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Two freshly delivered Amazon boxes are seen. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Just how far is Trump prepared to go with his Amazon 'obsession'?

08/02/19 10:07AM

About a year into Donald Trump's presidency, Axios spoke to five sources close to the White House who said the Republican is eager to "go after" Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Referring to Trump, one source said at the time, "He's obsessed with Amazon. Obsessed."

The article added, "The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos' wings. But he doesn't have a plan to make that happen."

It's hard not to wonder whether that's changed.

As we've discussed, Trump's preoccupation with the online retailer has always been quite weird. It's effectively a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the Washington Post's coverage of his administration, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to also hate Bezos' other businesses.

But how far is the Republican prepared to take his animosity? The question came to the fore two weeks ago, when Trump said he was looking "very seriously" at intervening in a multi-billion-dollar cloud-computing contract, hoping to derail Amazon's bid.

Asked by reporters about the contract known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, Mr. Trump said he was "getting tremendous complaints about the contract with the Pentagon and with Amazon."

"They're saying it wasn't competitively bid," he said.

Even at the time, the comments suggested that Trump has no idea what he was saying. There was a competitive bidding process, and no company had secured the contract. Military officials said at the time that a final decision was imminent, possibly coming this week.

All of which led to yesterday's news.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Asked about anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, Trump talks about Trump

08/02/19 09:21AM

Donald Trump generally doesn't know what reporters are going to ask him during occasional Q&A sessions on the White House South Lawn, and once in a while, someone will ask the president about something that isn't necessarily dominating domestic headlines.

Take yesterday, for example.

Q: Do you have a message for Poland on the anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, which is today?

TRUMP: Well, I have a lot of respect for Poland. And, as you know, the people of Poland like me, and I like them. And I'm going to be going to Poland fairly soon.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Trump probably has no idea what the Warsaw Uprising is or why it's so historically significant.

It's probably why the Republican turned so quickly to his go-to move: comments about himself and his perceived popularity.

But as Trump boasted about how much the "people of Poland like" him, it got me thinking about whether that's true or not.

As it turns out, we don't need to guess.

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Job growth remains steady, but totals have slipped under Trump

08/02/19 08:42AM

Ahead of today's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in July of 165,000 jobs. Those expectations were just about perfect.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 164,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7%. And while that's a decent monthly total, the revisions from the previous two months were a little disappointing: job totals from May and June were both revised down, subtracting 41,000 from previous reporting.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 30 full months -- February 2017 through July 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 5.74 million jobs. In the 30 months preceding Trump's presidency -- August 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 6.61 million jobs.

I recently heard from a couple of readers who asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 31 months to the previous 31 months, job totals still slowed from 6.91 million to 5.99 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of his election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 33 months to the previous 33 months, job totals slowed from 7.49 million to 6.37 million.

The Republican continues to tell the world that he's overseeing the strongest domestic job growth in American history, which is plainly false. What's more, the White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2

Trump rejects warnings of Russian election interference ahead of 2020

08/02/19 08:00AM

About a year ago, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he believes Russia is still targeting U.S. elections. "No," the president said, shaking his head.

At the time, it touched off yet another Russia-related controversy for the Republican. Trump's years-long insistence that his own country's intelligence was wrong about Moscow's election attack has itself been offensive. But in July 2018, Trump went further, dismissing U.S. intelligence about Russia's future intentions, too.

Yesterday afternoon, on the White House South Lawn, it happened again.

Q: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in U.S. elections right now. Did you raise that with Vladimir Putin yesterday?

TRUMP: You don't really believe this. Do you believe this?

Q: He said it last week. Did you raise that with President Putin yesterday?

TRUMP: We didn't talk about that.

Soon after, as part of the same Q&A, a reporter reminded the president, "Mueller said right now, he believes, Russia is interfering with the election." Trump, referring to last week's congressional testimony, replied, "Well, I watched Mueller. I'm not sure Mueller knows what's going on, if you want to know the truth."

In the next breath, the president lied about the former special counsel's findings.

