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Trump pretends Democrats' family-leave policy was his priority

12/13/19 10:22AM

The negotiations over the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- the annual spending package that finances the military -- weren't exactly easy. House Democrats approved a version of the bill that included a series of progressive priorities, including an end to Donald Trump's ban on transgender troops and safeguards to regulate toxic chemicals used in water on military bases.

In the end, the parties struck a deal: the White House would get funding for the president's "Space Force," which will be part of the Air Force, and in exchange, Democrats were able to secure funding for a 12-week family-leave benefit for federal employees. With the compromise in place, the $738 billion defense package had the support needed to pass.

In a curious political move, however, Trump wants people to believe the Democratic provisions were actually his idea. The conservative Washington Times reported yesterday:

President Trump spotlighted a "historic" deal Thursday that offers paid family leave to federal workers, seizing credit for another item that was on Democrats' wish list for years.

The government "will now give 12 weeks of paid family leave to all federal employees -- something that nobody expected," Mr. Trump said at a White House summit on child care.

A day earlier, on Twitter, the president identified the "paid parental leave" provisions in the NDAA as one of "our priorities."

At a certain level, I understand the rationale behind the deception. Pro-family policies tend to be quite popular, so it stands to reason Trump would want to be associated with the Democratic goal that Democrats successfully fought for.

But that doesn't fiction into fact.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks during the Indiana Republican Party Spring Dinner, April 21, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

With stunning pardons, defeated GOP governor accused of 'atrocity'

12/13/19 09:20AM

Despite Donald Trump's furious efforts, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) lost his re-election bid last month, an embarrassing failure for a red-state Republican who expected to win. The outgoing GOP governor soon after began making plans to help with the transition to a new gubernatorial administration.

But that's not all he did. The Courier-Journal in Louisville reported this week on Bevin's decision to issue 428 pardons and commutations, some of which were very controversial.

The family of a man pardoned by Gov. Matt Bevin for a homicide and other crimes in a fatal 2014 Knox County home invasion raised $21,500 at a political fundraiser last year to retire debt from Bevin's 2015 gubernatorial campaign. [...]

The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents.

The Lexington Herald-Leader had a related report yesterday, noting that Bevin, before leaving office, also intervened in support of a man who was convicted of decapitating a woman who broke up with him, and a teacher who was convicted possessing of child pornography.

The article quoted a local prosecutor saying, in reference to Bevin, "I think it's arrogance of one who has a God-like image of himself. And a lack of concern for anybody else."

The Washington Post talked to a different local prosecutor who added, "What this governor did is an absolute atrocity of justice. He's put victims, he's put others in our community in danger."

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

The rationale behind Trump's latest bogus claim about Pelosi

12/13/19 08:40AM

Last night, as Donald Trump wrapped up a long day of borderline-hysterical tweeting, the president came up with a new line of attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat, Trump claimed, "just got duped in an interview to admitting that she has been working on impeaching me for 'two and a half years.' In other words, she lied. This was the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats plan all along, long before the Ukraine phone call."

As is usually the case, the president wasn't telling the truth.

[At Politico's "Women Rule" summit], Anna Palmer asked Pelosi to react to the criticism that Democrats are racing through their impeachment inquiry of the president.

"It's been going on for 22 months, two-and-a-half years actually," Pelosi said initially.

Then immediately made clear she was referring to the Mueller investigation.

"I think we are not moving with speed. Was it two and a half years ago they initiated the Mueller investigation? It's not about speed. It's about urgency. One of the charges against the president of the United States is that he was violating his oath of office by asking for government to interfere in our election undermining the integrity of our elections," she said.

Nevertheless, Trump repeated his lie this morning. If recent history is any guide, forever more, the president will pretend his falsehood is fact, telling anyone who'll listen that Pelosi "admitted" that she began the impeachment push two-and-a-half years ago, facts be damned.

Trump's dishonesty is painfully common, and as his lies go, this one may seem unremarkable. What shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, though, is the degree to which Trump has reality backwards.

