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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.11.19

06/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Capitol Hill: "The House approved a resolution Tuesday to authorize the House Judiciary Committee and other panels to go to court to enforce their subpoenas of the Trump administration."

* North Korea: "Kim Jong Nam, the slain half brother of North Korea's leader, was a Central Intelligence Agency source who met on several occasions with agency operatives, a person knowledgeable about the matter said."

* Worth watching: "President Donald Trump appears to be having second thoughts about his choice of Patrick Shanahan as his next secretary of defense and asked several confidants in France last week about alternative candidates, according to four people familiar with the conversations."

* The Justice Department yesterday "offered new insight into what it called a 'broad' and 'multifaceted' review of the origins of the Russia investigation, and sought to assure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Donald Trump would work to protect sensitive intelligence at the heart of it."

* I wonder what he'll say: "President Donald Trump's eldest son will meet with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday behind closed doors, according to two people familiar with the meeting."

* Missouri: "A St. Louis judge issued another order Monday to keep Missouri's only abortion clinic operating while a fight over the facility's license plays out in court."

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Comedian Jon Stewart speaks during a news conference to demand an extension of the Zadroga 9/11 health bill at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 16, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Jon Stewart implores Congress to act on 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

06/11/19 04:11PM

Congress created the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund years ago as a way to help cover the health care costs for those injured or sickened in the attacks. What lawmakers may not have fully appreciated is just how many people would need medical assistance -- especially first responders who suffered ill effects as part of their service. As a result, the fund has struggled to keep pace with claims.

It's now time for lawmakers to reauthorize the entire program, and as a high-profile speaker told a congressional subcommittee this morning, there's no reason this should be difficult.

Comedian Jon Stewart is scolding Congress for failing to ensure that a victims' compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money.

Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out lawmakers for failing to attend Tuesday's hearing on a bill that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years.

"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It's the one thing they're running out of," the former "Daily Show" host said.

Struggling with his emotions, the comedian concluded, "They responded in five seconds -- they did their jobs. With courage, grace, tenacity, humility.... Eighteen years later, do yours."

A standing ovation soon followed.

There is little doubt that a bill to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund will eventually pass. What's so difficult to understand, however, is why this isn't effortless.

Indeed, what I find personally baffling is the fact that this has been needlessly challenging for years.

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For the judiciary, the left borrows a page from the right's playbook

06/11/19 12:52PM

For much of the right, few goals are as important as the federal judiciary. It's why Senate Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat from the Obama White House, and it's why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has all but given up on legislating, preferring instead to confirm one Donald Trump judicial nominee after another.

But just below the surface, there's a whole conservative infrastructure supporting the endeavor. Not only have GOP voters been told repeatedly to prioritize the courts above practically everything else, but there are partisan operatives whose sole focus is on identifying and vetting the "right" jurists, and ensuring they receive lifetime positions on the federal bench.

For the most part, this appears to be a one-sided fight: Democrats are little more than a speed bump for the Senate Republican majority, which has removed effectively every possible impediment to stacking the courts with ideologues.

But the New York Times reported the other day on a progressive initiative that's worth keeping an eye on.

[L]iberal activists, hoping for a chance to offset the growing conservative presence in the courts, have identified a pool of potential judicial vacancies that could remain out of Mr. Trump's reach -- scores of seats held by veteran judges appointed by Democrats who may be biding their time, awaiting the outcome of the 2020 presidential race. [...]

Anticipating that at least some of those long-serving judges named by Democrats would step aside once a president more to their ideological liking took office, liberal judicial activists have begun a new effort to recommend possible successors who could immediately be funneled into the judicial pipeline. Those successors would not shift the ideological balance of the courts, but like Mr. Trump's young conservatives, they would have staying power.

The project is apparently called the Building the Bench effort, which is being financed by a group of progressive groups, and which is creating an advisory board with likeminded lawyers and law professors.

The Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron, a leading progressive advocate on judicial issues, told the Times the goal is to "start identifying people so the new president won't waste a minute in addressing this need."

That assumes, of course, that there is a new president in Jan. 2021.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.11.19

06/11/19 12:00PM

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

* NBC this morning announced the moderators for the first Democratic presidential primary debate: "Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate, which will take place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami over two nights on June 26-27."

* Former Vice President Joe Biden will campaign in Iowa today, and according to a copy of his prepared remarks shared with the media, the Delaware Democrat will describe Donald Trump as an "existential threat" to the nation's future.

* It took a little longer than expected, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) has apparently crossed the 65,000-donor threshold, guaranteeing her a spot in the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates.

* Over the weekend, Julián Castro became the first Democratic presidential hopeful this cycle to campaign in Flint, Michigan, and yesterday, the Texan laid out his plan for eliminating lead poisoning.

* A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of Massachusetts Democrats found Biden leading the 2020 field with 22% support, followed by home-state Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 10%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was third with 8%, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was fourth with 6%, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 5%, was the only other candidate with backing above 1%.

* Speaking of Buttigieg, the South Bend mayor is scheduled to deliver his first big foreign policy address of his presidential candidacy.

* Former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, considered running again in 2020, but he's apparently decided not to. The Massachusetts Dem told the Washington Post he's "delighted" to see Biden, his friend and former colleague, in the race.

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Ken Cuccinelli talks with supporters while greeting voters at Hanover Precinct 304 at Atlee High School on November 5, 2013 in Mechanicsville, Virginia.

