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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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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.11.19

02/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This isn't going well: "Negotiations over funding for border security were stalled as the week began, with top appropriators from both parties huddling Monday to try to overcome the latest sticking point ahead of the Friday night deadline to avoid another government shutdown."

* As if he weren't already in enough trouble: "Historians say they were 'shocked' and 'mystified' when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wrongly used the term 'indentured servants' Sunday in reference to the first Africans to arrive in English North America 400 years ago."

* A new reason for Trump to hate the Golden State: "California Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce plans Monday to pull back all members of the National Guard who have been deployed to the border with Mexico, saying the state would not be part of the Trump administration's 'manufactured crisis.'"

* Patrick Shanahan seems to be an acting secretary looking for a permanent gig: "The Pentagon's top official assured Afghanistan's government on Monday that the U.S. wouldn't desert the country's security forces, the Afghan Defense Ministry said, signaling American support for the jittery government while the U.S. holds talks with the Taliban to end the country's 17-year war."

* It's about time: "YouTube has announced that it will no longer recommend videos that 'come close to' violating its community guidelines, such as conspiracy or medically inaccurate videos."

* Some patients, alas, have to be their own advocates: "As anti-vaccination movements metastasize amid outbreaks of dangerous diseases, Internet-savvy teenagers are fact-checking their parents' decisions in a digital health reawakening -- and seeking their own treatments in bouts of family defiance."

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U.S. Border Patrol officers keep along the border fence separating U.S. and Mexico in the town of El Paso, Texas on Feb. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's lie about El Paso, Texas, is so important

02/11/19 04:40PM

Donald Trump will return to the campaign trail tonight, just three months removed from last fall's midterm elections, and roughly 20 months before his own re-election bid. The president is not, however, headed for a competitive battleground, but rather, is headlining an event in El Paso, Texas.

For Trump, the city in western Texas is of particular significance because its recent successes are, by the Republican's version of events, emblematic of a larger truth.

"The border city of El Paso, Texas used to have extremely high rates of violent crime -- one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities," the president argued in his State of the Union address. "Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country. Simply put: Walls work, and walls save lives."

The argument has a certain simplistic appeal: the border city was incredibly dangerous, then it got a wall, and now it's incredibly safe. Ergo, border walls are effective at improving security.

The problem, of course, is that Trump either has no idea what he's talking point or he assumes you're easily fooled.

According to law enforcement data, the city had low crime rates well before a border barrier was constructed between 2008 and mid-2009.

Violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence's construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.

As Trump lies go, this one stands out for a couple of reasons. First, it was carefully scripted. It's one thing when the president peddles nonsense because he got confused by something he saw on television, or because he cooked up some oddity in his overactive imagination. But in a State of the Union address, which the Republican read from his trusted teleprompter, the standards are supposed to be higher.

And yet, Trump's claims were brazenly untrue. At no point in recent memory was El Paso one of the nation's most dangerous cities, and at no point after it received border barriers did the city see a sharp drop in the crime rate.

Even local Republicans didn't appreciate the president lying so shamelessly about their community.

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An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.

Broken promises, failed predictions pile up for Republican tax plan

02/11/19 12:51PM

The Republican tax plan has never been popular, but its GOP proponents adopted a philosophy similar to the one embraced by Democrats during the health care debate a decade ago: once Americans got to know the policy, they'd start to like it a whole lot more.

For Dems, those hopes proved prophetic: the Affordable Care Act now enjoys fairly broad national support. For Republicans, more than a year after their tax plan was implemented, a series of broken promises and failed predictions have made their predicament worse.

As NBC News reported, the public's concerns appear especially acute as tax season gets underway.

The first tax season with President Donald Trump's new tax plan is under way and it's off to a disappointing start for early filers. The average refund this year is down 8.4 percent, to $1,865, for the week ending Feb. 1, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service. [...]

Early filers, who were expecting bigger refunds after the White House promised a $4,000 "raise," under the Trump tax plan, took to Twitter to vent their frustrations, using the hashtag #GOPTaxScam.

Edward Karl, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs, told Politico, "There are going to be a lot of unhappy people over the next month. Taxpayers want a large refund."

And many taxpayers aren't going to get one -- which won't satisfy those who believed Republican rhetoric about the "$4,000 average raise" the typical household would see as a result of the GOP policy.

Complicating matters, of course, is the sheer volume of promises that failed to come to fruition.

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