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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.8.19

05/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump is finally pleased with the 9th Circuit: "A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration can make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for immigration court hearings while the policy is challenged in court, handing the president a major victory, even if it proves only temporary."

* Keep an eye on this one: "The New York state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would make it easier for Congress to obtain President Donald Trump's state tax returns, advancing a bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign if it reaches his desk."

* An unnecessary complication: "Negotiations on a multibillion-dollar disaster aid bill in the Senate have grown more complicated in recent days with a push by the Trump administration to add emergency spending for the U.S.-Mexico border to the bill, lawmakers and others involved in the talks said Tuesday."

* Remember this mess? "An investigation into U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz will proceed, the Florida Bar said Wednesday, meaning the Panhandle Republican could face discipline for allegedly intimidating President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen."

* That's quite a statistic: "U.S. consumers and businesses are paying more than $900,000 a year for every job saved or created by Trump steel tariffs, according to calculations by experts at the Peterson Institute for International Economics."

* Tennessee "is moving toward becoming the first state to convert its Medicaid program to a block grant, opening up a new front in conservatives' efforts to give states more flexibility over the health program while also raising concerns about potential cuts in coverage."

* This article is more interesting than you might assume at first blush: "Economists in the Agriculture Department's research branch say the Trump administration is retaliating against them for publishing reports that shed negative light on White House policies, spurring an exodus that included six of them quitting the department on a single day in late April."

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U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee January 15, 2019 in Washington, DC.

House panel holds AG Bill Barr in contempt

05/08/19 04:53PM

Attorney General Bill Barr refused to comply with a congressional subpoena and ignored a scheduled hearing at which he was supposed to deliver sworn testimony. In effect, he dared lawmakers to do something about his deliberate stonewalling.

So, they did.

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to advance a measure that would hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress after President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller's unredacted report.

Moving to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee's subpoena for the full, unredacted report and its underlying evidence is "not a step we take lightly," Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Wednesday, but rather the "culmination of nearly three months of requests, discussions and negotiations with the Department of Justice."

The final vote in the Democratic-led Judiciary Committee was 24 to 16. The final tally, as expected, fell along party lines.

The contempt resolution will now go to the House floor for a vote from the whole chamber. That vote has not yet been scheduled, but barring a dramatic shift on the part of the attorney general, it's likely to pass.

If so, it's not a measure that would go to the Senate for consideration. Rather, if a contempt resolution passes the House, that would be the final legislative step: it would mean Barr was held in contempt of the House.

What happens after that gets a little tricky.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump asserts executive privilege over unredacted Mueller report

05/08/19 12:42PM

It's been three weeks since the Justice Department released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, and as damning as it was for Donald Trump and his political operation, the House Judiciary Committee insisted on examining a full, unredacted copy.

As of this morning, the White House said that's not going to happen.

President Donald Trump has asserted executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller's unredacted report as the House Judiciary Committee prepares to vote to hold his attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress. [...]

The committee vote and Trump's assertion of privilege represents a major escalation of the battle between congressional Democrats and the president. It will likely lead to a protracted legal war over Mueller's 448-page report on alleged obstruction of justice by Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

This is, for what it's worth, the first time Trump has claimed executive privilege since taking office.

As a political matter, it's a curious posture. On the one hand, Trump insists the Mueller report "fully exonerates" him. On the other hand, Trump also insists that Congress cannot see the unredacted document.

If the full report were as exculpatory as the president claims, it stands to reason he'd want lawmakers to see it.

And yet, the White House issued a statement this morning describing House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler's request for the report as, among other things, "unlawful" and "sad."

The same statement described the document in question as "the no-collusion, no-conspiracy, no-obstruction Mueller Report."

There was a time written statements from the White House featured measured language, reflecting a degree of maturity and stature. In the Trump era, they sound eerily similar to the president's tweets.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.8.19

05/08/19 12:00PM

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

* At least for now, Donald Trump's re-election campaign won't say whether it would use information stolen by foreign powers. It also won't say whether it would alert law enforcement if contacted by entities intending on interfering in the 2020 race.

* On the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor, is today unveiling a plan to assist public defenders and improve legal services. Among the ideas is a measure intended to improve pay equity between prosecutors and public defenders.

