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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

GOP Rep. Chris Collins, prominent Trump backer, indicted

08/08/18 10:33AM

It's not at all common for sitting members of Congress to get arrested. As we discussed a few years ago, members will occasionally engage in civil disobedience at a protest -- Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has been arrested dozens of times in pursuit of civil rights -- but in general, lawmakers write laws; they don't run afoul of them.

That makes it all the more remarkable that Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) surrendered to the FBI this morning on securities fraud-related charges. NBC News reported:

Collins, 68, faces insider trading charges along with his son, Cameron Collins, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins' fiancée, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York.

The case is related to Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech company, on which the elder Collins served on the board.

Collins, one of Donald Trump's early supporters in his bid for president, is expected to appear in federal court later Wednesday in Manhattan.

This controversy has been simmering for a while. Indeed, circling back to our previous coverage, Collins was a major investor in Innate Immunotherapeutics -- the New York Republican was given a seat on the company's board -- and Collins allegedly took the lead on pushing legislation that benefited the company.

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's EPA sparks controversy with new rule on asbestos

08/08/18 10:02AM

Unlike many other countries, the United States never banned asbestos use, though policymakers imposed strict regulations on the toxic chemical decades ago in response to research linking asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma, among other ailments.

And yet, as NBC News reported, Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules that could allow asbestos to be used in new ways.

The EPA released the new proposal, known as a "significant new use rule," in June, detailing how companies can find new ways to use asbestos that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some of the products that may now involve asbestos in the manufacturing process include adhesives, sealants, pipeline wrap, and several others.

The Wonkette headline stood out for me: "Who Had 'EPA Brings Back Asbestos' In The 2018 Pool?"

It's worth emphasizing that the EPA doesn't see it that way. A spokesperson for the agency has insisted to many news organizations that the latest moves are necessary to create "a regulatory basis to restrict manufacturing and processing for the new asbestos uses covered by the rule."

The EPA's press statement added, "The EPA action would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from the EPA."

It's those last seven words, however, that are worth dwelling on. Why create a system in which the EPA can approve new uses of a dangerous carcinogen? Why leave the door open?

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Virginia Voters

Virginia special prosecutor to examine GOP election scheme

08/08/18 09:20AM

We talked yesterday about Rep. Scott Taylor's (R) clumsy election scheme in Virginia. What we didn't know was that the matter would soon be the subject of an investigation. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

A special prosecutor was appointed Tuesday to investigate claims that aides to Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.) illegally forged signatures to help an independent candidate get on the ballot, hoping to give their boss an edge over his Democratic challenger in the midterm elections. [...]

A judge granted a request from Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Colin D. Stolle (R) to appoint the commonwealth's attorney for Roanoke, Donald R. Caldwell, to the case.

If you're just joining us, let's recap what the story is all about.

In 2016, Scott Taylor easily won his first congressional campaign, dispatching Democrat Shaun Brown (D) by nearly 23 points in Virginia's 2nd congressional district. Brown seemed eager for a 2018 rematch, but she was indicted on fraud charges, among other alleged misdeeds, and Brown and Democrats soon parted ways. She nevertheless said she intended to run for Congress again, this time as an independent.

And that's where the story took a turn. Several members of Taylor's campaign team decided to collect petition signatures for Brown -- the congressman's former opponent -- in order to help her get on the 2018 ballot. The point of the scheme wasn't subtle: Brown could help siphon support away from Taylor's Democratic opponent, Elaine Luria, making it easier for the Republican to win.

At face value, this may seem like little more than electoral mischief. But it's not that simple -- because members of Taylor's team didn't just collect petition signatures for Brown, they're also accused of forging petition signatures for Brown, and that's illegal.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to a crowd as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, Oct. 5, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (Photo by Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal/AP)

In Michigan, Bernie Sanders' latest risk comes up short

08/08/18 08:43AM

In Michigan's Democratic gubernatorial primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (T-Vt.) invested a fair amount of energy rallying behind Abdul El-Sayed. Last night, as the Washington Post  noted, he came up short.

Gretchen Whitmer, the former Democratic leader in Michigan's state Senate, won the her party's gubernatorial primary, according to the Associated Press. She beat Abdul El-Sayed, the former director of Detroit's health department, and Shri Thanedar, a wealthy chemical testing executive. [...]

El-Sayed, a doctor and Rhodes scholar, earned endorsements from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with an agenda that resembled the Vermont senator's — universal health care, a $15 minimum wage and no "corporate" donations. Whitmer also endorsed a $15 minimum wage, but focused her campaign on "fixing the damn roads," a memorable promise to repair the state's infrastructure.

As of the latest tallies, Whitmer, long seen as the frontrunner, won with relative ease, outpacing El-Sayed by more than 20 points. She'll face Bill Schuette, Michigan's very conservative state attorney general, in the fall.

For the Vermont independent, it was the latest in a series of 2018 electoral setbacks this year. It'd be an unfair exaggeration to say all Sanders-backed candidates have come up short in competitive contests -- Ben Jealous, for example, recently prevailed in Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial primary -- but as the New York Times recently noted, the progressive senator "has struggled so far to expand his political base and propel his personal allies to victory in Democratic primaries."

Why is that? There are a few relevant angles to keep in mind.

The first is the fact that Sanders has taken some pretty significant risks, rallying behind relative long-shot candidates solely on principle, without much regard for their prospects. If the Vermonter simply wanted to boost his overall success rate, he could throw his support behind more likely winners. To his credit, Sanders seems indifferent to appearances.

