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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)

In bold defiance of irony, McConnell frets over 'partisanship'

12/20/19 09:20AM

The day after Donald Trump's impeachment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered prepared remarks on his chamber's floor for quite a while, largely focusing on condemning the House majority for taking action against his party's president.

There was, however, one word McConnell used over and over again.

"The House's vote yesterday was not some neutral judgment that Democrats came to reluctantly. It was the pre-determined end of a partisan crusade... Long after the partisan fever of this moment has broken, the institutional damage will remain.... A political faction in the lower chamber have succumbed to partisan rage. [emphasis added]"

Yes, Kentucky's senior senator has seen recent political developments, and he's eager to tell the public how concerned he is about "partisanship."

The impeachment process, McConnell insisted, was "purely partisan." The House Intelligence Committee's inquiry, he added, was "poisoned by partisanship." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), McConnell complained, is "a partisan member of Congress."

Toward the end of his speech, the Senate majority leader went so far as to argue that future historians will marvel at the fact that "so many who professed such concern for our norms and traditions themselves proved willing to trample our constitutional order to get their way."

He did not appear to be kidding.

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White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

Team Trump tries to defend his ugly comments about deceased rep

12/20/19 08:40AM

On the night of his impeachment, Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan, where he whined for a while about Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) standing against him, despite his willingness to give her husband, the late Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) a proper memorial service.

As the president told his supporters, "She calls me up: 'It's the nicest thing that's ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down. He'd be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.' I said, 'That's OK, don't worry about it.' ... Maybe he's looking up, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe."

The Daily Beast's Sam Stein, an MSNBC contributor, noted, "You just don't meet too many people in life who consciously pick fights with widows by suggesting their husband is in hell."

Yesterday, the White House tried to mount a defense.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday that she had not spoken to Trump about his Dingell comments, adding that she is "very, very sorry for" the congresswoman's "loss and I would thank her and I would thank her late husband for all of the service to our country."

"He was at a political rally," she said when pressed on Trump's remarks. "He has been under attack and under impeachment attack for the last few months and then just under attack politically for the last two-and-a-half years. I think as we all know, the president is a counter-puncher. It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd and he was just riffing on some of the things that have happened the past few days."

Around the same time, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley appeared on Fox and complained, "No matter what the president says, people are going to parse it apart, try and tear it apart, and focus on the most negative aspects of it."

What a good point. Just once, it'd be nice if political observers focused on the positive aspects of Trump suggesting a celebrated, deceased public servant might be in hell.

All joking aside, I'm not surprised the White House is trying to defend the president's cruelty, though I'm struck by how woeful Team Trump's talking points are.

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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

The three words Trump should never utter: 'Putin told me'

12/20/19 08:00AM

On too many occasions, Donald Trump has made clear he has little use for the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies. It raises the question of who, exactly, has the president's ear on matters of national security and international affairs.

In some instances, Trump clearly finds it useful to follow the guidance of commentators in conservative media. In other instances, the Republican prefers to make snap judgments, relying on his "gut," even in areas in which he has no knowledge or background.

But then there are the examples of Trump listening to the one source he seems to trust implicitly: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When Trump canceled military training exercises with our South Korean allies, the decision came after Putin suggested it. When the FBI tried to brief the American president on the capable range of North Korean ballistic missiles. Trump rejected their findings -- because, by one account, he'd received competing information from the Russian president.

And the Republican has long been convinced that Ukraine intervened in the U.S. elections in 2016 in the hopes of undermining his candidacy. As the Washington Post reported in a striking new piece, Trump appears to have gotten this false idea from his benefactor in Moscow, too.

Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

The president's intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign -- and the blame he cast instead on a rival country -- led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine's culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

The Post quoted one former senior White House official who said Trump was quite explicit on this point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit, U.S. intelligence be damned, because "Putin told me."

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.19.19

12/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The House sure does pass a lot of legislation: "The House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly passed the new North American trade deal, voting in unusually bipartisan fashion just a day after impeaching President Trump strictly on party lines."

* This might take a while: "Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress went toe-to-toe Thursday as a standoff unfolded over the next steps in President Donald Trump's impeachment."

* Ukraine: "Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was instructed by a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hand over responsibilities for his post just days before Mr. Pompeo plans to visit the Ukrainian capital, according to a person familiar with the situation."

* Pentagon: "Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, senior adviser for international cooperation, has left the Pentagon, the Department of Defense confirmed to Defense News Wednesday. She's the fifth top official in seven days to exit or announce their departure from the Pentagon, according to Defense News and The Hill."

* It's amazing how similar Donald Trump's and Vladimir Putin's rhetoric can be: "I don't think Trump will be voted out of power on made up charges," the Russian president said at a wide-ranging end-of-year news conference. "Democrats lost the last election, and now they want to win by other means."

