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E.g., 9/18/2019
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A farmer plants corn in a field near De Soto, Iowa on May 5, 2014.

Farmers' frustrations with Trump 'erupted into the open' in Minnesota

08/08/19 10:00AM

When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue appeared at a fair in rural Minnesota yesterday, he probably expected a few questions about the Trump administration's struggling trade agenda. He probably didn't expect the reception he actually received.

As Bloomberg News reported, farmers' "discontent" over Donald Trump's trade war "erupted into the open" at the event.

Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, drew applause as he leveled criticism of the administration's trade policy at a forum with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in front of thousands of farmers gathered in a metal barn for a panel discussion.

American farmers took a fresh financial hit from Trump's trade war over the weekend as China announced a halt to all U.S. agricultural imports after the president threatened Beijing with another tariff increase.

Wertish criticized Trump's "go-it-alone approach" and the trade dispute's "devastating damage not only to rural communities." He expressed fears Trump's $28 billion in trade aid will undermine public support for federal farm subsidies, saying the assistance is already being pilloried "as a welfare program, as bailouts."

The same Bloomberg News article noted comments from Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, who noted the president's recent assertion that farmers are doing "great" again.

"We are not starting to do great again," Thalmann told the Agriculture secretary. "We are starting to go down very quickly."

What strikes me as amazing is not that these farmers, nervous about their future, are making their frustrations known, but rather, that the president has convinced himself that these concerns don't exist.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Schumer prepared to play hardball in debate over gun policy

08/08/19 09:21AM

On Monday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made an announcement: he and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had reached an agreement on a "red-flag" bill. At the risk of oversimplifying matters, the idea is to take firearms from those deemed dangerous and mentally unfit. They're also known as ERPO ("Extreme Risk Protection Order") laws, and when it comes to reform measures, they enjoy fairly broad support.

According to Graham, the scope of the proposal would be relatively modest, though it would "create a federal grant program to assist and encourage states to adopt 'Red Flag' Protection Order laws to timely intervene in situations where there is an imminent threat of violence."

Given how close the Judiciary Committee chairman is with Donald Trump, the fact that the GOP senator announced progress on the bill suggested the White House was on board with the plan.

So, should reformers expect some real movement on this bill? It's not quite that simple.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, put the brakes on Republicans' quick embrace of "red flag" laws as a response to last weekend's gun violence, saying on Wednesday that any gun-related legislation moving through the Senate must be accompanied by a House bill requiring background checks on all gun purchasers. [...]

"We Democrats are not going to settle for half measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side," Mr. Schumer said in a statement. "Democrats in the Senate will seek to require that any E.R.P.O. bill that comes to the floor is accompanied by a vote on the House-passed universal background checks legislation."

That's almost certainly not what GOP leaders expected Schumer to say. Indeed, it's a rather hardball move for the Senate Democratic leader.

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Donald Trump speaks after accepting an endorsement at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky., May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

NRA steps in to remind Trump of what he's supposed to think

08/08/19 08:40AM

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in a Parkland, Fla., high school, Donald Trump talked a good game about ambitious gun reforms. At one especially memorable White House discussion with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the president not only endorsed a "comprehensive" solution to combat gun violence, he also seemed to publicly mock his GOP allies for being "so afraid of the NRA."

Two weeks later, Trump abandoned his plans. The National Rifle Association reminded the Republican what he was supposed to believe, at which point the president quietly retreated from nearly all of the positions he'd earlier endorsed.

A year and a half later, after much of the country was shook by back-to-back mass shootings, Trump has been more circumspect, rejecting calls for an assault-weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity magazines, but endorsing expanded background checks and new "red-flag" laws.

And this week, just like early 2018, the NRA is signaling to its White House allies what is and isn't possible. The Washington Post reports today that the president's comments "prompted a warning" from the far-right organization.

NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre spoke with Trump on Tuesday after the president expressed support for a background check bill and told him it would not be popular among Trump's supporters, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal talks. LaPierre also argued against the bill's merits, the officials said.

The NRA, which opposes the legislation sponsored by Sens. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), declined to comment.

It's possible, of course, that this time will be different. Maybe Trump, eyeing the 2020 race, will risk alienating the NRA, confident that the organization -- plagued by institutional scandals and strife -- is weakened and far less relevant than it once was.

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Facing leadership test after mass shootings, Trump flunks (again)

08/08/19 08:00AM

While it can't be easy for a president to travel to communities still reeling from mass shootings, there's a template of sorts for a leader to follow. It's not complicated: a president is expected to show up, show support, offer condolences, make federal resources available, and reassure those still reeling that things will, in time, get better.

Yesterday, this proved to be too difficult for Donald Trump.

It was intended to be a day for President Donald Trump to pay his respects to the victims of two deadly mass shootings, thank first responders and serve as consoler-in-chief.

