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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Trump's emergency declaration represents a special kind of surrender

02/15/19 10:44AM

If you spend any time following politics on Twitter, you've probably encountered the phrase, "There's always a tweet." The expression derives from the fact seemingly every time Donald Trump takes a provocative step, his critics discover a tweet from his recent past in which he's condemned that same step.

The president's lengthy Twitter archive, in other words, is little more than an elaborate hypocrisy trap.

Occasionally, however, we're confronted with extreme examples of the phenomenon. USA Today  noted overnight, for example:

There's always a tweet.

In 2014, President Donald Trump railed against then President Barack Obama over his use of executive power on immigration. Fast forward five years and Trump is expected to do the same thing.

"Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress," Trump said in a tweet on Nov. 20, 2014.

It's those last few words in the tweet that are of particular interest: in Trump's mind, Obama only took executive actions because he lacked the necessary skills to negotiate with lawmakers. If Obama understood how to strike deals, executive actions on issues like immigration wouldn't be necessary.

Indeed, it's common knowledge that Trump sold himself to voters in 2016 as the world's foremost expert on negotiating and deal-making, but it's less understood that this also became one of his central lines of attack against the Obama presidency.

The Republican seemed to recognize public frustrations over gridlock in the nation's capital, so he seized on that to advance his ambitions: Obama lacked the wherewithal to bring people together and negotiate agreements, he argued, but a Trump presidency would deliver where his predecessor fell short. Every executive action from Obama was evidence, Trump said, of the kind of failure that he wouldn't repeat if elected.

Except, of course, we now know the promise was a sham.

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President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

With emergency declaration, Trump ignores public will (among other things)

02/15/19 10:07AM

When Donald Trump issues an emergency declaration in order to build a border wall, he'll do so while ignoring the will of the American mainstream.

In January, two-thirds of Americans -- including more than a quarter of Trump's own party -- expressed opposition to a national emergency declaration in Quinnipiac University polling.

A CNN poll earlier this month had a similar result. A Fox News poll released Wednesday showed slightly more support for a national emergency declaration, but nearly 1 in 5 of those who voted for Trump in 2016 opposed his taking this action. Overall, support for the move in the Fox poll was similar to a poll the network conducted in January.

A Post-ABC News poll released in January makes another point clear: Opposition to using a national emergency to build the wall is actually higher than opposition to the wall in general.

When the president issues an emergency declaration, he'll do so while ignoring the advice of White House attorneys, who still aren't sure this gambit is legal.

When he issues an emergency declaration, he'll do so while ignoring the advice of congressional Republicans, who've warned him for weeks not to do this.

When he issues an emergency declaration, he'll do so while ignoring history and American governing norms.

When he issues an emergency declaration, he'll do so while ignoring the meaning of the word "emergency."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

GOP criticisms of Obama's 'lawlessness' appear increasingly ironic

02/15/19 09:20AM

Halfway between Donald Trump's 2016 election victory and the Republican's presidential inauguration, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on "60 Minutes," and talked to CBS News' Scott Pelley about his expectations for the new administration.

Ryan said he and Trump had spoken "extensively" about constitutional limits and the separation of powers, and he felt optimistic about the road ahead. The GOP lawmaker added that the incoming president "feels very strongly, actually, that under President Obama's watch, he stripped a lot of power away from the Constitution, away from the legislative branch of government. And we want to reset the balance of power."

Pelley, somewhat surprised, asked, "You don't think [Trump] thinks he's going to run this country the way he wants to?" Ryan responded, "No, I think he understands there's a Constitution."

More than two years later, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

The partisan whining was generally difficult to take seriously, but for much of Barack Obama's presidency, Republicans somehow convinced themselves that the Democrat was an out-of-control tyrant, hellbent on institutional limits and the rule of law.

When the Democrat used his authority to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote an op-ed condemning the "imperial presidency of Barack Obama." Then-Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) went so far as to blame Obama's dictatorial tendencies for street crime.

"Whether it is New York, Chicago or San Francisco, it is happening everywhere," Christie said on MSNBC in June 2016. "The president has encouraged this lawlessness."

In 2014, Paul Ryan declared, "We have an increasingly lawless presidency where he is actually doing the job of Congress, writing new policies and new laws without going through Congress."

The then-House Speaker called such an approach to governing "dangerous."

