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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes calls impeachment investigators a 'cult,' irony be damned

11/01/19 12:47PM

In June 2018, then-Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) complained that too much of today's Republican Party has found itself in "a cult-like situation as it relates to a president." Soon after, Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News and was surprisingly reluctant to reject the criticism.

"You know what," the president's adult son said, "if it's a cult, it's because they like what my father is doing."

In other words, Trump Jr. was comfortable with the use of the "cult," but uncomfortable with the Republican senator's reluctance to join the GOP sect.

A year and a half later, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), somehow the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, used the same word during yesterday floor debate on the presidential impeachment inquiry. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted, the GOP congressman's rhetoric was "jaw-dropping."

He railed about the sort of person who believes in "conspiracy theories" and relies on "defamation and slander," who spins a "preposterous narrative" with "no evidence" and only "bizarre obsession."

Surely he was describing one Donald J. Trump to a T?

On the contrary, Nunes applied these Trumpian signatures to Democrats. "What we're seeing among Democrats on the Intelligence Committee," he said, "is like a cult. These are a group of people loyally following their leader as he bounces from one outlandish conspiracy to another."

I realize that I'm-rubber-and-you're-glue projection has become common in Republican circles of late, but Devin Nunes' "no puppeting" efforts were extraordinary, even by 2019 standards.

It would've been entirely appropriate for one of Nunes' Democratic colleagues to borrow his notes, walk to a microphone, and repeat some of his comments, word for word: "These are a group of people loyally following their leader as he bounces from one outlandish conspiracy to another."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.1.19

11/01/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of Iowa's Democratic presidential caucuses, a newly released New York Times/Siena poll shows four candidates within five points of each other: Elizabeth Warren is out in front with 22%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 19%, Pete Buttigieg at 18%, and Joe Biden at 17%. The only other candidate to top 3% was Amy Klobuchar, who had 4%.

* Elizabeth Warren promised to go into more detail on how she intends to finance her Medicare-for-All plan, and this morning, the Massachusetts Democrat unveiled a relatively detailed blueprint that places most of the revenue burden on businesses and the wealthy, while proposing "not one penny in middle-class tax increases."

* Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro said he needed to raise $800,000 by last night or he'd end his presidential campaign. It appears he met his goal, so his candidacy will continue.

* With two weeks remaining before Louisiana's competitive gubernatorial race, Donald Trump said this morning he'll visit the Pelican State tonight for a campaign rally in support of first-time candidate Eddie Rispone. According to the White House schedule, however, he'll actually be in Mississippi tonight, and he'll campaign in Louisiana on Wednesday.

* On a related note, Kentucky's gubernatorial election is Tuesday, and Trump has scheduled a rally in the Bluegrass State on Monday night in support of incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

* Speaking of Kentucky, Ed Kilgore had a good piece yesterday on the degree to which Republicans are trying to create a "red scare" in the state's gubernatorial race, sending direct mail "modeled on 1930s-era Soviet posters of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, but with the evil commie trio of Warren, AOC, and Bernie flanking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear, who is about as much of a socialist as Mitch McConnell is a model of bipartisanship."

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Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump adds televangelist to his White House team

11/01/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump has invested considerable time and energy into cultivating ties with the religious right movement, and it stands to reason that the president would look for ways to solidify his connections to politically conservative evangelical Christians ahead of his 2020 campaign.

But cozying up to televangelists is one thing; hiring a televangelist to work at the White House is something else.

Paula White, a televangelist based in Florida and personal pastor to President Trump whom he has known since 2002, has joined the Trump administration in an official capacity, according to a White House official.

Ms. White will work in the Office of Public Liaison, the official said, which is the division of the White House overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president's base. Her role will be to advise the administration's Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which Mr. Trump established last year by executive order and which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.

The New York Times' report on this noted that White has "a large following among Christians who believe in the 'prosperity gospel,' which teaches that God blesses people he deems to be of strong faith with wealth, good health and other gifts."

The same article added that many other Christians consider the "prosperity gospel" to be "heresy."

And while I'm inclined to put aside questions related to theological merits, the fact that Paula White will now have a job at the White House suggests it's probably worth taking a look at her record.