But before he even left the White House on Wednesday for El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the president used his bully pulpit to settle political scores and lash out against slights.

The trouble began around midnight, with a presidential tweet attacking presidential hopeful Beto O'Rouke, El Paso's former congressman. It continued nine hours later, during a brief Q&A with reporters, in which Trump criticized four Democratic presidential candidates and Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton. Another tweet soon followed, attacking Joe Biden.

After a hospital visit in Dayton, Trump lashed out at Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Whaley, badly mischaracterizing what the Ohio Democrats had said during a press conference.

In El Paso, Trump boasted to reporters about the people he'd met and their "respect for the office of the presidency" -- as if the important thing about the day was him and his feelings.

This was followed by more attack tweets, targeting Fox News' Shep Smith, Joaquin Castro, and Julian Castro.

It was against this background that the White House released a campaign-style video of Trump during his day trip, which was soon followed by another campaign-style video. The point of both clips seemed to be to convey to the public that the president was well received during his local hospital visits. (He also promoted a series of hagiographic photographs, each of which featured him and people smiling around him. The press was told the hospital visit was "not a photo-op." Reality suggests otherwise.)

It was the latest in a series of presidential leadership tests. It was also Donald Trump's latest failure.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.7.19

08/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "A Taliban suicide car bomber targeted a police station in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, killing 14 people and wounding 145, most of them civilians, officials said in what was one of the worst attacks in Kabul this year."

* That was quick: "Puerto Rico's Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that part of the law used by embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to name Pedro Pierluisi as his successor is unconstitutional, saying that Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez should be sworn into the position at 5 p.m. ET."

* McGahn matters: "Just days after a majority of House Democrats came out in favor of moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, the House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to compel testimony from a central witness of the Mueller report."

* Walmart: "In the wake of the weekend's deadly shootings in El Paso and Dayton, a pair of Walmart employees are joining a number of gun control advocates, questioning the retail chain's sale of guns and gun ammunition and encouraging other employees to join in their protest."

* Keep an eye on this: "The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter -- a month after President Donald Trump pledged to explore 'all regulatory and legislative solutions" on the issue.'"

* Arkansas: "A federal judge has blocked a series of abortion restrictions in Arkansas, preventing laws from taking effect that would have closed the state's last surgical abortion clinic and prohibited the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy."

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The problem with Trump's unambitious vision on gun reforms

08/07/19 03:38PM

On Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump made his first public comments about the latest American mass shootings, and the president seemed eager to assure the public that the wheels of policymaking were in motion. "We're talking to a lot of people, and a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things," he said, adding, "A lot of things are happening."

Trump made similar comments this morning during a brief Q&A with reporters, saying, "I'll be convincing some people to do things that they don't want to do, and that means people in Congress."

Gotcha. A lot of things are happening, and the president intends to twist the arms of skeptical members of Congress to support reforms intended to help keep Americans safe. So far, so good.

But let's get specific. Any chance the White House will support a renewed ban on assault rifles?

"Well, I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment. If you look at the -- you could speak, you could do your own polling. And there's no political appetite, probably, from the standpoint of legislature."

Oh. Well, how about restrictions on high-capacity magazines?

"So, you have to have a political appetite within Congress. And, so far, I have not seen that. I mean, I can only do what I can do."

Let me see if I have this straight. Trump is going to convince some lawmakers to do things that they don't want to do and Trump is going to temper his ambitions because of the limited "appetites" among members of Congress in his own party.

Looking ahead, there are a few relevant angles to keep in mind.

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While slamming critics, Trump says his words 'bring people together'

08/07/19 12:40PM

It was just two days ago when Donald Trump, delivering scripted remarks from a teleprompter, tried to respond to some recent mass shootings in an above-the-fray sort of way. "Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside -- so destructive -- and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love," the president said.

He waited a whole day before abandoning unity, devotion, and love by attacking Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) over his name and his standing in the polls. Evidently, the Republican doesn't see partisanship as "destructive" after all.

On the White House south lawn this morning, as the president prepared to visit communities in Texas and Ohio still reeling from the mass murders, Trump stopped to briefly to talk to reporters. The president seemed eager, at least initially, to soften his tone.

"[Critics] are people that are looking for political gain. I don't think they're getting it. And, as much as possible, I've tried to stay out of that.... I think we have toned it down.... I would like to stay out of the political fray. [...]

"I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together."

How he managed to say this with a straight face wasn't altogether clear.

But as part of the same brief remarks, Trump proceeded to twice point to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in relation to the Dayton shooter, criticize the Democratic mayor of Dayton, take another not-so-subtle shot at Beto O'Rourke, and wrap things up by calling Joe Biden "a pretty incompetent guy."

And with that, the Republican left to bring comfort to grieving communities.

It's a good thing the president likes to "stay out of the political fray."

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