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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.14.20

01/14/20 12:00PM

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

* The latest Monmouth poll out of Iowa found Joe Biden leading the Democrats' presidential field with 24% support, though the next three candidates are close behind. Bernie Sanders was second in the poll with 18%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 17%, and Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Amy Klobuchar was a solid fifth with 8%.

* Biden also led his party's field in the latest national Quinnipiac poll with 25%, followed by Sanders at 19%. Warren was third at 16%, followed by Buttigieg at 8%, and Michael Bloomberg at 6%.

* In Nevada, one of four early nominating contests, a new USA Today/Suffolk poll found Biden with the narrowest of leads over Sanders, 19% to 18%, followed by Warren at 11%. The same poll found Buttigieg and Tom Steyer at 8% each, thanks in part to Steyer's extremely aggressive advertising campaign in the state.

* Cory Booker, the day after ending his presidential bid, appeared on CBS News this morning and said he wasn't "taking anything off the table" with regards to a possible vice presidential nomination. The New Jersey senator added that he was on Hillary Clinton's 2016 shortlist and had already been vetted.

* In a move likely to have 2020 reverberations, a Wisconsin judge yesterday again ordered the state's election commission to begin removing more than 200,000 names from the state's voter rolls, even as the appeals process moves forward.

* Biden has added two more congressional endorsements to his list of backers, picking up support from Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). The latter had been a Booker supporter before the senator's departure from the race.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Polls show sizable public support for Trump's impeachment

01/14/20 10:47AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, his congressional detractors are committing political suicide by pursuing impeachment against him. The president recently published tweets arguing, "[T]he American people have had it with this," and, "The more people learn about impeachment, the less people want impeachment."

I guess it depends on which "people" we're referring to. Consider the latest Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday afternoon:

A slight majority of voters, 51 - 46 percent, approve of the House of Representatives' vote to impeach President Trump. [...]

Similar to the opinion on the House vote to impeach President Trump, a majority of voters, 52 - 45 percent, say they are troubled by President Trump's actions involving Ukraine. Two thirds, 66 percent, would like to see John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump, testify in the Senate impeachment trial, including 39 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents, and 91 percent of Democrats.

In fairness, the results were slightly better on the question of whether the president should be removed from office by the Senate, with the public more closely divided: 48% believe senators should not bring Trump's term to a premature end, while 46% believe senators should kick him out.

But given the circumstances, it's awfully tough for Republicans to argue that only 46% of Americans -- effectively the same percentage of Americans who actually voted for Trump in 2016 -- want to see their president removed from office as a result of his misdeeds.

What's more, FiveThirtyEight maintains averages across all polling, and as of this morning, it showed public support for Trump's impeachment at 50.4% -- its highest point to date.

This isn't just a piece of political trivia.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump: 'It doesn't really matter' whether airstrike rationale is true

01/14/20 10:00AM

Nearly two weeks ago, Donald Trump authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, risking a war, creating new threats, and bringing new instability to the Middle East. The rational for the military offensive has been ... complicated.

The official line was that killing the Quds Force general was necessary to prevent an imminent attack. Or maybe it was a retaliatory measure in response to an attack that killed an American contractor. Or perhaps Soleimani had to be executed because he was targeting an embassy. Maybe the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Maybe there was more than one embassy. Perhaps even four embassies.

Asked yesterday about the intelligence that might bolster his ever-changing rationale, Trump told reporters the White House's line has been "totally consistent" -- a line he somehow delivered with a straight face. The president then quickly changed the subject.

But that's not all the Republican had to say on the subject. The New York Times reported:

In the 10 days since it carried out the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the Trump administration has been struggling to draft an after-the-fact narrative to justify it. On Monday, President Trump put an end to that hash of explanations. "It doesn't really matter," he tweeted, "because of his horrible past."

I suppose this was inevitable. As Team Trump's rationale changed nearly every day for a week and a half, it stood to reason that the president would eventually give up and declare that he considers the truth to be irrelevant.

Except the truth isn't the sort of thing a president has the power to veto.

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A doctor measures the blood pressure of a patient. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty)

Why Trump's demonstrable lies about health care reform matter

01/14/20 09:20AM

Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir yesterday, falsely claiming on Twitter, "I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare." He added, "I will always protect your Pre-Existing Conditions, the Dems will not!"

As we discussed soon after, it was as brazen a lie as Trump has ever told. In reality, Trump didn't "save" protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions -- protections created by Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act -- the Republican fought to take those protections away through a series of far-right repeal-and-replace proposals he couldn't get through a Congress led by his own party.

Trump, of course, is also helping champion an ongoing federal lawsuit that would strip protections from Americans with pre-existing conditions.