* In related news: "The Trump administration is quietly fighting a new package of sanctions on Russia, The Daily Beast has learned. A Trump State Department official sent a 22-page letter to a top Senate chairman on Tuesday making a wide-ranging case against a new sanctions bill."

* A step in the right direction: "Facebook plans to clamp down on attempts to use its services to interfere with the 2020 U.S. census, including the posting of misleading information about when and how to participate, who can participate and what happens when people do."

* Good: "The Senate on Thursday cleared by voice vote a wide-ranging bill to crack down on unwanted robocalls."

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Appeals court ruling leaves future of 'Obamacare' in limbo

12/19/19 12:38PM

A couple of months ago, Politico noted that the Affordable Care act "has never been stronger." Despite Donald Trump's efforts to sabotage the health care reform law, the assessment rang true.

Premiums have fallen, the market is stable, and congressional efforts to repeal the ACA are on indefinite hold so long as Democrats maintain their House majority. The only thing that could derail the nation's health care system now would be intervention from conservative judges appointed by Republican presidents.

It was against this backdrop that two federal appellate judges -- one nominated by Donald Trump, the other by George W. Bush -- ruled that the ACA's individual mandate is unconstitutional, though as NBC News' report noted, they also "sent the case back to the trial judge for another look at whether the entire law is invalid or if some parts can survive."

By a 2-1 vote, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with Texas and 17 other red states that the key part of the law is unconstitutional -- the provision that requires all Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, ruling that it was a legitimate exercise of Congress's taxing authority.

The states then sued after the Republican-led U.S. House in 2017 set the tax penalty at zero. The appeals court agreed with a Texas trial judge who first heard the lawsuit. He ruled that because the tax was eliminated, the law could no longer be saved as a use of Congress' taxing power.... Without the tax, it concluded, Congress has no authority to require Americans to buy health insurance.

The full 5th Circuit ruling is online here (pdf).

For those who may need a refresher on how we reached this point, let's circle back to some of our earlier coverage. It has, after all, been almost exactly a year since U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor -- a Bush-appointed jurist in Texas -- sided with a dubious Republican lawsuit and struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, root and branch.

Even many conservatives and ACA critics agreed that the ruling was indefensible. Reactions tended to include words and phrases such as "pretty bananas," "embarrassingly bad," and "absurd."

The hope among health care advocates was that the 5th Circuit would hear the appeal, overturn the nonsensical district court ruling, and the matter would be put to rest. That is now, however, what the Bush- and Trump-appointed judges decided.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.19.19

12/19/19 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a co-founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and one of Donald Trump's most steadfast supporters, announced this morning that he won't run for re-election next year. He's also reportedly willing to resign mid-year for a post on Team Trump.

* On a related note, there are now 25 House Republicans giving up their seats next year -- 21 are leaving electoral politics, while four are seeking higher office -- which is exactly the same number of retirements we saw from House Republicans at this point in the 2018 election cycle.

* A new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Joe Biden leading his party's presidential field with 28% support, followed by Bernie Sanders at 21% and Elizabeth Warren at 18%. Pete Buttigieg is fourth with 9%, while Amy Klobuchar is fifth with 5%.

* The same poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the general congressional ballot by seven points, 49% to 42%. That's the same advantage Democrats enjoyed two months ago, and the same advantage Dems had the month before the 2018 midterms when they won back the House majority.

* Speaking of survey data, a new national poll from CNN shows Biden leading Sanders, 26% to 20%, followed by Warren at 16%, and Buttigieg at 8%. Michael Bloomberg was fifth in the poll with 5%.

* Incidentally, in case there weren't enough going on in the political world right now, the latest Democratic presidential primary debate is tonight.

* As New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew gets ready to join the Republican Party -- by some accounts, as early as today -- his staffers continue to resign in large numbers.

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, arrives to participate in the news conference on March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The broader significance of Gabbard's 'present' vote on impeachment

12/19/19 11:21AM

The House Democrats who chose not to vote for Donald Trump's impeachment can be counted on one hand.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) could not vote for health reasons. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is conservative. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) will reportedly become a Republican later today. Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) represents a Trump district and split his votes -- supporting one article of impeachment, but not the other.

And then there was the other one.

In a surprise move, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic candidate for president, voted "present" Wednesday on both articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. [...]

She was the only House member in either party to vote present.

Although she had voted in favor of a resolution that moved the impeachment inquiry forward in October, she had not publicly said how she would on impeachment itself.

There have been three presidential impeachments in American history, and the Hawaii congresswoman is the first to ever vote "present."

Going into yesterday's proceedings, Gabbard was not generally considered one of the House Dems whose vote was in doubt. In late September, for example, the long-shot presidential candidate said in a written statement, "If we allow the president to abuse his or her power, then our society will rot from top to bottom. We will turn into a banana republic, where people in positions of power -- from the president all the way down to the traffic cop -- will feel it's O.K. to abuse their power with no consequences."

Evidently, after the case against Trump grew even stronger, and the evidence of presidential abuses became even more obvious, Gabbard changed her mind.

