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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.12.19

02/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The shutdown deadline is Friday: "President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is 'extremely unhappy' with the bipartisan deal lawmakers reached to avert a government shutdown this week that provides money for a southern border fence, but he vowed to build a border wall anyway."

* Will Trump praise or denounce the violence? "A belligerent man at President Trump's campaign rally on the Texas border apparently attacked news crews, shoving and swearing at a photojournalist from the BBC, according to reports and a spokeswoman for the network."

* The latest from Virginia: "Two of the three government staffers to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and two employees of his political action committee resigned following news Friday of a second sexual assault allegation against him."

* High-speed rail: "Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his first State of the State speech that he intends to scale back California's $77-billion bullet train project, saying that while the state has the capacity to complete the first leg in the Central Valley, extending the rail line to Southern California and the Bay Area would 'cost too much and take too long.'"

* Will their outrage turn to action? "Senate Republicans are fuming at President Donald Trump for telling lawmakers he would disregard a law requiring a report to Congress determining who is responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

* It's so much easier to buck the party line when there are no consequences: "Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that he will vote against confirming President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, citing his record on privacy issues."

* These two sentences from Catherine Rampell are worth keeping in mind: "Right now, Democrats still retain a monopoly on expertise and evidence-based policy. They should not relinquish it easily."

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Image: John Bolton

On Iran, it's Trump's national security adviser vs. Trump's intel chiefs

02/12/19 12:56PM

The White House issued an official video message this morning from National Security Advisor John Bolton, who made a rather provocative claim about Iran.

"Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons to intimidate peaceful people all around the globe, and ballistic missiles to use as delivery systems."

And if that were true, it'd be an important assessment. The trouble, of course, is that while Donald Trump's White House national security advisor, a longtime proponent of an armed conflict with Iran, is peddling claims like these, the president's intelligence chiefs have drawn the exact opposite conclusion.

In fact, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently told the Senate that Iran is not "currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activity" needed to make a bomb. It's also the judgment of American intelligence agencies that Iran is actually abiding by the terms of the international nuclear agreement negotiated in part by the Obama administration (and abandoned by Trump for reasons that have never really made any sense).

This brings us to the awkward point in the debate in which the amateur president has to decide whom to believe: his own intelligence chiefs or the far-right pundit he hired to serve as White House national security advisor because Trump liked what he saw him say on television.

The trouble is, we already know that the president has made his decision.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.12.19

02/12/19 12:00PM

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

* Retired astronaut Mark Kelly announced this morning that he's running for the Senate, hoping to secure the Democratic nomination to take on appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) in 2020. It will be his first attempt at elected office.

* On a related note, though I imagine Kelly will face primary rivals, former state Attorney General Grant Woods has said he won't be one of them. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), however, has said he's eyeing the contest.

* Iowa Democrats, taking an overdue step in the right direction, are moving forward with plans for "virtual caucuses," allowing voters who can't attend in-person presidential caucuses to participate in the process over the phone.

* Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) became the latest Democratic presidential candidate to announce she will not accept corporate PAC money as part of her campaign.

* North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is expected today to announce the dates for a congressional special election to fill Rep. Walter Jones's (R) vacancy. Jones died over the weekend.

* Pete Buttigieg became the first mayor this election cycle to launch a Democratic presidential campaign, and Michael Bloomberg may soon do the same. Will current New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio join them? He'll be in New Hampshire later this week.

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A coal train waits to leave a coal yard in rural West Virginia.

Trump intervenes in support of coal plant owned by major donor

02/12/19 11:22AM

Imagine a scenario in which an investigative reporter uncovered a secret document from the White House. The document, in this hypothetical, showed Donald Trump using the power of his office to pressure a public agency to do a favor for one of his campaign supporters, who has an obsolete coal plant, but who has the president trying to pull strings for him behind the scenes.

In this scenario, the investigative reporter would have quite a scoop. It's the kind of story that raises questions about corruption and abuses at the highest levels.

In 2019, however, we apparently don't need an investigative reporter to uncover such a controversial document -- because Donald Trump will simply put all of this on Twitter without a whole lot of thought.

"Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix," the president wrote yesterday, "and [the Tennessee Valley Authority] should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!"