* Speaking of presidential candidates unveiling new proposals today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is rolling out her $100 billion plan to combat the opioid crisis.

* While some presidential candidates tend to shy away from litmus tests, at least formally, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made an explicit vow yesterday that she would only consider federal judicial nominees who support Roe v. Wade.

* After a period in which former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz generated considerable attention as a likely independent presidential candidate, he's "largely disappeared" in recent weeks.

* Last year, voters in Missouri approved a major political reform package, including an anti-gerrymandering initiative. Under the new Republican plan, there will be a measure on the state's 2020 ballot to largely undo what voters have already done.

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Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo

Even the Arctic Council is experiencing the effects of Team Trump

05/08/19 11:20AM

For more than two decades, member nations of the Arctic Council have generally found it easy to agree on plans to protect the delicate region.

That was before Donald Trump was elected. This year, as the New York Times reported, things were a little different.

Under pressure from the United States, the Arctic Council issued a short joint statement on Tuesday that excluded any mention of climate change.

It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organization made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region's fragile environment.

According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States' insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects.

The Arctic Council's outgoing chairman, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, said in a 10-page statement, "A majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic and acknowledged the urgent need to take mitigation and adaptation actions and to strengthen resilience."

Left unsaid is who didn't regard climate change as a fundamental challenge facing the Arctic.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the event, telling attendees, "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals."

I guess this is what passes for Team Trump spin in 2019? We're slowly boiling the planet, risking catastrophic conditions, but think of the trade opportunities!

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Geography of Poverty The Heartland: Life and Loss in Steel City by Matt Black and Trymaine Lee

Trump administration eyes plan to reduce poverty by redefining it

05/08/19 10:45AM

There are official metrics the government utilizes to determine eligibility for social-insurance programs. So, for example, for low-income Americans to get food stamps, they have to fall within the poverty threshold.

With this in mind, the Trump administration reportedly hopes to reduce poverty in the United States, not by making a material difference in struggling families' finances, but by tinkering with the threshold for what counts as poverty.

As the Washington Post's Helaine Olen explained in a piece last night:

The Trump administration wants to lower the poverty rate in the United States. But there's a catch: If the plan under discussion is enacted, it would cut the number of people living in poverty not by giving them a wage increase, but by defining them out of it.

"Instead of actually doing anything to cut poverty in America, Trump is trying to fudge the numbers to artificially 'reduce' the U.S. poverty rate," said Rebecca Vallas, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. "It's mathematical gaslighting."

As a practical matter, the ideas under consideration are similar to Republican proposals to cut Social Security: if officials change the way in which inflation adjustments are made, fewer would have access to benefits.

None of this is necessary or legally required, of course. Team Trump simply decided to consider changes that would have dramatic effects on those who rely on the social-insurance programs.

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Iran President Hassan Rouhani sits before addressing the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

As Iran backs away from nuclear deal, Trump's failure comes into focus

05/08/19 10:06AM

It took five years of difficult diplomatic work to put an international sanctions regime in place that forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. It took two years of difficult diplomatic work to reach an international agreement that blocked Iran's nuclear program and worked exactly as intended.

Exactly one year ago today, it took a few minutes for Donald Trump to throw all of that work away.

Iran marked the one-year anniversary of the American president's absurd decision by making an announcement of its own.

Iran has informed ambassadors from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia that it would stop implementing parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. [...]

In a speech broadcast on national television on the anniversary of America's withdrawal from the deal, President Hassan Rouhani said the country would also resume high level enrichment of uranium if world powers did not keep their promises under the Obama-era agreement.

In a press statement this morning, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "This is disastrous news and a massive failure by the Trump administration. Iran's moves to restart their nuclear program are a direct consequence of the Trump administration withdrawing from the Iran deal and Trump's blind, meandering escalatory Iranian policy. Critics of the deal President Obama signed argued that it would let Iran restart its nuclear program after a decade; well, President Trump managed to give the Iranians the green light to restart it after only four years."

The Democratic senator added, "We now have a North Korean regime that is firing rockets with the blessing of our president who lives in a fantasy land where he has an agreement with Kim Jong Un that doesn't exist. And now Trump has managed to goad the Iranians, who weren't pursuing a nuclear weapon, to start their effort again."