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GOP claims victory in key special election, but it's Dems who are smiling

08/08/18 08:00AM

Recent polling suggested the congressional special election in Ohio's 12th would be very close, and with all of the precincts reporting, it's clear that the polls were right. As of this morning, Republican Troy Balderson leads Democrat Danny O'Connor by about 1,700 votes -- less than 1% of the overall total -- but as NBC News reported, the contest is still too close to call.

[M]ore than 3,400 provisional votes and 5,048 outstanding absentee ballots -- nearly quadruple the margin -- remained to be counted. State law bars boards of elections from counting those ballots until the 11th day after an election.

The race could be headed to a recount, since state law triggers one if the candidates are within half a percent of each other after the final results are certified, which must take place no later than August 24.

It may be a while before we get a definitive answer, but that didn't stop Balderson from claiming victory last night. True to form, it also didn't stop Donald Trump from crediting himself for the GOP candidate's "great victory," which may yet prove to be a loss.

But while it certainly matters who won the special election, to focus exclusively on which candidate eked out a narrow victory is to miss the forest for the trees. The fact that the race in this district was close at all is excellent news for Democrats.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.7.18

08/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The big case: "Special counsel Robert Mueller may not need Rick Gates to prove crimes against Paul Manafort. But the appearance of Manafort's longtime protégé in an Alexandria federal courtroom this week has made for riveting courtroom drama -- turning what had been a dry case about tax and bank records into a political soap opera."

* Michael Cohen: "The legal pressures facing Michael Cohen are growing in a wide-ranging investigation of his personal business affairs and his work on behalf of his former client, President Trump. In previously unreported developments, federal prosecutors in New York are examining whether Mr. Cohen committed tax fraud, people familiar with the investigation said."

* I don't know what he's doing, and I'm not sure he does, either: "U.S. Senator Rand Paul on Monday invited Russian lawmakers to visit Washington after holding talks in Moscow with parliamentarians and pledging to obstruct new sanctions against Russia."

* Donald Trump may be excited by the idea that collusion is not a crime, but he's effectively argued the opposite more than once.

* It's hard to see this as benign: "[O]ne group of Americans who regularly find themselves on the receiving end of Trump's attacks on their intelligence are black Americans, especially prominent ones who criticize him."

* This really was stunning: "Saudi Arabia's state media on Monday tweeted a graphic appearing to show an Air Canada airliner heading toward the Toronto skyline in a way that recalled the September 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings of airliners that struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon."

* Jared Kushner "personally ordered a software developer at his newspaper to remove stories that were critical of his friends and real estate peers."

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Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

GOP candidate accidentally speaks his mind about the suburbs

08/07/18 12:43PM

Ohio's 12th congressional district, which is hosting a closely watched special election today, is in the middle of the Buckeye State, and includes suburban and rural areas. The latter tend to be more politically conservative, while the former tend to be competitive.

With this in mind, Republican Troy Balderson hosted a rally last night and took an unexpected shot at part of the district he intends to represent. The NBC affiliate in Columbus reported overnight:

Balderson spoke to a crowd at American Pride in Zanesville Monday, WHIZ reported. Balderson said he wanted his hometown base fired up to vote.

"I gotta have 85%. Eighty-five percent from Muskingum County this time, not 80, but 85," said Balderson. "My opponent is from Franklin County, and Franklin County has been challenging. We don't want somebody from Franklin County representing us."

It was too late to be turned into a television ad, but the comments were captured on video, and it's a safe bet the clip was aired on local news stations this morning.

To contextualize the remarks, what we saw was the GOP candidate telling a rural audience not to elect someone from the Columbus suburbs.

The 12th congressional district doesn't include all of Franklin County, but it represents a slice that includes nearly a third of the district's voting population. Indeed, for nearly two decades, the district was represented by Republican Pat Tiberi, who was from ... wait for it ... Franklin County.

Why in the world would a candidate take a risk like this the night before voters head to the polls? There probably isn't a good reason, but the fact remains that Balderson's misstep is emblematic of a larger shift in Republican politics.

The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein noted last night that Balderson's comments were "a revealing message for the Trump-era GOP." Brownstein added, "The party is now consciously trading suburbs for small towns: the country club for the country. It's the famous Kinsley gaffe of saying what you really mean: we don't consider those voters who we are anymore."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.7.18

08/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In addition to the congressional special election in Ohio's 12th district, it's Primary Day in four states: Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and the state of Washington. Among the contests I'll be watching is the Democratic gubernatorial primary in Michigan, the Republican gubernatorial primary in Kansas, the GOP Senate primary in Michigan, and the Democratic primaries in Washington's 8th and Kansas' 3rd, where there are vulnerable GOP incumbents.

* There's likely to be less drama in Missouri, but keep an eye on today's vote on "Proposition A," which seeks to overturn a so-called "right-to-work" law passed last year by the state's Republican-dominated legislature.

* In his latest fundraising appeal, Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada blasted the "Obama-Clinton-Reid Democrats," referring to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Harry Reid. It's worth noting for context that all three of those Dems won their elections in Nevada -- and there's a real chance Heller will not.

* The latest Gallup poll found Donald Trump's approval rating at 41%, but CNBC's John Harwood made an interesting observation: among whites without college degrees, the president enjoys a 58% approval rating. Among everyone else, it's 29%.

* Though Donald Trump Jr. is ostensibly steering clear of politics and focusing on running his father's business, he nevertheless wrote an op-ed over the weekend endorsing Foster Friess' gubernatorial campaign in Wyoming.

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