It was obvious at the time that the hysterical criticisms of Obama were not to be taken seriously. Love the former president or hate him, he was clearly not a dictatorial tyrant, eager to destroy the norms of American governing.

But those criticisms of Obama have quietly made the transition from silly to ironic.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Spending deal brings Trump's latest embarrassing failure into focus

02/15/19 08:40AM

When Donald Trump issues an emergency declaration later this morning, granting himself the power to redirect funds toward a border wall, the political world's focus will shift to an extraordinary new fight. In the coming weeks, there will considerable drama as Congress takes up a measure to block the White House's new gambit, which will coincide with a series of contentious lawsuits.

But before we collectively go too far down that road, it's worth pausing to acknowledge a simple truth: Trump picked a high-profile fight two months ago, and it's now obvious that the amateur president failed spectacularly.

The New York Times had a good piece along these lines earlier in the week, before the White House officially said the Republican would sign the spending bill and prevent another shutdown.

In pursuit of a wall, President Trump ran into one. A single-minded drive to force Congress to finance his signature campaign promise has left Mr. Trump right back where he started, this time seeking a way to climb over the political barrier in his way after trying to charge through it did not work.

As he inched closer to reluctantly accepting a bipartisan spending compromise without the money he demanded for his border wall, Mr. Trump offered no acknowledgment on Wednesday that his pressure tactics had failed even as aides sought to minimize the damage by tamping down criticism on the right.

Making matters a little worse, to say Trump is "right back where he started" is probably a little too generous: the president is actually slightly worse off than he was when he first picked this fight in December.

Though it's unlikely we'll ever hear him admit it, Trump knows that the bipartisan spending bill he'll sign today is his latest stinging defeat. As recently as yesterday, the president was so opposed to the bill that he toyed with the possibility of rejecting it, prompting yet another shutdown.

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), R-KY, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-WI, look on during a meeting with congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 28,

With emergency declaration, Trump divides GOP, unites Dems (again)

02/15/19 08:00AM

Later this morning, Donald Trump is scheduled to announce a rather extraordinary emergency declaration. The Republican president, desperate to construct an unnecessary and unpopular border wall, will grant himself emergency powers, redirect tax dollars away from their intended purpose, and begin a new effort to build a medieval vanity project in defiance of Congress' wishes.

Naturally, there will be litigation. In fact, there will be a lot of litigation. As for whether the courts will tolerate the White House's gambit, as regular readers know, there's been considerable debate of late over whether Trump can reasonably expect to get away with his scheme. NBC News published a good report the other day on where the experts tend to fall on this question.

But the judiciary may not be the president's principal problem, at least not at first. Trump is abusing something called the National Emergencies Act -- a post-Watergate reform measure -- which explicitly offers Congress an opportunity to block a White House action.

At this point, some readers are probably thinking, "So what? The House Democratic majority will vote to stop Trump, at which point the Senate Republican majority will let the bill wither on the vine." In practice, however, it's not that simple.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will, almost certainly, advance a bill, called a "joint resolution of termination," to curtail the president's plan. At that point, thanks to the specific language of the National Emergencies Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will have no choice but to hold a vote of his own. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent recently explained:

Elizabeth Goitein, who has researched this topic extensively for the Brennan Center for Justice, tells me that if Pelosi exercises this option, it will ultimately require the Senate to vote on it in some form as well. The NEA stipulates that if one chamber (Pelosi's House) passes such a resolution, which it easily could do, the other (McConnell's Senate) must act on it within a very short time period -- forcing GOP senators to choose whether to support it.

Alternatively, Goitein notes, the Senate could vote not to consider that resolution or change its rules to avoid such a vote. But in those scenarios, the Senate would, in effect, be voting to greenlight Trump's emergency declaration.

And it's at that point where this is likely to get even more interesting.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.14.19

02/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have a whole lot on this in the morning: "President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency as Congress moves to pass a government spending deal that would provide further funding for border security, the White House announced Thursday."

* He'll be officially sworn in today: "The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm William Barr as attorney general, 54-45."

* In related news: "As William Barr, President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, awaits a Senate vote to confirm his move to the top of the Justice Department, his daughter and son-in-law, both Justice Department employees, are on their way to different jobs."

* Details from last week's physical: "President Donald Trump is in good overall health, although a 4-pound weight gain since last year puts him into the obese category, according to a memo from the White House physician on Thursday."