And why, pray tell, would Trump take time out of his crushingly busy schedule to lobby the Tennessee Valley Authority in support of a single aging coal plant? Because as Politico reported overnight, the president apparently wants to help one of his top supporters, who's eager to keep the TVA as a customer.

[Trump's] missive came just days before the TVA board is slated to vote on the future of Paradise Unit 3, a 49-year-old coal plant that the federally owned utility has said would be too expensive to keep operating.

The 1,150-megawatt plant gets the bulk of its coal from a subsidiary of Murray Energy, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Robert Murray, the CEO of the mining company, is a major Trump supporter who has personally lobbied the president to take other actions to help the ailing coal industry, particularly in regions where he sells coal.

Murray is also, the report added, "a prolific GOP donor." His support included exceedingly generous contributions to a leading pro-Trump super PAC in 2016.

It's a tough dynamic to defend. It's not cost effective for the Tennessee Valley Authority to prop up an aging coal plant. Trump is lobbying the TVA to do it anyway. (Remember when it was Republican orthodoxy that the government isn't supposed to pick winners and losers?)

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Police walk along Arch Street, Sept. 27, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Trump rejects crime statistics from his own administration

02/12/19 10:52AM

Donald Trump traveled to El Paso, Texas, yesterday because the president sees the city as a model for his immigration agenda. He declared in his State of the Union address that the community was one of the nation's "most dangerous cities," right up until it got a border wall, at which point the crime rate dramatically improved.

The problem, of course, is that Trump was lying. Violent crime rates in El Paso peaked in the early 1990s, and after Congress approved border fencing for the city in 2006, the rate stayed the same. (In fact, soon after the completion of the fencing, violent crime briefly went up a little.) Even El Paso's Republican mayor has complained about the president peddling bogus claims about the city.

Last night, Trump told his followers at a campaign rally that his claims are true because ... they just are.

"I don't care whether a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They're full of crap when they say [a border barrier] hasn't made a big difference.

"I heard the same thing from the fake news They said 'Oh, crime actually stayed the same.' It didn't stay the same. Went way down.... These people, you know you'd think they'd want to get to the bottom of a problem and solve a problem. Not try and pull the wool over everybody's eyes."

The Republican added, in apparent reference to El Paso's crime rate, "They give you all these phony stats. They say it's the same. It's not the same."

It is the same. I have no idea who "they" are, but there's simply no reason to see the statistics -- compiled by law enforcement and reported to the public by the U.S. Department of Justice -- as "phony." If Trump has a credible case to make about crime data released by his own administration, he's welcome to present one.

But he won't because this isn't really a debate over the reliability of statistical data. Rather, this looks an awful lot like a president attempting to control his followers' perceptions of reality. Trump could try persuasion, but he apparently prefers to declare himself the sole authority for truth.

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks to members of the media during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City, Feb. 5, 2015. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Utah Republicans undo voter-approved Medicaid expansion

02/12/19 10:00AM

Republican officials in a variety of states responded to 2018 election results by taking steps to undermine voters' will, but GOP officials in Utah went a little further than most.

It was just a few months ago when a majority of Utahans approved Proposition 3, which expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and added Utah to the list of 37 states (including D.C.) that have done the same thing.

Yesterday, as the Salt Lake Tribune  reported, the state's Republican policymakers undid the policy their own constituents tried to implement.

Utah's voter-approved Medicaid expansion initiative was replaced Monday with a program that is more restrictive, initially more costly, and contingent on a series of uncertain federal concessions. [...]

Senators voted 22-7 to adopt the House version of SB96, which launches a partial medicaid expansion April 1 and would revert to full expansion only in the event that federal administrators reject multiple requests for Affordable Care Act waivers.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) wasted no time and signed the measure into law as soon as it cleared the state legislature.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a brief report last week, explaining that the voter-approved policy would extend Medicaid coverage to roughly 150,000 low-income Utahns. The new Republican replacement, however, will cover "48,000 fewer Utahans and would cost the state $50 million more over the next two years."

That's not a typo. The GOP policy, at least over the next couple of years, will cost more and do less. (Republicans hope to make up the difference in the long run by covering fewer people.)