When the president's lie generated some public discussion, he did what he usually does after getting caught trying to deceive the public: Trump published another tweet repeating the lie.

"I stand stronger than anyone in protecting your Healthcare with Pre-Existing Conditions. I am honored to have terminated the very unfair, costly and unpopular individual mandate for you!"

On the latter sentence, the individual mandate wasn't "very unfair" -- it enjoyed bipartisan support as recently as 2009 -- and it wasn't especially "costly." In fact, more than a few health care policy experts have argued that the policy would've been even more effective if the penalty cost more, not less.

But it's the repetition of the lie about protections for those with pre-existing conditions that stands out. In this case, it's worth appreciating not just the extent to which Trump is lying, but also why he's so committed to this specific lie.

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Rick Scott picks the wrong adjective to defend Trump on scandal

01/14/20 08:40AM

When Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal first started coming into focus in the fall, the public learned of an abusive scheme in which the president extorted a vulnerable ally in the hopes of receiving domestic political assistance. Republicans experimented with a variety of underwhelming talking points, but Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) seemed fond of one in particular.

Assessing the controversy, the Florida Republican told Fox News in October, "[T]he only person that's been transparent so far is President Trump." A month later, Scott appeared on Fox Business to claim that Trump was "the only person in this who's been transparent."

Yesterday, the GOP senator appeared on Hugh Hewitt's conservative talk show and once again repeated a familiar line.

HEWITT: [I]f I was [a senator] right now, based on everything I have read and seen, I would vote to dismiss the articles [of impeachment]. If you had to vote only on the basis of what you have seen and read produced by the House, will you vote to acquit President Trump?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, the Democrats have proven the guy's, Trump's innocence. The only guy that's been transparent during this is Trump.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride, Rick Scott keeps using that word, transparent, but I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

Just for the sake of conversation, let's put aside the broader questions about whether senators should value the rule of law and have a problem with presidents who are so eager to cheat in an election that they extort allies. That's obviously the fundamental concern at the heart of the scandal, but it appears Rick Scott is unfazed by the core allegations.

Let's instead consider the Florida Republican's argument on the merits.

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

McConnell lacks the votes for Trump's preferred impeachment plan

01/14/20 08:00AM

As Donald Trump's impeachment process moves toward the trial phase, there are a couple of provocative plans the president and his team have endorsed for the Senate proceedings. The first is something called a "motion to dismiss."

The idea, championed by freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), among others, would involve the Senate receiving the articles of impeachment from the House, only to swiftly reject the charges as meritless. In effect, senators would participate in a cover-up by refusing to even consider the allegations or the evidence.

The president has made clear that he supports such a dismissal, but as multiple news organizations reported late yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn't appear to have the votes to pull it off. As the New York Times explained:

Senate Republicans indicated on Monday that they would not seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against President Trump, proceeding instead to a trial with arguments and the possibility of calling witnesses that could begin as soon as Wednesday. [...]

In interviews, rank-and-file senators and party leaders made clear on Monday that even if they wanted to pursue dismissal, the votes simply were not there to succeed -- at least not at the outset of the trial.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, told the Washington Post, "I don't think there's any interest on our side of dismissing. Certainly, there aren't 51 votes for a motion to dismiss."

All of which suggests that there will, in fact, be a Senate impeachment trial. Once it gets underway, the president has also made clear that he doesn't want the chamber to hear from witnesses (though he used to believe the opposite). Is there a chance he'll get his wish on this front?

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.13.20

01/13/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* In case you missed this from late Friday night: "Iran has admitted it unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane hours after launching ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops, blaming 'human error' for the 'great tragedy' that killed all 176 people aboard."

* A case I've been following: "Federal prosecutors in New York on Monday asked a judge to sentence former Rep. Christopher Collins, R-N.Y., to the maximum of nearly five years in prison for his role in an insider trading scheme."

* Playing hardball with an ostensible ally: "The Trump administration warned Iraq this week that it risks losing access to a critical government bank account if Baghdad kicks out American forces following the U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general, according to Iraqi officials."

* I remember 2016, when then-candidate Trump spent months taking the opposite stance: "The Trump administration formally removed China's designation as a currency manipulator on Monday, offering a major concession to the Chinese government as senior officials arrived in Washington to sign a trade agreement with President Trump."

* Noted without comment: "Allies of President Trump are pursuing an effort to acquire right-leaning news channel One America News Network, according to people familiar with the matter, in a bid to shake up a conservative media market that has been dominated by Fox News."

* He makes so many false claims: "Trump says most asylum seekers don't show up for their court hearings. A new study says 99% do."

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Who's left in the White House to limit Trump when he's 'spun up'?

01/13/20 12:54PM

In September 2018, the New York Times published a striking anonymous op-ed written by "a senior official in the Trump administration," which characterized Donald Trump as an ignorant and erratic leader, unfit for leadership, whose decisions needed to be contained and curtailed by those around him.

