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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.9.19

08/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from El Paso: "The man accused of gunning down 22 people at an El Paso Walmart last week confessed to the grisly crime and admitted he was targeting people of Mexican descent, according to unsealed court documents Friday."

* A case we've been keeping an eye on: "A judge on Thursday ordered the publisher of a neo-Nazi website to pay a Jewish real estate agent $14 million for inciting his readers to harass her family with hundreds of threatening and anti-Semitic messages and calls."

* The latest in the Epstein case: "A chilling picture of how hundreds of girls and young women from around the world were trafficked for sex by Jeffrey Epstein, his alleged madam, Ghislaine Maxwell, and a number of other powerful business and world leaders emerged Friday in court documents unsealed in New York."

* I'd love to see Trump's thoughts on stories like these: "For nearly two decades, the Trump Organization has relied on a roving crew of Latin American employees to build fountains and waterfalls, sidewalks and rock walls at the company's winery and its golf courses from New York to Florida.... For years, their ranks have included workers who entered the United States illegally, according to two former members of the crew."

* This was unfortunate: "In a jarring image tweeted from first lady Melania Trump's account, she and President Donald Trump grin, the latter flashing a thumbs up, as they pose with a baby orphaned by the mass shooting in El Paso."

* Richard Grenell's diplomacy isn't always diplomatic: "Washington could withdraw some troops from Germany unless Chancellor Angela Merkel's government answers repeated calls to boost its defense spending, the U.S. ambassador has warned."

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U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra R-Mich., March 8, 2016 file photo

Needing an intel director, Trump praises controversial former rep

08/09/19 03:10PM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is on his way out. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon was shown the door. Donald Trump's recent choice of Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to serve as DNI ended in a humiliating fiasco.

So, who's next? Bloomberg News noted yesterday that Pete Hoekstra, who used to serve as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and who's currently serving as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, is in the mix.

Today, the president mentioned him by name.

Pete Hoekstra, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and a former congressman from Michigan, is getting buzz about possibly becoming President Donald Trump's top intelligence adviser.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Trump was asked by reporters about the possibility of Hoekstra being nominated to be the official director of national intelligence and the president has positive words for him.

"I like Hoekstra a lot," Trump said.

That being the case, let's take a stroll down memory lane.

If the Michigan Republican's name sounds at all familiar, it may be because Hoekstra became the butt of jokes in late 2017 after making some very strange claims about the Netherlands -- and then getting caught lying about it to a Dutch news outlet.

He might also be known for having run a failed gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and then a failed U.S. Senate campaign two years later.

But what I consider the most important part of Hoekstra's background was his nine-term tenure on Capitol Hill.

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Trump says his base relies on him to 'tell them what's happening'

08/09/19 12:50PM

Donald Trump has made a variety of comments this week that suggest he's open to new reforms on national gun policy. It's an open question as to whether anyone should believe what the president has said -- Trump's truth allergy is well documented -- but his rhetoric rose to the level of receiving a warning from the NRA about going too far.

With this in mind, there was an interesting exchange this morning between Trump and a reporter during a brief Q&A on the White House south lawn.

Q: Does your base support background checks?

TRUMP: I think my base relies very much on common sense and they rely on me in terms of telling them what's happening.

The use of the phrase "what's happening" immediately brought to mind the assertion the president used last summer, when Trump told a group of supporters, "Just remember: what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

The implication at the time was that the president expected his base to look to him as the authority on truth, not what people might see and read.

Today offered an extension on the same thought: as far as Trump is concerned, his base will follow his lead, no matter the direction. As he put it, these are Americans who "rely on" the president to tell them "what's happening."

I'm not sure he's wrong.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.9.19

08/09/19 12:00PM

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

* As hard as this may be to believe, Andrew Yang has apparently now qualified for the next round of Democratic presidential debates, thanks to a Monmouth University poll that found him with 2% support in Iowa. The entrepreneur, who's never held elected office, is the ninth White House hopeful to become eligible to participate in the next debates.

* On a related note, Julián Castro and Tom Steyer are close to also qualifying -- Castro, in particular, needs just one more good poll -- and are facing a deadline of August 28.