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Bo (L) and Sunny, the Obama family dogs, on the South Lawn of the White House on August 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Trump explains why he has no need for a dog at the White House

02/12/19 09:20AM

There's an old joke, often attributed to Harry Truman, that if politicians in Washington want a friend, they should get a dog. The point of the joke, of course, is that politics in D.C. can be cut-throat, so those looking for friends should look to canines, not people.

It's a lesson many have taken to heart: every American president for over a century has had a dog.

Donald Trump, however, will apparently break this tradition, too. The current president told his supporters in El Paso last nigh why the White House probably won't have a dog while Trump is in office. The Washington Post  reported:

The explanation came amid an extended riff about the superior abilities of German shepherds to sniff out drugs being smuggled across the border. "You do love your dogs, don't you?" Trump said, as the crowd whistled and cheered. "I wouldn't mind having one, honestly, but I don't have any time. How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?"

The supporters seated behind the riser apparently thought that he would look great with a hound or two because they stood up and clapped. But Trump wasn't having it.

"I don't know, I don't feel good," he said. "Feels a little phony to me." A lot of people had told him to get a dog because it would look good politically, he added, but he hadn't felt the need because "that's not the relationship I have with my people."

Apparently in reference to something he heard from an audience member, the president added that Barack Obama had dogs with him at the White House.

For what it's worth, Trump has plenty of time -- maybe a dog could watch television with the him -- and the White House staff could probably help with some of the other routine duties.

As for what this has to do with his "relationship" with his base, I'm not altogether sure.

Regardless, I can't help but notice just how often dogs seem to be on the president's mind.

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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks during a news conference January 24, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

The challenge Republicans face going after Ilhan Omar

02/12/19 08:49AM

Facing intense criticism from her own allies, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) apologized "unequivocally" yesterday for some controversial tweets about the Israel lobby and its efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy. The congresswoman, just a month into her tenure on Capitol Hill, stood by her criticisms of the "problematic role of lobbyists in our politics," but expressed gratitude to her colleagues who helped educate her "on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."

Swift Democratic action on this -- from Omar's tweet to her apology took less than 24 hours -- should probably help resolve the situation, though Republican leaders will probably make every effort to keep the story alive. Indeed, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has called on Democratic leaders to remove the Minnesota lawmaker from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

That would be the same McCarthy who felt the need to delete a tweet last fall after he accused three prominent Jewish Americans of trying "to buy" the 2018 midterms. McCarthy also allowed Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to chair the House Judiciary Committee's panel on "the Constitution & Civil Justice" in the last Congress. (McCarthy only recently stripped King of his committee assignments.)

Donald Trump apparently had some concerns of his own.

Speaking Monday night aboard Air Force One, Trump said Omar "should be ashamed of herself" and that her apology was inadequate.

Asked what she should say, he replied, "She knows what to say."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if there's one person in the United States who should avoid criticizing the adequacy of a politician's apology in the wake of an offensive tweet, it's Donald J. Trump.

But even if we put that aside, there's the president's own history on this issue that undermines his credibility on the subject.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, Aug. 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump tries two new slogans: one is a lie, one is from Hillary

02/12/19 08:00AM

As the first president with a professional branding background, Donald Trump cares a bit too much about slogans. The president also seems to realize that effective marketing can't be stale, which is probably why he unveiled a couple of new slogans during his first campaign rally of 2019.

There were, however, a couple of problems with the Republican's selections. For example, the first seemed awfully familiar.

A line from President Donald Trump's speech on border security on Monday was quickly turned into a graphic by the Republican Party.

"We're only getting stronger together," Trump said at an event in El Paso.

Whether this was planned or put together on the fly is unclear, but the Republican National Committee began promoting the phrase via social media during the event, as if it were an important theme for the White House and its party.

The trouble, of course, is that "Stronger Together" was Hillary Clinton's campaign slogan. It was the name of her book; it was a phrase she incorporated into public appearances; it was the phrase that appeared on her campaign podiums. And now, evidently, it's been appropriated by her former rival, who remains preoccupied with the former Democratic candidate, and who's always shown great interest in pitting people against one another, not bringing people together.

The RNC made no real effort to hide the adoption, with a party spokesperson telling  The Hill, "When you lose your campaign, you lose your monopoly on any slogans."

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