with little public oversight or accountability.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the story has been percolating for much of the year. In March, for example, Politico first reported on Verma's agency using federal funds to hire communications consultants who were tasked with writing her speeches and improving her "brand" -- despite the objections of career staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Department of Health and Human Services halted the contracts less than a week after they came to public light.

But the more details emerge, the more significant the controversy appears. Broadly speaking, there are three angles to consider with the story.

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Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky.

On public health rules, Trump's EPA seeks to limit scientific evidence

11/12/19 08:40AM

Since Donald Trump took office, the Republican's Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly downplayed the role of science and evidence in the decision-making process, even on matters of public health. The New York Times reported overnight, however, on the administration's plan to go quite a bit further.

The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.

A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study's conclusions.

Andrew Wheeler, who worked as a coal lobbyist before Trump and Senate Republicans agreed to put him in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently told lawmakers his office's efforts are all about promoting "the highest quality science."

That's certainly one way of looking at it. The other way is to consider the practical implications of what Trump's EPA's is up to. As the Times' report explained, "The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place."

The American Lung Association's Paul Billings told the newspaper, "This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths."

Or as Emily Atkin put it, "The EPA's new science policy means the agency will no longer be able to create public health regulations based on the scientific consensus that air pollution kills people. I know that sounds like it can't be true, but it extremely is."

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As scandal intensifies, Trump resorts to shell game with transcripts

11/12/19 08:00AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump spoke with reporters for a few minutes on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, and he brought up a phone meeting he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in April -- three months before the Republican's controversial "I would like you to do us a favor, though" conversation. The president told reporters:

"Now, they want to have a transcript of the other call, the second call. And I'm willing to provide that. We'll probably give it to you on Tuesday. Monday being a holiday, we'll probably give it to you on Tuesday. But we have another transcript coming out, which is very important. They asked for it, and I gladly give it. [...]

"You'll see the call. Now I'll give you a second transcript, because I actually had two calls with the President of Ukraine. So you'll read the second call and you'll tell me if you think there's anything wrong with it."

Trump echoed the message last night on Twitter, writing, "In order to continue being the most Transparent President in history, I will be releasing sometime this week the Transcript of the first, and therefore most important, phone call I had with the President of Ukraine. I am sure you will find it tantalizing!"

He added this morning, "I will be releasing the transcript of the first, and therefore more important, phone call with the Ukrainian President before week's end!"

Let's take a minute to unpack this, because it's more amusing than Trump seems to realize.

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