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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump's efforts to 'compromise' government data take a toll

05/31/19 01:06PM

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell had a terrific piece last week, highlighting the Trump administration's efforts to "compromise" official government data. She had plenty of evidence to work with.

Don't like the numbers? Invent new numbers instead.

Or make it harder to collect trustworthy numbers next time.

Or just put the squeeze on the number crunchers themselves.

Slowly but surely, the Trump administration has been chipping away at the independence and integrity of our federal statistical agencies, whose data is critical to keeping our democracy functioning and our economy healthy.

Let's take stock of the developments from just the past few weeks because when pulled together, the stories paint an unsettling picture. We learned three weeks ago, for example, about the Trump administration's plan to reduce the poverty rate by tweaking what should count as "poverty."

The New York Times reported soon after on the EPA plan to tweak pollution data in a way that would benefit polluters.

Two days later, Politico reported on Trump's Agriculture Department, which is moving forward with a plan to uproot the department's Economic Research Service. As Politico reported last week, the USDA "is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps -- subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives -- outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president's policies."

This week, the New York Times added that Team Trump intends to "undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.31.19

05/31/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this morning announced plans for legislation that would "make it clear that presidents can be indicted for criminal activity, including obstruction of justice." To that end, she's vowing to appoint Justice Department officials who'll reverse existing guidelines on the matter.

* Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is joining former Vice President Joe Biden's (D) team. The four-term congressman will serve as a national co-chair of the Biden campaign.

* Politico reports today that For Our Future, a super PAC focused on Democratic turnout, now has a budget of between $80 million and $90 million. It will use that money to build "a network of 4,000 paid staff and an army of volunteers in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin."

* As of yesterday afternoon, roughly half of the Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for, at a minimum, the start of impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. It's very likely that number will grow.

* The DNC and DSCC wasted no time before announcing their formal support for Jaime Harrison's (D) Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) in South Carolina. Harrison was unlikely to face a serious primary rival, but the party endorsements should further discourage anyone who might be eyeing the race.

* Though the 2022 elections are still far away, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made clear this week that he intends to run for a fourth term in the Empire State. His father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo (D), served three terms in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 13, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Following Trump, Lindsey Graham changes his mind about tariffs

05/31/19 11:20AM

The week of Donald Trump's inauguration, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) heard some of the chatter from the new administration about trade tariffs on Mexico, and he made his opposition clear.

"Border security yes, tariffs no," Graham wrote on Twitter on Jan. 26, 2017. The senator added that Mexico is one of the United States' largest trading partners and new tariffs could create a "huge barrier" to economic growth.

In a follow-up tweet, the South Carolinian said that tariffs on Mexico would increase the costs for consumers on products imported into the United States, which he said would be "a big-time bad idea." In an apparent attempt at humor, the GOP senator added at the time, "Mucho Sad."

Last night, Donald Trump announced his intention to impose new tariffs on Mexico. About an hour later, Lindsey Graham endorsed the policy he'd previously denounced.

"I support President Trump's decision to impose tariffs on Mexico until they up their game to help us with our border disaster."

In fairness, it's worth noting that Graham published a follow-up tweet in which he said he doesn't "like" tariffs, but the South Carolinian is nevertheless endorsing Trump's plan.

It comes against a backdrop in which Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has advised Donald Trump Jr. on how best to sidestep a congressional subpoena, ignored all kinds of lingering questions about the investigation into the Russia scandal, and admitted he didn't bother to read Robert Mueller's report.

Asked specifically last month about evidence of presidential obstruction of justice, Graham said he didn't care.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waits to speak during a news conference on Capitol Hill, April 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

McConnell seeks contributions for his Supreme Court brazenness

05/31/19 10:48AM

Three years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) imposed an unprecedented high-court blockade, announcing that he and his Republican colleagues would block any Supreme Court nominee from a Democratic president. The GOP leader insisted at the time it was a matter of principle: the Senate could not consider filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. Period. No exceptions.