Trump has said a lot of strange things over the last 24 hours, but these comments about Russian election interference were among the most important.

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Obama legacy takes friendly fire in debate attacks on Joe Biden

Obama legacy takes friendly fire in debate attacks on Joe Biden

08/01/19 09:22PM

Karine Jean-Pierre, chief public affairs officer for MoveOn.org, and Adrienne Elrod, former senior advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign, talk with Joy Reid about how Democratic candidates, in the zeal to attack Joe Biden at the send primary debate, may have given fodder to the Trump campaign with their criticism of the Obama/Biden legacy. watch

Booker takes care to keep criticism of Biden apart from Obama

Booker takes care to keep criticism of Biden apart from Obama

08/01/19 09:07PM

Senator Cory Booker, 2020 Democratic candidate for president, talks about trying to win the support of African American voters, particularly when so many are backing former Vice President Joe Biden because of his affiliation with President Obama, and the need for Democrats to pick a candidate who can unify the party against Donald Trump. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.1.19

08/01/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trade wars aren't easy to win after all: "The U.S. will impose an additional 10 percent tariff on $300 billion in Chinese imports starting next month, President Donald Trump announced Thursday via tweet."

* Trump's North Korea policy continues to fail: "North Korea fired two more short-range ballistic missiles on Friday morning local time, according to three U.S. officials, its third launch of short-range missiles in just over a week."

* Today's budget vote was 67 to 28: "The Senate on Thursday gave final passage to a budget agreement approved by the House last week that would raise spending limits that would otherwise take effect and suspend the debt ceiling through mid-2021."

* DOJ: "The Justice Department's internal watchdog referred former FBI Director James Comey for prosecution over the leaking of some of his memos to the media, law enforcement sources told NBC News Thursday. The Department of Justice, however, declined to prosecute Comey, the sources said."

* Graham got more than a little grumpy today: "Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee slammed their Republican chairman, Lindsey Graham, on Thursday after he forced a vote to report a bill to change asylum laws out of the panel, claiming his Democratic colleagues didn't show up for a markup last week."

* The Kremlin acknowledged this hours before the White House did: "While everyone was watching the Democratic primary debate on Wednesday night, the White House decided it was a good moment to acknowledge a phone call today between President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin."

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Trump remains stuck between Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham

08/01/19 12:53PM

Politico reported a couple of weeks ago that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was playing golf with Donald Trump when the senator volunteered for a diplomatic mission. The idea, evidently, was for the Kentucky Republican to serve as some kind of emissary to Iran, a job that would entail a private discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during his trip to New York for U.N. meetings.

Asked about this, the American president initially said he didn't "know anything about that," but a day later, Trump seemed to confirm the reporting. "Rand asked me if he could [get] involved," he told reporters, referring to Iran policy. "The answer is yes.... We'll see what happens."

The Daily Beast reported this morning that Rand Paul may not be the only GOP senator getting "involved" in the administration's failing policy toward Iran.

President Trump wants a new deal with Iran to replace the nuclear agreement he pulled out of, and he's turning to one of his most hawkish confidants to help do it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is working in close coordination with senior Trump administration officials who focus on Middle East policy to find an alternative to the Obama administration's Iran deal, four people with knowledge of the efforts tell The Daily Beast. Part of that effort includes fielding ideas from outside actors, including foreign officials, two of those sources said.

It's worth emphasizing that this reporting hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News. That said, the South Carolina lawmaker didn't exactly deny the story.

On the contrary, Graham spoke to The Daily Beast about his discussions with the president and Trump administration officials, explaining his recommendations.

Right off the bat, there's the obvious concern about the senators' competence and credibility in this area. For example, in 2015, during delicate international talks, both Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul signed onto their party's infamous sabotage letter to Iran, urging Tehran not to trust the United States.

The GOP senators' efforts failed, the agreement was reached, the policy worked exactly as intended -- in the process, making the Republicans' gambit look just a little worse.