Her "present" votes came roughly a week after the Hawaii lawmaker, who was close to qualifying for tonight's Democratic primary debate, announced that she wouldn't participate, even if she met the necessary thresholds.

Gabbard cited "a number of reasons" behind her decision, though she didn't identify any of those reasons.

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By GOP reasoning, no elected president could ever be impeached

12/19/19 10:43AM

Those who watched the impeachment debate on the floor of the U.S. House yesterday know that one of the most frequently used phrases among Republican lawmakers was, "63 million."

[Donald Trump's impeachment] was an attempt, many Republicans argued, to throw out the will of the 63 million voters who supported Trump that year.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Democrats "hate the 63 million Americans" who voted for Trump. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said impeachment would "nullify 63 million votes." Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) said he chose to stand with the "63 million American voters" who supported Trump.

At one point, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) went so far as to hold -- in all seriousness -- a moment of silence for the "63 million American voters" who backed the president in 2016. Johnson added that Democrats were trying to "disenfranchise" these Trump supporters.

At this point, we could talk about the fact that Trump actually came in second in the popular vote. We could talk about the fact that in the most recent federal elections -- last year's midterms -- Democratic voters outnumbered Republican voters, 61 million to 51 million, and those Americans' support for presidential accountability matter, too. We could even try to explain what words like "disenfranchise" and "nullification" actually mean.

But for now, let's put those relevant details aside and consider an analogy.

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Trump isn't yet ready to shift his focus away from toilets

12/19/19 10:07AM

As a political writer, I don't generally have to devote a lot of professional time to toilet-related stories. That said, the issue does come up from time to time.

In March 2011, for example, during a congressional hearing on efficiency standards for appliances, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) lashed out at an Obama administration official with complaints about his plumbing. "Frankly, my toilets don't work in my house, and I blame you," the senator said at the time.

The back and forth continued for a while, before Paul concluded, "We have to flush the toilet 10 times before it works." (Kathleen Hogan, the then-deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the Energy Department, trying to be patient with the senator, replied, "I can help you find a toilet that works.")

Little did we know at the time that this was a harbinger of things to come.

Last year, we confronted stories about former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and his "masculine toilet" business. (Don't ask.) Earlier this year, as part of an odd series of complaints about the Census Bureau, Trump whined, "They go through houses. They go up, they ring doorbells, they talk to people. How many toilets do they have?" Kellyanne Conway peddled the same false claim.

Two weeks ago, the issue came up again. At a White House roundtable on small businesses, Trump declared that the EPA, at his suggestion, is "looking very strongly" at toilets, because Americans "are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once."

Last night, at a campaign rally in Michigan, the issue was still on his mind:

"Now we're doing it with a lot of other things. Uh, dishwashers, and uh, you know. I won't tell you one of the things because every time I tell you they do a big number on it. You know the one I'm talking about, right? Sinks, right? Showers? And what goes with a sink and a shower?

[Crowd chants, "A toilet!"]

"Ten times, right? Ten times. [Trump does flushing motion while saying something that sounds like 'bah, bop.'] Not me of course, not me, but you. You. But I never mention that."

As part of the same complaint, Trump added that "women tell" him that contemporary dishwashers aren't effective enough, either.

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Rep. John Dingell, at a news conference in Washington on July 27, 2011.

Trump suggests celebrated deceased lawmaker might now be in hell

12/19/19 09:21AM

The first sign of trouble came over the weekend with a presidential tweet. Donald Trump wrote that the last time he'd spoken to Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), she'd called to thank him for "granting top memorial and funeral service honors" for her husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), after his passing.

"Now I watch her ripping me as part of the Democrats Impeachment Hoax," Trump added. "Really pathetic!"

It was a reminder that in the Republican's mind, everything is transactional. Trump approved Dingell's funeral arrangements, which he believes entitles him to loyalty from Dingell's family. Debbie Dingell may be a duly elected congresswoman, and she may have been polite to the president at a difficult time, but as far as Trump is concerned, she's "pathetic" unless she shows her gratitude by siding with him on impeachment.

Last night, Trump traveled to the Dingells' home state of Michigan for a campaign rally, where he went much further, blasting the congresswoman and suggesting her late husband might be in hell.

Trump said he gave Dingell an "A-plus" memorial. "I gave him everything. I don't want anything. I don't need anything for anything," Trump said. "She calls me up: 'It's the nicest thing that's ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down. He'd be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.' I said, 'That's OK, don't worry about it.'

"Maybe he's looking up, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe," Trump said to loud laughs and groans. "But let's assume he's looking down."

The Daily Beast's Sam Stein, an MSNBC contributor, noted overnight, "You just don't meet too many people in life who consciously pick fights with widows by suggesting their husband is in hell."

It's tempting to think Trump is succumbing to the pressure of being impeached, but the unfortunate truth may be that his comments were simply a reflection of the president's true character.

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