But, the author suggested, the public need not panic, because there were guardrails in place. There were, the op-ed added, "many" officials in the Trump administration who were "working diligently" to hamper "his worst inclinations."

As questions continue to swirl around why the president authorized an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani -- and why the president and his team can't keep their stories straight -- there's a related question about whether there are still "many" officials in the Trump administration who are "working diligently" to hamper "his worst inclinations."

The Washington Post reported overnight on the White House national security team and its reluctance to "curb" Trump's decisions, and the article highlighted a dynamic that existed when former Gen. John Kelly served as Trump's chief of staff.

Kelly ... regularly told military officials that he wanted to talk to Trump before they actually carried out one of his orders and sometimes told them to hold off. For example, when Trump ordered the United States to leave NATO, or U.S. troops to leave the Middle East in late 2017, senior intelligence and military officials were brought in to change his mind.

"He'd get spun up, and if you bought some time, you could get him calmed down, and then explain to him what his decision might do," said a former senior administration official.

I think I know where Kelly was going with this. He was describing a governing dynamic in which an amateur president would throw a tantrum, bark orders, and cause some confusion among those whose job it is to follow a president's directives. In his capacity as White House chief of staff, Kelly -- who has an incentive to make himself look as good as possible -- made it sound as if he played the role of cooling saucer, letting U.S. military officials know that Trump's orders weren't actual orders when he'd "get spun up."

But Kelly's description isn't altogether reassuring.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.13.20

01/13/20 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), plagued by sub-par fundraising and unable to qualify for this week's primary debate, ended his presidential campaign this morning. The Democrats' 2020 field is now down to 12 competitors, which by historical standards, is still huge, though the number of former candidates is now larger than the number of current candidates.

* Three weeks before Iowa's presidential caucuses, the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll found Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic field with 20%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 17%, and Pete Buttigieg with 16%. Joe Biden is a close fourth with 15%.

* Speaking of good news for the Vermont independent, a New Hampshire branch of the Service Employees International Union has decided to endorse Sanders' presidential campaign. The national SEIU remains neutral.

* And speaking of early-nominating-state endorsements, Buttigieg picked up an important new congressional supporter this morning when Iowa Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) threw his backing behind the former mayor.

* Biden also picked up a congressional endorsement this morning when freshman Rep. Colin Allred backed the former vice president. The Texas Democrat is the 10th African-American member of Congress to announce support for Biden, who now has 26 U.S. House endorsements, more than double his next closest rival.

* Biden also picked up support late last week from Jon Henes, who served as the national finance chair of Kamala Harris' presidential campaign, and who's now "opening his extensive donor network" to the Delaware Democrat.

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A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

At the intersection of Trump's health care lie and his ACA case

01/13/20 11:06AM

For proponents of the Affordable Care Act, the last couple of months have been quite encouraging, at least as far as the substance of health care is concerned. Totals from the recent open-enrollment period, for example, were solid and in line with expectations, while the latest industry data pointed to stable health care markets, Republican sabotage efforts notwithstanding.

It was against this backdrop that Utah's Medicaid expansion program got underway on Jan. 1, while policymakers in Kansas reached a bipartisan compromise to bring Medicaid expansion to the Sunflower State. Others may soon follow: Phil Cox, a former head of the Republican Governors Association and a well-known figure in D.C. circles, was quoted saying two weeks ago, "The battle has been fought and lost on Medicaid expansion."

There is, however, just one dark cloud hanging over the ACA's head. A Republican lawsuit, backed by the Trump administration, is trying to destroy "Obamacare" in its entirety, and a Texas judge has already ruled in the GOP's favor. The 5th Circuit, in a move that appeared awfully political, recently left the future of the nation's health care system in limbo, almost certainly until after the election.

The legal process may, however, move more quickly. The ACA's proponents asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, and a week ago today, the justices directed the Trump administration and Republican state officials behind the lawsuit to respond. As NBC News' Pete Williams explained, "Such a highly abbreviated timeline – the rules normally allow a month for filing a response – gives the court the option to take up the case during its current term, which would mean a ruling on a contentious issue this spring, just as the presidential campaign heats up."

On Friday, the administration filed a brief, effectively telling the high court to cool its heels. The Washington Post reported:

The Trump administration and a coalition of conservative states that have been challenging the Affordable Care Act said Friday that there is no reason for the Supreme Court to rush a ruling on the issue this term. [...]

President Trump's solicitor general, Noel Francisco, replied that the [5th Circuit's] decision simply preserved the status quo until a lower court looked more closely at which parts of the law should survive. It would be premature to intervene now, he said.

The full filing is online here (pdf).

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