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Image: U.S. President Trump delivers statement following a shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice, at the White House in Washington

Despite recent promises, Trump abandons blueprint for gun reforms

11/01/19 10:40AM

Three months ago, there were back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, leaving 31 people dead over the course of about 13 hours. Not surprisingly, many Americans once again looked to elected leaders to do something about gun violence in the United States.

Donald Trump assured the public that he was prepared to take the issue seriously. "We're going to come with something that's going to be, really, very good -- beyond anything that's been done so far," the president told reporters on Aug. 7. He added that White House officials had already begun talks with congressional leaders, before complaining about his predecessors' inability to address the issue "over the last 30 years."

At the same Q&A, the Republican went on to voice his strong support for expanded background checks -- "like we've never had before," he said -- before vowing to "certainly bring up" a ban on assault weapons.

In context, all of this was poised to be part of a White House blueprint of reforms, which Trump intended to present to lawmakers and the public. In mid-September, the president suggested he was still serious about this, adding, "[W]e'll be reporting back in a fairly short period of time. There are a lot of things under discussion. Some things will never happen, and some things can, really, very much -- some very meaningful things can happen."

According to a new Washington Post report, the White House has decided not to bother to make anything happen.

President Trump has abandoned the idea of releasing proposals to combat gun violence that his White House debated for months following mass shootings in August, according to White House officials and lawmakers, a reversal from the summer when the president insisted he would offer policies to curb firearm deaths.

Trump has been counseled by political advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, that gun legislation could splinter his political coalition, which he needs to stick together for his reelection bid, particularly amid an impeachment battle.

The article added that the White House Domestic Policy Council had worked on a plan that included eight to 12 tenets, but Team Trump has since decided to "move on."

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it's not your imagination.

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After latest spill, Trump's Keystone assurances appear ridiculous

11/01/19 10:06AM

It was exactly four years ago this week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump condemned the Obama administration's decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. As the future president put it at the time, the proposed oil pipeline would be "good for the environment."

Trump added that there was "no downside" to approving the project.

Yeah, about that....

The Keystone pipeline system, an addition to which has been the subject of environmental protests for years, leaked about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, covering an estimated half-acre of wetland, state environmental regulators said.

The spill, which has been contained, occurred in a low-gradient drainage area near the small town of Edinburg in northeast North Dakota, less than 50 miles from the Canadian border, according to Karl Rockeman, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality's division of water quality.

"It is one of the larger spills in the state," he said in an email on Thursday.

As regular readers may recall, this latest spill was not the first such incident involving the Keystone project.

But it's not altogether clear Trump knows or cares about such details. During remarks in North Dakota a couple of years ago, the president said in reference to the pipeline. "I think environmentally better. I really believe that – environmentally better."

Better than what, he did not say.

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Why Republicans delivered suspicious packages to congressional offices

11/01/19 09:20AM

An unfortunate part of work on Capitol Hill is learning to be cautious about suspicious packages. This has been true for a while, but congressional aides were reminded of the threat around this time last year when a deranged Donald Trump supporter targeted lawmakers and prominent journalists with pipe bombs.

With this in mind, Roll Call reported yesterday on an unfortunate and ill-considered Republican stunt.

Several House Democrats in battleground districts complained Thursday that a political stunt by Republicans intended to warn them they would not be in office long because of impeachment instead ended up wasting the time of Capitol Police after aides complained of receiving suspicious packages.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent packing boxes to the Capitol Hill offices of the Democrats, most of whom flipped Republican districts in 2018 and are expected to have competitive campaigns to keep them next year.

The suspicious packages were supposed to represent "moving boxes," which the NRCC found amusing. Others were far less entertained: Aaron Fritschner, who works for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), explained that he heard members of the U.S. Capitol Police, whose time Republicans wasted, tell staffers, "Do not touch a package like that, call us first."

Among those targeted with "moving boxes" were Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.). For her part, Wexton responded, "I cannot figure out why anyone would think it's funny to leave suspicious packages for members of Congress."