This week, as Rachel noted on the show last night, McConnell rejected his principle, boasting that if there's a high-court vacancy in 2020, he and his Republican majority would fill it with a nominee from Donald Trump.

Or put another way, everything the GOP leader said in 2016 was a lie.

And now he wants a reward for being unprincipled and brazenly dishonest.

McConnell followed up his remarks by issuing a fundraising appeal Wednesday, saying he was "proud" to have blocked Garland's confirmation in 2016.

"If there's a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2020, I will proudly confirm President Trump's nominee," McConnell wrote. "Sure, the Left and their allies in the media will go crazy. The Democrats will raise MILLIONS to defeat me. That won't stop us from putting another conservative Justice on the Supreme Court."

The letter, sent out over McConnell's signature, concluded, "Can you chip-in right now?"

The appeal offers a peek into an important facet of the Kentucky Republican's approach to politics and governance: he's a man without shame.

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Image: Spokesperson Heather Nauert while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dialogues with reporters in his plane while flying from Panama to Mexico

Trump admin looks for 'fresh thinking' on international human rights

05/31/19 10:16AM

As things stand, the U.S. State Department already has a bureau that focuses on human rights. It's called the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and it's led by an undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. This system has been in place since 1977 and it's never been especially controversial.

Politico reported yesterday, however, that the Trump administration wants a separate human rights panel, which will apparently be expected to look at the issue in a different way.

The Trump administration plans to launch a new panel to offer "fresh thinking" on international human rights and "natural law," a move some activists fear is aimed at narrowing protections for women and members of the LGBT community.

The new body, to be called the Commission on Unalienable Rights, will advise Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to a notice the State Department quietly published Thursday on the Federal Register.

According to the State Department's notice, this new commission "will provide fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights."

At face value, the idea of introducing "fresh thinking" may seem relatively benign. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong with challenging preconceived ideas and thinking anew about old debates.

But it's nevertheless hard to have confidence in Trump administration initiatives like these, especially given how little this president and his team have cared about human rights since taking office.

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File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.

Why Trump's ongoing confusion about China and trade matters

05/31/19 09:20AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump fielded a question about trade talks with China, which the president responded to in a familiar way:

"China would love to make a deal with us. We had a deal, and they broke the deal. I think, if they had to do again, they wouldn't have done what they did. We're taking in billions of dollars in tariffs. China is subsidizing products. So the United States taxpayer is paying for very little of it."

Earlier this week, Trump made a very similar argument during a press conference in Tokyo, while standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

"You know, foolishly, some people said that the American taxpayer is paying the tariffs of China. No, no, no -- it's not that way. They're paying a small percentage, but our country is taking in billions and billions of dollars.... I don't believe that China can continue to pay these, really, hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs. I don't believe they can do that."

At this point, we could talk about the simple fact that Trump has reality backwards. We could also talk about the latest Monmouth University poll that suggested the American public has a better grasp of the basic details than their president.

We could even have a chat about Trump's willful ignorance and his decision to deliberately ignore reality, even when his own White House team tries to educate the president about his own agenda.

But as important as these angles are, I'm principally concerned with the practical effects of Trump's ongoing and persistent confusion.

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Democratic representative from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during an event with Democratic members of Congress and national organization members to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 30, 2019.

The highest hurdle for the AOC/Cruz bill on lobbying reform

05/31/19 08:40AM

The chasm that exists between the Democratic and Republican parties makes bipartisan cooperation fairly rare, especially on contentious issues. The more prominent members develop reputations as ideologues, the less likely they are to forge legislative partnerships.

With this in mind, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) might seem like the kind of lawmakers who'd struggle to find common ground. And yet, something interesting happened on Twitter yesterday, after the New York congresswoman highlighted a Public Citizen article on the former federal lawmakers who've become lobbyists or taken on related policy-influencing jobs.

"If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn't be allowed to turn right around&leverage your service for a lobbyist check," Ocasio-Cortez wrote. "At minimum there should be a long wait period."