* In Pennsylvania, the latest Franklin & Marshall poll found Joe Biden leading his party's presidential primary field, but his margin over Elizabeth Warren is modest: 28% to 21%. Bernie Sanders is third in the poll with 12%, followed by Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg with 8% and 6%, respectively.

* As the field of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates continues to grow, there's increased chatter about former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) shifting away from his presidential campaign and running for the Senate instead. But if he were to make the change, Colorado Dems have begun making it clear that they won't clear the field for Hickenlooper, and it may very well be too late for him.

* Tensions between Twitter and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign aren't going away, and a growing number of Republican groups are temporarily freezing their ad spending on the social-media site in response.

* Speaking of McConnell, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), another Democratic presidential hopeful, is reportedly going to help lead a "caravan" of activists supporting gun-law reforms from Niles, Ohio, to the GOP leader's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, U.S. President George W. Bush and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen at the Pentagon Memorial, Sept. 11, 2008. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty)

Bush-era Joint Chiefs chairman: ban assault weapons

08/09/19 11:00AM

It was 12 years ago this week when the Senate confirmed Navy Admiral Mike Mullen to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. George W. Bush's choice for the position was so uncontroversial, he faced no opponents and was confirmed by a voice vote. The decorated war veteran remained at the post before retiring in 2011.

What's occasionally struck me as politically notable about Mullen has been his willingness to take positions unpopular with Republicans, despite having been chosen by a Republican president and having been supported by GOP senators. The admiral, for example, was among the many U.S. military leaders to endorse closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mullen also helped take the lead on ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

In 2013, the right was not at all pleased when the retired admiral helped debunk the GOP's Benghazi conspiracy theories. In 2018, he also voiced public skepticism about Donald Trump's policy toward North Korea.

With this in mind, it's not too surprising that Mullen has a new piece in The Atlantic calling for a ban on assault weapons, though I have a hunch Republicans won't care for this, either.

[T]hese weapons are for war; they are not for sport. Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. As the tragic events last week in El Paso and Dayton attest, these weapons make it virtually impossible for law-enforcement agencies to stop those bent on taking lives. In Dayton, heroic officers responded within 30 seconds, and yet the shooter still killed nine people.

I had hoped that our political leaders would put saving innocent lives ahead of their careers, if necessary sacrificing their own political ambitions to get this done. But our politicians have proved unwilling to take up the cause or to take risks for the sake of the many citizens, young and old, murdered both before and after Sandy Hook.

The retired admiral, imploring policymakers to act, added, "If we do nothing, many more innocent lives will be needlessly sacrificed -- and the blood of those innocents will continue to flow upon our hands."

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The US State Department is seen in Washington, DC.

Unwilling to serve under Trump, Foreign Service official resigns

08/09/19 10:12AM

Staff turnover in the Trump administration has been extraordinary, but some staff departures are more notable than others. More to the point, it's worth paying attention not just to who leaves their positions, but why and how they part ways with the administration.

Chuck Park was, up until yesterday, a U.S. Foreign Service official who'd served under different presidents from different parties. The child of immigrants, Park was inspired by the idea of American exceptionalism, and he "felt a duty to the society that welcomed my parents and allowed me and my siblings to thrive."

He proceeded to serve tours abroad, working to spread "what I believed were American values: freedom, fairness and tolerance."

Yesterday, Park resigned and wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why.

Ask to read the commission of any Foreign Service officer, and you'll see that we are hired to serve "during the pleasure of the President of the United States." That means we must serve this very partisan president.

Or else we should quit.

I'm ashamed of how long it took me to make this decision. My excuse might be disappointing, if familiar to many of my colleagues: I let career perks silence my conscience. I let free housing, the countdown to a pension and the prestige of representing a powerful nation overseas distract me from ideals that once seemed so clear to me. I can't do that anymore.

My son, born in El Paso on the American side of that same Rio Grande where the bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter were discovered, in the same city where 22 people were just killed by a gunman whose purported "manifesto" echoed the inflammatory language of our president, turned 7 this month. I can no longer justify to him, or to myself, my complicity in the actions of this administration. That's why I choose to resign.