* A strike we've been keeping an eye on: "Denver's first teachers strike in 25 years will come to an end after a record-setting, all-night bargaining session produced a new compensation deal shortly before dawn Thursday that labor leaders say will help better retain the district's educators."

* The Tennessee Valley Authority ignored Trump's legally dubious lobbying: "An independent federal agency announced that it would close two coal plants, including one that buys its fuel from one of President Donald Trump's campaign contributors, despite public pressure from the president to keep it open."

* Hmm: "U.S. retail sales in December suffered their worst decline in nine years, according to Commerce Department data released Thursday, a potential red flag for economic growth."

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On Parkland anniversary, Trump changes 'gun violence' to 'school violence'

02/14/19 03:45PM

The White House issued a statement this morning on the anniversary of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. It was a fairly long statement issued on behalf of the president, who touted the "tremendous strides" he believes his administration has made, and who made exactly one direct reference to guns:

"Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence."

As the Washington Post noted, Donald Trump soon after published a tweet on the same subject, which was nearly identical, though it made one important change:

"Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued strength and healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where there has been the loss of life as a result of school violence."

Careful readers will note "praying for the continued healing," became "praying for the continued strength and healing," and "where lives have been lost" became "where there has been the loss of life." These were minor and inconsequential edits.

But note the last two words in each statement: Trump's original statement referred to "gun violence," which soon after became "school violence."

For some on the right, all references to massacres such as these are supposed to avoid phrases such as "mass shooting" and "gun violence," because the rhetoric, according to the right, might imply there's something wrong with guns. We're apparently supposed to examine violent acts by turning our attention to the perpetrator, rather than the mechanism used by the perpetrator.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Republican president altered his own statement in a way that satisfies conservatives' rhetorical expectations, but it's hardly a stretch to wonder if the West Wing received a "reminder" about the kind of language the president's base expects him to use.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Roger Stone not alone in peddling silly Mueller conspiracy theory

02/14/19 12:46PM

When Republican operative and Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone was arrested by the FBI, Americans saw much of the drama unfold on camera. That's because CNN had a camera crew at Stone's home and was able to capture the arrest.

The accused felon believes federal law enforcement and the cable news network conspired in order to ... well, they just conspired. Politico reported yesterday:

Roger Stone urged a federal judge Wednesday to make special counsel Robert Mueller's office explain why it shouldn't be held in contempt for violating the seal on the longtime Donald Trump aide's indictment by allegedly leaking it to the press.

Stone has repeatedly criticized the dramatic arrest at his home in January, which was caught on film by a CNN camera crew staking out his South Florida house. Stone claims CNN was tipped off about the arrest to film the raid, violating court orders.

To bolster the allegations, Stone's attorneys presented the court with evidence that, as Rachel noted on the show last night, really didn't make any sense. That's because we already know how and why CNN was able to get the footage, and it wasn't because of a behind-the-scenes conspiracy.

But what makes this story of particular interest to me isn't Roger Stone concocting a strange narrative that presents him as some kind of victim. The operative has come up with all kinds of odd claims over the years, so this CNN yarn is par for the course.

What I find remarkable, however, is how many Republicans leaders, unable to resist the appeal of a conspiracy theory involving American journalists and the special counsel investigation they love to hate, have bought into the nonsense.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.14.19

02/14/19 12:00PM

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

* In Arizona's U.S. Senate race, Mark Kelly (D) reportedly raised $1.1 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate. That's quite impressive, and it's the sort of haul that may give pause to his possible primary rivals.

* Believe it or not, we're only about four months away from the first debate for the Democratic presidential candidates, and with a field that's likely to be enormous, the DNC is going to have to establish a qualifying threshold. DNC Chairman Tom Perez will reportedly unveil the standards today or tomorrow.

* On a related note, the Democrats' 2020 field is not yet historic in its size, but it is without precedent in its timing: we've never seen quite so many candidates announce this early in the year before the election.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) reportedly met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about possibly taking on incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) next year. According to Politico, O'Rourke, who's considering a presidential campaign, hasn't ruled out a possible Senate bid.

* Despite the recent controversy over her ancestral claims, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a surprise appearance this week at the National Indian Women's "Supporting Each Other" lunch. The Democratic presidential hopeful was welcomed with a standing ovation.

* In Georgia this week, there was a state House special election to replace a former Republican lawmaker. The seat will remain in GOP hands: two Republicans advanced to a runoff election.

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