Nancy Pelosi did not want to impeach this president. She really made every effort to avoid it. The more some House Democrats pushed for an impeachment inquiry in the spring, the more the Speaker pushed back, insisting Trump wasn't "worth it."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

On impeachment, McConnell vows 'total coordination' with Team Trump

12/13/19 08:00AM

In late September, as Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal started to come into focus, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) demurred in response to reporters' questions, explaining that she'd likely be "a juror" in the president's impeachment trial. To draw conclusions about Trump's guilt or the merits of the allegations, the senator said, might suggest she was "prejudging" the accused.

There are, of course, key qualitative differences between an actual trial in an American courtroom and a presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, but in a broad sense, senators do serve as jurors. In theory, they have a responsibility to weigh the seriousness of the allegations, consider the evidence, and decide the fate of the accused.

But as Trump's impeachment process advances, some Republicans are comfortable abandoning the pretense of independence and impartiality. USA Today reported overnight:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that he will be in "total coordination with the White House counsel" as the impeachment into President Donald Trump presses forward.

During an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the Majority Leader said that "everything" he does "during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can."

Oh. So despite weeks of GOP senators occasionally sidestepping questions about the White House scandal, claiming that they're jurors who want to maintain the appearance of neutrality, Mitch McConnell -- in effect, the jury foreman -- is coordinating with the defendant's lawyers.

Indeed, the Republican leader's interview followed a Capitol Hill meeting last night with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.

During last night's marathon session in the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) learned of McConnell's comments and alerted his colleagues, explaining, "In other words, the jury -- Senate Republicans -- are going to coordinate with the defendant -- Donald Trump -- on how exactly the kangaroo court is going to be run."

On Twitter, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that McConnell is "proudly announcing he is planning to rig the impeachment trial for Trump."

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.12.19

12/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A long day: "The House Judiciary Committee is holding a public discussion about amendments to the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstructing Congress. The first meeting on Wednesday night saw a debate among lawmakers before a scheduled vote on Thursday on the two articles before sending it to the House floor. The Thursday session began at 9 a.m."

* I don't think Gaetz is good at this: "Republicans dragged Hunter Biden's name through the mud Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee meeting on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., recounted Biden's admitted past drug abuse -- which quickly backfired when Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., hinted at the Florida lawmaker's own past substance abuse problems."

* Election Day in the UK: "Millions of voters headed to the polls across the United Kingdom on Thursday for the country's third nationwide general election in less than five years."

* Notable Senate confirmation, Part I: "The Senate on Thursday confirmed Dr. Stephen Hahn to lead the Food and Drug Administration despite concerns about how he will confront the growing problem of underage vaping."

* Notable Senate confirmation, Part II: "The United States has a new ambassador to Russia after the Senate voted Thursday to confirm the No. 2 official at the State Department to the post. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan was confirmed by a 70-22 vote."

* A case worth watching: "A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the Trump administration's attempt to toss out a lawsuit over missing notes documenting President Donald Trump's face-to-face meetings with President Vladimir Putin of Russia."

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A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York

Despite GOP opposition, Dems pass bill to lower prescription costs

12/12/19 04:21PM

The Republican National Committee published a curious tweet this morning, accusing congressional Democrats of not being "focused on lowering prescription drug prices." It's a popular line of attack from Donald Trump, too, who's repeatedly demanded that the House Democratic majority tackle the issue.

Republicans probably should've picked a different line of attack. House Dems passed a bill on prescription-drug costs in May -- making it easier for generic drugs to enter the market -- and they passed even more ambitious legislation this afternoon. The New York Times reported:

The House, delivering on one of the Democrats' central campaign promises, on Thursday passed ambitious legislation to lower the rising cost of prescription drugs by empowering the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The bill, known as H.R. 3 -- a numerical designation that reflects its position on Democrats' priority list -- would make significant changes to the federal Medicare program, which provides health coverage to older Americans.

The bill passed 230 to 192. Democrats were unanimous in their support for the proposal, while only two Republicans -- Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) -- broke ranks to vote with the majority. The rest of the GOP conference opposed the bill.

Stepping back, I think there are a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. First, this is a good bill, made even more progressive after some recent negotiations between the House Democratic leadership and some of the conference's more liberal members. Perhaps most notably, the bill, among other things, empowers Medicare to negotiate directly with the private pharmaceutical industry.

In theory, that's a position Donald Trump should like -- he endorsed the policy a few years ago -- but lobbyists help steer the president in a more conservative direction, and both the White House and Senate Republicans announced their opposition to the bill passed by the House today.