But even putting that aside, there's the curious matter of Trump getting guidance on Iran from Graham and Paul simultaneously.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.1.19

08/01/19 12:00PM

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

* If you've grown weary of the back-to-back presidential primary debates featuring 20 candidates, keep this in mind: only seven Democratic candidates have qualified for the next round of debates. If the final number isn't higher than 10, there won't be two debates on successive nights.

* Donald Trump's next campaign rally will be held tonight in Cincinnati, Ohio. Some have already begun wondering how the president might react if his crowd starts chanting, among other things, "Send her back."

* Hoping to capitalize on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocking all election-security measures, the Kentucky Democratic Party is reportedly launching an online store featuring "Moscow Mitch" merchandise.

* In the upcoming special election in North Carolina's 9th congressional district, the latest Republican attack ads try to tie Dan McCready (D) to both Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. It wasn't long ago that Pelosi would've been the only one mentioned.

* Speaking of figures the right has been told to find scary, George Soros is reportedly creating a super PAC, called Democracy PAC, as a vehicle for his 2020 contributions. According to Politico, the philanthropist has already put more than $5 million into the political action committee.

* In Mississippi's gubernatorial race, which is just three months away, the latest statewide Mason-Dixon poll shows show Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) leading the Republican field with 41% support, which wouldn't be enough to avoid a runoff. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. (R) was second in the poll with 31%.

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Several wild horses escape as a helicopter is used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to gather wild horses into a trap south of Garrison, Utah

Trump pick to oversee federal lands opposes federal land ownership

08/01/19 11:20AM

When it comes to personnel decisions in the Trump administration, there's an alarmingly long list of officials who never should've been chosen for their position. Some are wholly unqualified, some are radical ideologues and partisans, and some are both.

But it's against this backdrop that we see a special subset category: administration officials who fundamentally oppose the mission of the department they were asked to lead.

This week offers an amazing example of the phenomenon: while the president hasn't yet nominated anyone to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Trump's Interior secretary, David Bernhardt, this week made William Perry Pendley the acting BLM director. That wouldn't be especially notable were it not for the fact that Pendley, the Washington Post reported, is "a longtime crusader for curtailing the federal government's control of public lands," and someone who doesn't think the federal government should have federal lands to manage.

In the three decades since serving under Reagan, Pendley has sued the Interior Department on behalf of an oil and gas prospector, sought to undermine protections of endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and pressed to radically reduce the size of federal lands to make way for development.

"The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," he wrote approvingly in a National Review magazine article in 2016.

As you might imagine, that's a rather dubious assessment of the Founding Fathers' perspective.

As recently as two years ago, Pendley wrote another piece criticizing then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for not being aggressive enough in making public lands open to private development.

He'll now be in a position to oversee federal lands, his opposition to federal-land ownership notwithstanding.

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Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol

House support for Trump's impeachment reaches a key threshold

08/01/19 10:40AM

In the immediate aftermath of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony, a small army of pundits agreed on one thing: the prospects of impeaching Donald Trump had effectively disappeared. To the extent that the president was worried about the threat, he could take comfort in the apparent fact that the air had escaped the impeachment balloon.

It now appears the commentators were mistaken. Over the last week, about two dozen Democratic lawmakers have publicly announced their support for beginning impeachment proceedings against the president, and according to Politico, "The impeachment dam has broken."

More than half of House Democrats say they would vote to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, a crucial threshold that backers say will require Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reconsider her steadfast opposition. [...]

Democrats who support impeachment proceedings eclipsed the halfway mark -- 118 out of 235 voting members -- on Thursday, when Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida announced his support. Deutch was also the 23rd Democratic lawmaker to support impeachment proceedings in the week since former special counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress, affirming publicly his damning evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice.

A note of caution about the arithmetic: there are competing head counts. Politico points to 118 House Dems who've publicly endorsed impeachment proceedings, but NBC News, among others, has a list that puts the tally at 116 (with independent Justin Amash, 117).

Either way, with a chamber featuring a 235-member House Democratic majority, I think it's safe to say impeachment proponents have either met or crossed the threshold.

So, now what?

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