Common sense makes clear this prank was unwise, but I'm also struck by the ostensible point of the stunt gone awry: for the National Republican Congressional Committee, lawmakers approving an impeachment inquiry -- not impeachment itself, but simply seeking answers about alleged presidential wrongdoing -- are risking their careers by ignoring the will of the electorate.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel added, in reference to the impeachment inquiry, "The longer this goes, we are seeing more and more voters shift to supporting the president and recognizing that this is a totally partisan endeavor by the Democrats."

There's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

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Job growth tops expectations in Oct, but totals still slip under Trump

11/01/19 08:42AM

Ahead of this morning's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in October in the ballpark of 85,000, in part because of the effects of the General Motors strike. It looks like those expectations were a bit too gloomy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 128,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate inched up a little to 3.6%. Fortunately, the revisions from August and September were revised up, adding 95,000 jobs from previous reporting.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 33 full months -- February 2017 through October 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 6.25 million jobs. In the 33 months preceding Trump's presidency -- May 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 7.38 million jobs.

As regular readers know, some have 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 34 months to the previous 34 months, job totals still slowed from 7.71 million to 6.5 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of the Republican's 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 36 months to the previous 36 months, job totals slowed from 8 million to 6.89 million.

Let's also note that so far this calendar year, the United States has added 1.67 million jobs, which puts 2019 on track to be the worst year for domestic job creation since 2010.

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Republicans mistakenly celebrate Morrison's impeachment testimony

11/01/19 08:00AM

Up until a few days ago, Tim Morrison was the top adviser on the White House National Security Council on policy related to Russia and Europe. He was also a close ally of former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and an official who had earned a reputation as a conservative hawk on foreign policy. For Donald Trump's detractors, Morrison hardly fits the role of an ally.

But Morrison testified for about eight hours yesterday as part of the congressional impeachment inquiry, and as the Washington Post reported, his perspective didn't do the president and his allies any favors.

A White House adviser on Thursday corroborated key impeachment testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who said last week he was alarmed by efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate President Trump's political rivals in exchange for nearly $400 million in military aid.

Tim Morrison ... told House investigators over eight hours of closed-door testimony that the "substance" of his conversations recalled by William B. Taylor Jr., the acting ambassador to Ukraine, was "accurate," according to his prepared remarks and people familiar with Morrison's testimony.

In particular, Morrison verified that Trump's envoy to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, conveyed to a Ukrainian official that the military aid would be released if the country investigated an energy firm linked to the son of former vice president Joe Biden.

Trump, perhaps not paying close enough attention, suggested last night that he saw Morrison's testimony as good news. Echoing some of the commentary heard in conservative media yesterday, the president tweeted his thanks to Morrison last night, celebrating the witness' "honesty." Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) added that Morrison's testimony "was very damaging to the Democrats' narrative."

The basis for this was simple: Morrison said that from his perspective, he considered Trump's demands on Ukraine to be problematic, but not criminal. According to his publicly released opening statement, his exact words were, "I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed."

And that, for some Republicans, was a huge phrase. They are mistaken.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.31.19

10/31/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm not sure why the right saw Morrison's testimony as good news: "Tim Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on President Trump's National Security Council, on Thursday corroborated the testimony of a senior U.S. diplomat who last week offered House impeachment investigators the most detailed account to date for how Trump tried to use his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with his deposition."

* The shadow foreign policy: "Two veteran foreign service officers revealed new details to House impeachment investigators on Wednesday about the unconventional efforts by President Donald Trump's associates to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine, according to copies of their opening statements obtained by POLITICO."

* I could've sworn Trump told us that North Korea no longer did this: "North Korea fired two projectiles toward the Sea of Japan, according to South Korea's military, as the country ratchets up pressure on the U.S. amid stalled nuclear-disarmament talks."

* Remember, Trump put a formal coal lobbyist in charge of the EPA: "The Trump administration is expected to roll back an Obama-era regulation that was to limit the leaching of dangerous heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury from the ash produced by coal-fired power plants, according to two people familiar with the plans."

* It's a nice change of pace when the Senate does some work: "The Senate on Thursday took a first step toward advancing some government funding, passing a bipartisan package of bills that would pay for the operations of major agencies such as Agriculture, Transportation and Interior."

* How pitiful: "Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has been practically jumping up and down for President Donald Trump's attention lately, filed an ethics complaint on Wednesday against Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA)."

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