Yep, that sums things up nicely.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Remember Trump's plan for ending 'government corruption'?

05/08/19 09:20AM

Broadly speaking, Donald Trump's pitch to the electorate in 2016 was built on a small handful of pillars -- each of which were badly flawed, but which ultimately proved persuasive enough to win. The first was that he was a successful businessman and dealmaker, who'd bring private-sector know-how to Washington, D.C. (This was, of course, a lie.)

The second was an appeal based heavily on racial resentment, and Trump's assurances that he could roll back the cultural and societal clock. It was under this umbrella that the Republican stuffed all kinds of ugly promises, with an emphasis on immigration and crime.

The third, however, was the part of Trump's platform that was arguably the most specific and most explicit: he'd "drain the swamp." The Republican characterized the political establishment as a corrupt cesspool, which Trump -- who presented himself as an outsider who couldn't possibly be bought, thanks to his wealth -- would be relentless in cleaning up.

In fact, as vague as many of Trump's campaign promises were three years ago, he actually presented an agenda at the time to "end government corruption" with some meaningful provisions. Organizing for Action's Jesse Lehrich flagged them yesterday:

"First: I am going to re-institute a 5-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for 5 years after they leave government service. I am going to ask Congress to pass this ban into law so that it cannot be lifted by executive order.

"Second: I am going to ask Congress to institute its own 5-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs.

"Third: I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists.

"Fourth: I am going to issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.

"Fifth: I am going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections."

Trump, of course, hasn't exactly prioritized clean government since taking office, but it's worth pausing to consider the first point of his five-point plan.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

The myth of Donald Trump's success in business is shattered

05/08/19 08:40AM

Last October, the New York Times first published a devastating report on Donald Trump's finances. As regular readers may recall, the newspaper's exhaustive research uncovered evidence of "dubious tax schemes" and "outright fraud" that Trump exploited to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from his father.

The findings painted a picture in which the president, far from the self-made man he pretends to be, relied heavily on legally dubious family handouts. It was brutal, not just because of the evidence of financial wrongdoing, but also because it exposed Trump as a fraud. The self-aggrandizing myth of the New Yorker as a private-sector genius was shattered.

Last night, the Times advanced the story in ways that made matters even worse for Trump, shining a light on previously unrevealed figures from the president's finances between 1985 through 1994.

By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir "Trump: The Art of the Deal" hit bookstores in 1987, Donald J. Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns.

Mr. Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition.

By all appearances, Donald J. Trump was an unusually bad business man. The Times report added, "The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses -- largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade."

The article went on to note that during this period, Trump "appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer."

Or put another way, Trump wasn't just a loser in business, he was among the biggest losers in the country. Voters who backed the Republican because they saw him as a private-sector success story fell for a brazen scam.

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Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Va., on Sept. 14, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Following 'racy photos' report, Falwell has some explaining to do

05/08/19 08:00AM

Ahead of the 2016 election cycle, the religious right movement was determined to be the dominant force in choosing the Republican Party's presidential nominee. Conservative evangelical leaders had made similar attempts in recent decades, but the religious right was determined to get it right this time.

As regular readers may recall, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins spearheaded an initiative that pulled together dozens of like-minded social conservative leaders, united in their goal of choosing the next president. In late 2015, the group -- which referred to itself as "The Group" -- met in a hotel boardroom in Northern Virginia and agreed that Ted Cruz would serve as the movement's standard bearer.

Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, however, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. went his own way, throwing his support behind Donald Trump.

What we didn't know at the time was some of the behind-the-scenes intrigue involving the two camps. Reuters reported late yesterday:

Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.'s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor, Cohen said in a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.

Falwell, president of Liberty University, one of the world's largest Christian universities, said someone had come into possession of what Cohen described as racy "personal" photographs -- the sort that would typically be kept "between husband and wife," Cohen said in the taped conversation.

What was described was an apparent blackmail scheme in which an unnamed party obtained the photos and demanded money. Cohen reportedly flew to Florida and threatened to call the police if the threats didn't stop.

The Reuters report added that the unnamed person who had the "racy" photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on the Falwells' behalf.

That said, Cohen reportedly told a friend, comedian Tom Arnold, that he kept one of the pictures, which he described as "terrible."

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