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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.1.18

11/01/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Time to sign up: "Obamacare open enrollment begins today for the roughly 11 million Americans who buy individual coverage through healthcare.gov or their state exchange. In most states, open enrollment for 2019 Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage runs through Dec. 15."

* The fact that they're "like-minded" is precisely the problem: "White House national security adviser John Bolton on Thursday praised Jair Bolsonaro, the bombastic, far-right nationalist who triumphed in Brazil's presidential election over the weekend, calling him a 'like-minded' partner whose ascent should be seen as a welcome development in the region."

* A good question: "Roger Stone Sold Himself to Trump's Campaign as a WikiLeaks Pipeline. Was He?"

* In related news: "The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee is pursuing a wide-ranging examination of former White House adviser Steve Bannon's activities during the 2016 presidential campaign, three sources familiar with the inquiry told Reuters."

* A case worth watching: "President Trump has agreed to produce portions of his calendar from 2007 and 2008 as part of discovery in a defamation lawsuit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos, according to a proposed court order signed by attorneys for all parties."

* Really? "Carter Page, the former low-tier Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser who has since found himself at the center of multiple investigations into potential ties between Team Trump and Russian officials, has landed a new gig. According to a document reviewed by The Daily Beast and one of his new colleagues, Page is now set to host a talk show on One America News Network, a conservative channel that has attempted to position itself quixotically as a Fox News competitor."

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Larry Kudlow

Top White House official blasts minimum wage as 'terrible' and 'silly'

11/01/18 02:02PM

It's too soon to say with certainty whether Democrats will have any power in the next Congress, but if they do, the party will a have long list of priorities it'll be eager to pursue, including an overdue increase to the federal minimum wage.

Any chance the White House might be willing to compromise on this? Evidently not. The Washington Post  reported on the latest comments from Larry Kudlow, the director of Donald Trump's National Economic Council.

"My view is a federal minimum wage is a terrible idea. A terrible idea," Kudlow said at a Washington Post Live event, adding that raising it would "damage" small businesses by forcing them to face higher payroll costs. Kudlow later called the idea of hiking the federal minimum wage "silly." [...]

Kudlow appeared to also oppose minimum wages at the state and local levels, citing conservative arguments that it constrains business growth by adding to their costs. But he said the federal government shouldn't interfere.

"I would argue against state and local, but that's up to the states and localities," Kudlow said.

In other words, the top voice on economic policy in the White House doesn't believe the current minimum wage should be $7.25; he thinks it should be zero.

And while this is a fairly radical position -- most Americans believe the minimum wage should both exist and be higher than it is now -- it's also in line with what Donald Trump had to say during the 2016 campaign. During one especially memorable Fox News interview, Bill O'Reilly noted there "has to be a federal minimum wage." Trump replied, "There doesn't have to be."

What's more, let's not look past the electoral context of Kudlow's latest comments.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The blurry line between the GOP fringe and the GOP mainstream

11/01/18 12:41PM

On Wednesday, Politico published a piece on the trajectory of the debate over "birthright citizenship." The article said the idea has gone "from the fringe to the Oval Office."

Vocal proponents of ending birthright citizenship acknowledge that view has long been dismissed as a far-right fantasy. [...]

But President Donald Trump has never been cowed by elite opinion....

About a day later, the New York Times ran an unrelated article on the right's vilification of George Soros, which it said has "moved from the fringes to the mainstream." Conspiracy theories about the Hungarian-American financier "were initially confined to the anti-Semitic fringe," the piece added, but they're now peddled by plenty of Republicans -- including the president of the United States.

And while stories like these deserve to be considered as notable in their own right, it's also worth appreciating just how frequently we're confronted with these kinds of stories. If it seems like you frequently see headlines about "____ has moved from the Republican fringe to the Republican mainstream," it's not your imagination.

In fact, it's not limited to the party's policy agenda. Jeff Sessions was considered "a fringe figure" in GOP politics, but Trump made him the attorney general. During his congressional career, Mike Pence earned a reputation as something of a lawmaker on the radical periphery, with a voting record well to the right of House members such as Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, but Trump chose him to be vice president.

Some figures from Breitbart News "labored on the fringes" right up until they secured jobs in the White House. Stephen Miller "spent years on the political fringe" before he started shaping the sitting president's agenda. Mainstream Republicans spent years keeping Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress at arms' length, but he's now a popular figure in the West Wing.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.1.18

11/01/18 12:00PM

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

* In Georgia's gubernatorial race, Stacey Abrams (D) and Brian Kemp (R) had agreed to participate in a debate on Sunday. Then Donald Trump announced plans to campaign for Kemp on Sunday, prompting the Kemp campaign to cancel. Yesterday, Kemp accused Abrams of cancelling, but that appears to have been a rather obvious lie.