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Republicans lose sight of their own impeachment standards

12/12/19 12:55PM

A couple of months ago, Ambassador Bill Taylor, Donald Trump's top diplomat to Ukraine, delivered brutal testimony to Congress. In a 15-page statement delivered to Congress, supported by extensive and contemporaneous notes, Taylor described the president's involvement in an explicit scheme to leverage both military aid and a White House meeting as part of a plan to coerce Ukraine into participating in a domestic political scheme.

Soon after -- seven weeks ago yesterday -- NBC News highlighted a quote that remains memorable.

Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, reacted on Wednesday to the closed-door testimony of top diplomat Bill Taylor, who said Ukraine aid from the U.S. was linked Trump demands for probes of the Bidens:

"The picture coming out of it based on the reporting we've seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one...."

Thune, the #2 Republican in the Senate leadership, added at the time that he believed Taylor should be prepared to testify publicly, which the ambassador did, confirming -- and even adding to -- the testimony he delivered to the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

But it was the senator's understated assessment that's worth appreciating nearly two months later. Thune was confronted with evidence that the president orchestrated this extortion scheme and he felt compelled to concede that the emerging picture was "not a good one" for the president.

In other words, the available information in late October was so incriminating that some in Trump's party found it difficult to ignore -- and that was before Americans saw many hours of public testimony from a variety of witnesses, officials, and experts, who went on to tell a devastating story that was "not a good one" for the man in the Oval Office.

Thune was hardly alone. In the early weeks of the scandal, other White House allies, hoping that the controversy wouldn't advance much further, staked out specific standards. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, said, "If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing." Even on one of the president's favorite Fox News programs, one of the co-hosts told viewers, "If the president said, 'I'll give you the money, but you've got to investigate Joe Biden', that'd be off-the-rails wrong."

That was before they knew how guilty the evidence would make Trump appear.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.12.19

12/12/19 12:00PM

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

* After Republican officials in South Carolina cancelled their 2020 presidential primary, as part of a gambit to save Donald Trump from possible embarrassment, some local voters sued. Yesterday, a judge ruled in the state GOP's favor.

* On a related note, the Hawaii Republican Party is moving forward with plans to scrap its primary, too, joining Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina.

* In Texas, the latest CNN poll found Joe Biden far ahead in the Democratic presidential primary with 35%. Further back was Bernie Sanders at 15% and Elizabeth Warren at 13%. No other candidate reached double digits, though Pete Buttigieg was close with 9% support.

* The same poll showed Donald Trump leading each of the top Democratic contenders in Texas in hypothetical general-election match-ups, though Biden was close, trailing the president by only one percentage point in the Lone Star State.

* CNN also polled California Democrats -- both Texas and California will hold presidential primaries on March 3 ("Super Tuesday") -- and found Biden narrowly leading Sanders in the Golden State, 21% to 20%. Warren wasn't far behind with 17%, followed by Buttigieg with 9%.

* Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales, two undocumented immigrants who used to work for Trump, joined Joe Biden on the campaign trail this week, and spoke to voters in Nevada. "I'm going to tell you who is Mr. Trump," Diaz told the crowd. "How he's a big liar..... He still lies about immigrants. He says we are bad people. And I will stand here and say he lies, because we are good workers and good people."

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GOP confirms another Trump judicial nominee deemed 'not qualified'

12/12/19 10:52AM

Last week, Senate Republicans confirmed to the federal bench Sarah Pitlyk, a 42-year-old conservative lawyer who received a "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association. The ABA's rationale for the rating explained that Pitlyk, among other things, has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, examined a witness, taken a deposition, or picked a jury.

She also has a record of fierce opposition to reproductive rights, arguing that fertility treatments and surrogacy have "grave" adverse effects on society. Senate Republicans nevertheless rewarded her with a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Yesterday, as the HuffPost reported, the GOP-led Senate confirmed yet another one of Donald Trump's highly controversial judicial nominees who also received a "not qualified" rating.

Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to make Lawrence VanDyke a lifetime federal judge, despite the American Bar Association rating him "not qualified" because, according to his own colleagues, he is "arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-today practice including procedural rules." [...]