It's a striking perspective in its own right, but reading Park's op-ed, I was reminded of how increasingly common it's become to hear from diplomatic officials like him who haven't just resigned, but who've also taken care to explain their reasoning to the public.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party, at the Iowa State Fair Oct. 31, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty)

Lindsey Graham 'promises' ACA repeal if Republicans win in 2020

08/09/19 09:20AM

Three weeks before last year's midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised a few eyebrows with some candid comments about his future legislative plans. Despite the Affordable Care Act's growing popularity, the Republican leader told Reuters that his party would likely try to repeal "Obamacare" if given the chance.

It would, McConnell added referring to the midterm elections, "depend on what happens in a couple weeks."

After Election Day had come and gone, it became obvious that Americans were not on board with the GOP leaders' plan. As regular readers may recall, the day after the midterm elections, McConnell had no choice but to acknowledge reality and dismiss the idea of ACA repeal.

But as the political world looks ahead to the next election cycle, some Republicans are publicly confirming the fears of health-care advocates: if given a chance, GOP policymakers have every intention of trying again to tear down the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this week that Republicans would push to repeal ObamaCare if they win back the House and President Trump is reelected in 2020.

"If we can get the House back and keep our majority in the Senate, and President Trump wins reelection, I can promise you not only are we going to repeal ObamaCare, we're going to do it in a smart way where South Carolina will be the biggest winner," Graham said in an interview with a South Carolina radio station.

"We've got to remind people that we're not for Obamacare," the South Carolinian said. In reference to his policy plans, the senator added, "This scares the hell out of the Democrats. This is what 2020 is about."

I wonder which party is happier to hear Graham saying stuff like this in public.

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A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Why the shakeup of Donald Trump's intelligence team matters

08/09/19 08:41AM

There's a limited universe of national security officials who enjoy the enthusiastic support of congressional Democrats and Republicans. Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, is one of them.

With this in mind, after Donald Trump parted ways with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who made the mistake of saying true things to a president who didn't want to hear them, congressional leaders encouraged the White House to elevate his second in command. By some accounts, Coats personally urged the president to give Gordon the job, putting her in a position overseeing the U.S. intelligence agencies -- a task she was qualified and prepared to do.

Trump chose a different course.

Sue Gordon, a career CIA official who is serving as the principal deputy director of national intelligence, told the White House she would leave her job on Thursday after she learned she would be passed over as director of national intelligence.

In a handwritten note to President Donald Trump, Gordon wrote: "Mr. President -- I offer this letter as an act of respect & patriotism, not preference. You should have your team. Godspeed, Sue."

The use of the phrase "not preference" left little doubt that Gordon's change in career plans was not altogether voluntary.

Soon after, the president announced -- via Twitter, naturally -- that Joseph Maguire, the current director of the National Counterterrorism Center, would serve as the acting director of national intelligence. As the Associated Press noted, Maguire had "a long and distinguished career in the military," though his background in intelligence work is limited.

Common sense suggests it might've been a good idea to keep someone like Sue Gordon around to assist with the transition between ODNI leaders, but Trump nevertheless showed her the door.

A Washington Post report added that the president "was reluctant to keep someone with whom he had never formed a close bond." Trump and his team also apparently "regarded her as a career official and consequently suspicious."

All of which helps reinforce the absurdity of the circumstances.

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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)

How serious is McConnell about doing 'something' on gun reforms?

08/09/19 08:00AM

For proponents of gun reforms, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is an unmovable villain standing in the way of every legislative effort to improve public safety. For opponents of reforms, the Kentucky Republican is a reliable ally, who can always be counted on to bury gun legislation regardless of merit.

Both contingents were probably a little surprised yesterday when McConnell opened the door to new legislation using rhetoric that he hasn't used before.

"Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass" the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and the so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.

"But what we can't do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that's unacceptable," McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.

The Senate GOP leader went on to note that he'd spoken about the issue with Donald Trump, and the president is "anxious to get an outcome."

It's hard not to think of poor Charlie Brown, standing on the field, wondering if this time Lucy will actually let him kick the football without yanking it away at the last moment.

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