* A new Washington Post-Schar School poll of the 69 most competitive U.S. House seats found Democrats with a modest lead over Republicans, 50% to 46%. Two years ago, Republicans prevailed in these same districts by a margin of 15 points.

* Reflecting on his expectations for the midterm elections, Trump told reporters yesterday, "I know we're doing well in the Senate, and it looks like we're doing okay in the House. We're going to have to see."

* As if this week weren't bad enough for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the far-right congressman lost some additional corporate donors yesterday, and confronted a brutal editorial from the Des Moines Register. "In his almost 16 years in Congress, King has passed exactly one bill as primary sponsor, re-designating a post office," it said, adding, "Instead, he spends his time meeting with fascist leaders in Europe and retweeting neo-Nazis." King nevertheless said yesterday he expects to win re-election.

* I know some of the polling looks good for Florida Democrats, but the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo noted again this morning that Republicans appear to be ahead in early voting returns.

* In Indiana's very competitive U.S. Senate race, a new NBC News/Marist poll found Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) leading Mike Braun (R) by a very narrow margin, 48% to 46%.

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If you thought Trump couldn't reach 'a new low,' think again

11/01/18 11:25AM

Some racist ads are subtle, relying on innuendo and nuance. Some racist ads are more overt.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday released a racially divisive political ad that blames Democrats for allowing an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing police officers to stay in the U.S.

The 53-second video, which was pinned to the top of Trump's Twitter feed on Thursday, refers to Luis Bracamontes, who was convicted of, and given the death penalty earlier this year for killing two California police officers in 2014.

Bracamontes had already been twice deported from the United States to Mexico, but he returned illegally. The ad features the convicted killer bragging about his heinous crimes and mocking his victims.

For Donald Trump, this is a partisan matter. "It is outrageous what the Democrats are doing to our Country," the president said in a tweet prompting the ad. The video itself features text that tells views, "Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay. Who else would Democrats let in?"

To the extent that reality has any meaning, Democrats neither let Luis Bracamontes into the United States not allowed him to stay.

But the dishonesty is not at the top of the list of what makes the video offensive. The point, obviously, is the president's effort to divide and terrify. The tool he's chosen to exploit is a video of a Mexican murderer, which is featured alongside random footage of people who might be Hispanic marching and trying to overcome gates.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of the video, "This is just a new low in campaigning. It's sickening." In a tweet directed at Trump. Al Cardenas, the former chair of the Florida Republican Party, wrote, "This ad, and your full approval of it, will condemn you and your bigoted legacy forever in the annals of America's history books."

‏I've seen plenty of people compare Trump's new video to the "Willie Horton" ad from 1988. It's a valid comparison, but I tend to think this new ad is worse.

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Image: Josh Hawley

Missouri's Hawley faces awkward questions about his political operation

11/01/18 10:40AM

As a candidate for statewide office just two years ago, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) ran memorable commercials featuring a bunch of men in suits climbing ladders. It was a compelling metaphor: Hawley complained about ambitious politicians running for offices they don't really care about, only to climb ladders to some higher office.

The Missouri Republican told voters he actually wanted to serve as state attorney general, and voters believed him, handing the young attorney -- he was just 36 on Election Day 2016 -- an easy win.

On the heels of his victory, Hawley publicly denounced "consultants" and "the professional political class" that he said ran Missouri. "Your day is over," he said at the time.

Just eight months after taking office, Hawley formed a U.S. Senate exploratory committee. I can appreciate the fact that ambition and politics go hand in hand, but as we discussed in February, I've never seen a politician go out of his way to promise voters he wouldn't use his office to seek higher office, only to shamelessly break that promise less than a year later.

But what we didn't know until yesterday was how Hawley spent those first eight months as the state attorney general. The Kansas City Star  reported yesterday that just weeks after his swearing in, the Republican brought in a team of political consultants to "help direct the office of the Missouri attorney general."

Hawley's out-of-state political consultants gave direct guidance and tasks to his taxpayer-funded staff, and followed up to ensure the tasks were completed, according to emails, text messages and other records obtained by The Kansas City Star. [...]

As the months went on, Hawley's political consultants flew to Missouri for official events and to meet with the attorney general's staff during work hours in the state Supreme Court building, where the 38-year-old Republican's official office is located.

The campaign-led strategy sessions, which began in January 2017, raised legal and ethical concerns at the time among some of Hawley's employees, who worried about mixing politics with public business. The situation also left them confused about the chain of command.