More than 200 national civil and human rights groups opposed VanDyke, citing his record of attacking LGBTQ rights (he claimed in a 2004 Harvard Law Record article that same-sex families hurt children and that LGBTQ people are deviant) and arguing against women's reproductive rights (as Montana's solicitor general, he submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of Arizona's 20-week abortion ban and asked the justices to reconsider Roe v. Wade).

The final tally on the Senate floor yesterday was 51 to 44. Every Republican in the chamber except Maine's Susan Collins supported VanDyke's confirmation. (If his name seems at all familiar, Rachel did a segment on his rather dramatic confirmation hearing in October.)

For those keeping score, as things stand this morning, the GOP-led Senate has confirmed 172 of Trump's judicial nominees: 120 district court nominees, 50 circuit court nominees, and two Supreme Court nominees. Or put another way, about one in five federal judges was chosen by Donald Trump. Most of these jurists are quite young -- some are in their 30s -- and they'll serve on the federal bench for many decades.

Also note, this has happened in just three years. There's still another year remaining in Trump's term -- and there's a very real possibility he'll get a second term, at which point the judiciary would shift to the far right in ways that would likely remain unchanged for most of the remainder of the 21st century.

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Pentagon watchdog to audit controversial border wall contract

12/12/19 10:05AM

Last week, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) urged the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate the Trump administration's controversial border-wall contract with Fisher Industries. As NBC News reported, it looks like the Democratic congressman's request was persuasive.

The Defense Department's internal watchdog plans to review a recent Army Corps of Engineers decision to award a $400 million contract for border wall construction to a North Dakota company that has been publicly and privately endorsed by members of the Trump administration, including the president himself.

The review of the award to Fisher Sand & Gravel is an audit by the Pentagon's inspector general and comes in response to a request by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

"In response to your request, we have decided to initiate an audit of the solicitation and award of this contract," Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, told Thompson in a letter obtained by NBC News. "We are assessing the methodology of that audit and will formally announce the audit soon."

Under the circumstances, this seems like an obvious next step. As we discussed last week, North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel won a lucrative, $400 million government contract to build 31 miles of border barriers in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The decision followed Donald Trump's personal intervention in the matter, with the president pressing the Army Corps of Engineers to award Fisher the contract.

Trump's lobbying ignored officials' warning that Fisher did not meet the necessary standards for the contract.

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

45 years later, Republicans borrow a page from Earl Landgrebe

12/12/19 09:22AM

At the height of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon was running low on friends. When the U.S. House voted to begin impeachment hearings, for example, the vote was 410 to 4. One of the four was an Indiana Republican named Earl Landgrebe.

Months later, as the disgraced president prepared to leave the White House, Landgrebe delivered a line that helped define his political career. "Don't confuse me with the facts," the congressman said the day before Nixon's resignation. "I've got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I'm going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot."

I can't say with certainty whether contemporary Republicans made a conscious decision to follow Landgrebe's example, but his infamous quote keeps coming to mind for a reason.

In recent weeks, for example, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) has, more than once, echoed Kremlin propaganda and suggested Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. When a controversy ensued over his willingness to peddle false disinformation designed to advance Russian interests, the Louisiana Republican declared, "I believe what I believe."

Kennedy didn't literally say, "Don't confuse me with the facts," but it seemed like the subtext.

It's against this backdrop that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz was on Capitol Hill yesterday, participating in a Senate hearing exploring his report on the investigation into the Russia scandal. Reading Dana Milbank's report on the hearing, it seems several Republicans didn't want to be confused with the facts, either.

"They were on a mission not to protect Trump but to ... protect all of us smelly people from Donald Trump," [Sen. Lindsey Graham] alleged. "That's what this is about." Never mind that the inspectors found no such evidence in more than 1 million documents and more than 100 interviews over 19 months. "Whether you believe it or not, I believe it!" Graham announced.

[Sen. Ted Cruz], too, wasn't about to let the findings get in his way. "You did not find evidence of political bias. That is a judgment that you have and I disagree with that," Cruz told the inspector general.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) topped them all, arguing that the failure to find political bias proved there was political bias. "Is not the lack of evidence that you're talking about itself evidence of bias?" he asked Horowitz.

Milbank added, "Even confronted with 434 pages of unbiased, exhaustively researched findings, they covered their ears and cried 'LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.'"

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