A short time later, former Republican presidential candidate Cruz tweeted, "Here's something I don't say often: on this point, I AGREE with @AOC Indeed, I have long called for a LIFETIME BAN on former Members of Congress becoming lobbyists. The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for some bipartisan cooperation?"

The freshman Democrat replied "if you're serious about a clean bill, then I'm down. Let's make a deal." She said if they can agree to legislation "with no partisan snuck-in clauses" then "I'll co-lead the bill with you."

"You're on," Cruz replied.

Soon after, their lobbying-reform proposal gained co-sponsors: Sen. Brian Schatz, a progressive Democrat from Hawaii, announced he'd partner with Cruz to make the bill bipartisan in the upper chamber, while Rep. Chip Roy, a conservative Republican from Texas, said he'd do the same with Ocasio-Cortez in the House.

For reform advocates, this all seemed quite encouraging. Indeed, it almost seemed theatrical -- the sort of developments we might see in a "West Wing"-like television show.

But as the back-and-forth unfolded, seven words lurked overhead like a storm cloud:

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump combines two issues he doesn't understand: trade and immigration

05/31/19 08:00AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump said, "We're going to be having a major statement on the border sometime later today or tomorrow.... It will be a statement having to do with the border and having to do with people illegally coming over the border. And it will be my biggest statement, so far, on the border."

No one outside the White House had any idea what he was talking about until the tweets were published last night.

President Donald Trump said Thursday night that the United States would impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting next month, saying the sweeping tariffs would rise monthly to as high as 25 percent "until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory."

Some White House officials tried to talk the president out of pursuing such a policy, but as is usually the case, Trump ignored them.

And that's unfortunate because this is not a good idea.

It's worth emphasizing at the outset that it's an open question as to whether these tariffs will actually be imposed. Trump says they will be, but Trump says a lot of things, only some of which reflect reality in a meaningful way. The policy -- I'm using the word loosely -- will purportedly kick in on June 10, though no one should be too surprised if, between now and then, the president backs off.

Indeed, it's easy to imagine him telling a fanciful tale about how this threat worked and produced dramatic changes, even if those changes are imaginary. This is, after all, exactly what happened in early April, when Trump announced plans to close the border, only to back off soon after, pointing to developments that weren't real.

Complicating matters, it's an open question as to whether the president even has the legal authority to impose these tariffs. Even some Republicans suspect he does not.

But for the sake of conversation, let's say the administration fully intends to follow through and impose these tariffs. Let's also say they're legal. Will they have the desired effect?

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.30.19

05/30/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This time, it was freshman Rep. John Rose's (R-Tenn.) fault: "House conservatives blocked a bipartisan $19.1 billion disaster aid bill for the third time Thursday, once again thwarting Democrats' efforts to pass the long-delayed legislation that is supported by President Trump."

* This new policy takes effect immediately: "New Hampshire is the latest state to repeal its death penalty, as the state Senate had enough votes to override Gov. Chris Sununu's veto.... The 16-8 vote Thursday was the necessary two-thirds majority to override. The House narrowly voted last week to override Sununu's veto."

* Real political drama in Israel: "Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition late Wednesday night, becoming the first elected prime minister in Israeli history to stumble in forging a working government."

* Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who's up for re-election this year, is prepared to sign this: "The Louisiana House of Representatives passed an abortion ban on a 79-23 vote Wednesday that would prohibit women from terminating a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat has been detected."

* This story is just getting started: "Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li 'Cindy' Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned."

* Russia: "The Trump administration believes Russia has restarted very low-yield nuclear tests, officials said on Wednesday in a finding that could be used to renew in earnest the arms race between Moscow and Washington."

* A year is a long time: "The Pentagon press corps has chafed for months at what reporters see as a sharp decline in access to information, including limited access to officials during trips. Celebrities such as Kiss rocker Gene Simmons and actor Gerard Butler have showed up in the briefing room, but Friday will be a year since the Pentagon held an on-camera briefing with any department spokesperson."

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