Is Trump skirting the law with Ken Cuccinelli's appointment?

06/11/19 11:20AM

By any sensible measure, Ken Cuccinelli is a very poor choice to oversee the nation's legal immigration system. As we recently discussed, the far-right Virginian -- an intra-party critic of Trump’s before he changed his mind -- has earned a reputation for radicalism on a wide range of issues, including immigration.

And yet, Donald Trump has nevertheless tapped Cuccinelli to serve as the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan announced the move in an email to agency staff Monday, though the mechanics of whether it would include an official nomination were not immediately clear.

In any event, Cuccinelli, head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and a former Virginia attorney general, is expected to take over at least on an interim basis at USCIS, which is responsible for the administration of legal immigration, including dealing with asylum claims, issuing green cards and handling the naturalization process.

Ordinarily, this would be the point at which I start to write about the many reasons Cuccinelli is an awful choice, why he's likely to fail, and how this ties into the larger pattern of the president choosing the wrong people for important posts after seeing them say nice things about him on television.

But as applicable as those points are, this story is a little different. In fact, what was especially notable about the Cuccinelli announcement yesterday was the degree to which it circumvented the law.

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Justin Amash

After impeachment call, Amash parts ways with Freedom Caucus

06/11/19 10:40AM

Nearly a month ago, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) read the Mueller report and came to an important conclusion: Donald Trump "engaged in impeachable conduct." The Michigan Republican became the first member of his party -- in either chamber -- to call for the president's impeachment.

Just two days later, the congressman's ostensible allies in the House Freedom Caucus formally condemned Amash for reaching such a conclusion. According to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), "every single person" in the right-wing group disagreed with Amash's position.

Three weeks later, the Michigan Republican stepped down from the caucus he helped create.

Rep. Justin Amash quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Monday night, weeks after becoming the lone Republican to call for President Donald Trump's impeachment.

The Michigan lawmaker told a CNN reporter that he has "the highest regard for them, and they're my close friends," but he "didn't want to be a further distraction for the group." Amash's decision to step down was confirmed to POLITICO by his office.

All of which brings us back to the question about the purpose of the House Freedom Caucus.

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In this Jan. 31, 1973, file photo, President Richard Nixon speaks at a White House news conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo by AP)

Trump tries to contrast himself with Nixon: 'I don't leave'

06/11/19 10:02AM

At a White House event yesterday, Donald Trump called on a reporter who asked, "Mr. President, some of your allies have said that if Democrats open up an impeachment inquiry, that it could actually help your re-election chances. Do you agree with that?" (I'm not sure who asked this.)

According to the official White House transcript, this was the president's response:

"Well, I hear that too. But you can't impeach somebody when there's never been anything done wrong. We have a no collusion. We have no anything. There's no obstruction. There's no collusion. There's no anything.

"When you look at past impeachments, whether it was President Clinton or -- I guess, President Nixon never got there; he left. I don't leave. There's a big difference. I don't leave."

There was some chatter yesterday that when Trump said, "I don't leave," he may have been referring to his intention to remain in office, even if Congress voted to remove him. In context, that clearly wasn't the message.

Rather, Trump was trying to draw some kind of distinction between himself and Richard Nixon -- as if Nixon were some kind of quitter, which Trump believes he'll never be.

But the truth isn't quite so simple.

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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)

McConnell stands in the way of bipartisan election-security safeguards

06/11/19 09:20AM

The House Democratic majority has had quite a bit of success in recent months advancing many of its top legislative priorities, though the leadership clearly has plenty of additional work to do. Up next is legislation intended to "safeguard our democracy from future attacks."

At first blush, this may seem like an area where bipartisan progress is at least possible. After all, there's nothing inherently partisan or ideological about protecting our system of elections against foreign intrusion -- especially in the wake of the Mueller report, which documented Russia's attack in great detail.

The New York Times reported this week, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has effectively become a "one-man roadblock" on the issue.

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified "election infrastructure vendors." A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

McConnell, the article added, has nevertheless imposed a "blockade."

During a hearing last month, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) conceded that election-security legislation can't move forward because the majority leader insists that the debate "reaches no conclusion."

Blunt made clear that the prospects for any legislative progress on this issue simply do not exist.

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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

Trump's internal polling: good news for Biden, 'devastating' for POTUS

06/11/19 08:40AM

In every major election, there are plenty of polls conducted by major news organizations, which are known as public polls: survey data that's shared with the public. But candidates and parties routinely do their own private polls, the results of which the public usually doesn't see. They're referred to as internal polls: data that's only shared internally within a political operation.

Donald Trump, like every modern president, receives briefings on his team's internal polling, and according to the New York Times, the results at this point don't look great for the incumbent president.

Late at night, using his old personal cellphone number, President Trump has been calling former advisers who have not heard from him in years, eager to discuss his standing in the polls against the top Democrats in the field -- specifically Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom he describes in those conversations as "too old" and "not as popular as people think."

After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win.

The point of the article seemed to relate to the Republican's latest antics. Trump is encouraging people to lie about his political standing, for example, and he's reportedly distracted by trivia.

Indeed, the Times' report added that during a recent overarching state-of-the-race briefing in Florida, aides found it difficult to maintain Trump's interest. The president prefers to focus on "final approval over the songs on his campaign playlist, as well as the campaign merchandise."

And while the behind-the-scenes texture is interesting, I'm far more interested in the fact that Trump's pollster conducted a 17-state poll, the results of which were "devastating" for the president.

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