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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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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.7.19

08/07/19 12:00PM

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

* In Mississippi, home to one of this year's three gubernatorial races, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. (R) were the top two vote-getters in yesterday's GOP gubernatorial primary, and they'll face off again in a runoff. The winner will face state Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in the fall.

* A national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday showed former Vice President Joe Biden (D) with 32% in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 21%. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was third with 14%. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) rounded out the top tier with 7% and 5%, respectively.

* Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia in the Trump administration, submitted his resignation yesterday. It's widely assumed that Huntsman will return to Utah to run for governor -- a position he held before serving as U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration.

* Though former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) reiterated his commitment this week to his presidential campaign, he also conceded he hasn't "ruled out" other options. This might include a possible U.S. Senate race next year against incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

* It seems hard to believe, but in Orange County, California, once a Republican bastion, registered Democrats are now the plurality.

* The widely held assumption was that the number of Democratic presidential hopefuls competing in the party's October debate would be fairly modest. But as Rachel noted on the show last night, after the Democratic National Committee clarified participation rules this week, the debate field may be larger than previously expected.

* Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) caused a bit of a stir yesterday when he started tweeting the names of constituents in San Antonio who've donated the maximum to Donald Trump's re-election campaign. It's important to emphasize that this information was already publicly available when the congressman identified the donors.

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NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks to members at the annual convention, Louisville, Ky., May 21, 2016.

Questions surrounding NRA management get quite a bit louder

08/07/19 11:01AM

In late April, as former NRA president Oliver North was ousted from his post, North said in his resignation letter that there's "a clear crisis" within the right-wing organization.

As regular readers know, that assessment is increasingly easy to believe. Indeed, it's been difficult to keep up with the group's list of controversies, which in recent months, has grown with alarming regularity. Where does one even start? With North's ouster? The demise of the NRA's failed television network? The ugly fight with Ackerman McQueen, the group's longtime ad firm? The suspension of the NRA's top lobbyist? The multiple resignations of its board members?

How about the inquiries launched by investigators in New York? Or the subpoenas issued by the attorney general for the District of Columbia?

The latest report from the Washington Post will only raise the volume on the questions about how the NRA managed its considerable resources.

Documents indicate that the National Rifle Association planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year for the use of chief executive Wayne LaPierre, according to two people familiar with the records.

The discussions about the roughly $6 million purchase, which was not completed, are now under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a wire of tens of thousands of dollars from the NRA in 2018, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The New York attorney general's office is now examining the plan for an NRA-financed mansion as part of its ongoing investigation into the gun lobby's tax-exempt status, in which it has subpoenaed the group's financial records, the people said.

The reporting, which hasn't been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, coincides with a related article in the Wall Street Journal, which said that LaPierre was in discussions with Ackerman McQueen, the NRA's ad firm, to help him buy the mansion shortly after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

LaPierre, according to the article, was "concerned about his security and was interested in another residence besides his publicly known address in northern Virginia."

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The view from a witness room facing the execution chamber of a "death house" at a correctional facility. (Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's death-penalty focus won't prevent mass shootings

08/07/19 10:18AM

When presented with complex challenges, Donald Trump generally likes solutions he perceives as simple. Concerns over undocumented immigrants, for example, led the president to demand a giant border wall. Pressed for answers on school shootings, he called for arming school teachers. Alarmed by a trade deficit with China, the Republican embraced a poorly thought out tariff strategy.

In Trump's mind, it's all quite "easy."

Similarly, earlier this year, Trump suggested executing drug dealers would help the United States resolve its drug problem. As of this week, there's another category of criminals the president is eager to put to death. From his Monday speech on the latest mass shootings:

"Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay."

The president referred to this as a possible "area of cooperation" to help prevent future mass shootings.

The trouble, of course, is that deterring mass shootings by threatening executions almost certainly won't work -- as Trump would know if he took the policy debate a little more seriously.

As the Associated Press reported, most who perpetrate mass shooters "don't live to face trial."

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