Among other things, Hawley's out-of-state consultants had input into the state AG's budget, personnel, and the rollout of official initiatives.

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On health care, some Republicans 'are stealing Obama's rhetoric'

11/01/18 10:00AM

At his campaign rally in Florida last night, Donald Trump insisted that Republicans "will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Always. Always." There's no real ambiguity here: the president is brazenly lying about his party and its approach to health care. Lying. Lying.

But it's a familiar deception. GOP officials and candidates have spent the 2018 election season pretending to be progressive champions of the Affordable Care Act's most popular provisions, most notably protections for those with pre-existing conditions. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler has a good piece today on ads from Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), each of whom have boasted to voters about their support for "forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions."

And if that phrasing sounds familiar, it's because that's Barack Obama's line.

[S]ome Republicans are stealing Obama's rhetoric and claiming they will do what the ACA -- which remains largely intact, despite President Trump's efforts -- already does. It's certainly an interesting turnaround. [...]

The irony is rich: After years of trashing Obamacare, these Republicans are now saying they will do what he promised he would if elected president.

This is, of course, well-tread ground. The GOP's efforts to pull off an extraordinary con on health care is one of the year's most striking developments. The fact that some Republicans have begun echoing Barack Obama's script, hoping the public won't know the difference, is simply the capstone to a ridiculous attempt at deception.

But Matt Yglesias raised a related point yesterday that struck me as notable: "The racist and demagogic aspect of the GOP 2018 message is at least honest. The health care message is the most bizarre lying I've ever seen in American politics."

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A U.S. Marine from the First Battalion Eighth Marines Alpha Company looks out as an evening storm gathers above an outpost near Kunjak in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, Feb. 22, 2011. (Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

The future of the war in Afghanistan takes shape under new general

11/01/18 09:20AM

Gen. Scott Miller, only two months into his tenure as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sat down with NBC News and addressed his strategy to turn the tide.

"We are more in an offensive mindset and don't wait for the Taliban to come and hit [us]," the general said from his post in Kabul. "So that was an adjustment that we made early on. We needed to because of the amount of casualties that were being absorbed."

But in the same interview, Miller talked about his vision for a resolution to the conflict.

"This is not going to be won militarily," Miller said. "This is going to a political solution."

"My assessment is the Taliban also realizes they cannot win militarily. So if you realize you can't win militarily at some point, fighting is just, people start asking why. So you do not necessarily wait us out, but I think now is the time to start working through the political piece of this conflict."

That assessment makes a lot of sense, but it's hard not to notice that there's some tension between the competing aspects of the general's vision.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump struggles with the basics of birthright citizenship

11/01/18 08:40AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump was asked about his latest criticism of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The president ignored the question and instead addressed the issue that prompted his pointed remarks at the congressional leader.

"Birthright citizenship is a very, very important subject. In my opinion, it's much less complex than people think. I think it says it very loud and clear in the Constitution that you don't have to go through the process of whatever they're talking about."

Wait, "whatever they're talking about"? If the constitutional principle is "much less complex than people think," why can't the president talk about it in a coherent way?

Soon after, Trump headlined another campaign rally in Florida, where he declared, "[T]he Constitution does not -- I say that to the media -- does not require [birthright citizenship] -- read it -- because illegal aliens are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States."

They're not?

The 14th Amendment, enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War, states that everyone "born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." Part of the president's latest push is arguing that non-citizens are not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States, so we need not consider their children Americans, even if those kids are born on American soil.

Of course, as George Conway explained last night, "Were that true, then the government wouldn't be able to arrest [undocumented immigrants]. Surely that's not the president's position. Clearly he has no comprehension of the words he's using."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump does himself no favors with response to synagogue massacre

11/01/18 08:00AM

On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, massacring 11 people. The shooter said he was motivated by his belief in a conspiracy theory: a Jewish financier, the gunman said, is paying for an "invasion" of Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States.

Two days after the attack, Donald Trump publicly endorsed -- twice -- the idea of a migrant "invasion," and four days after the attack, the president lent credence to the idea of a Jewish financier. This was the exchange between Trump and a reporter during a brief White House Q&A yesterday afternoon:

Q: Do you think somebody is funding the caravan? Do you think somebody is paying for the caravan?

TRUMP: I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised.

Q: George Soros? Who's paying for it?

TRUMP: I don't know who. But I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of people say yes.

We're left with the painful realization that the sitting president of the United States has now offered at least some public support for the exact conspiracy theory -- for which there is no evidence -- that drove a madman to commit the deadliest crime against Jewish Americans in the nation's history.

Complicating matters, this isn't the only way in which Trump has badly screwed up the response to the mass shooting in Pittsburgh.

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