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Homeless women sit amid their belongings on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2014.

Trump admin on homeless: 'We're not rounding people up or anything yet'

09/13/19 11:20AM

During his remarks to the House Republican Conference last night, Donald Trump suggested Los Angeles and San Francisco are in need of a presidential rescue. "We are going to have to step in and do something about it," he said, adding, "We can't allow it. And in the not too distant future, you are going to see we are going to step in."

Though the president didn't explicitly use the word "homeless," that seemed to be what he was referring to last night when he went on to say, "We are going to give them notice. In fact, we gave them notice today. Clean it up. You got to do something. Can't have it. These are our great American cities and they're an embarrassment."

The fact that Trump has taken an interest in homelessness in some of the nation's largest cities isn't necessarily a bad thing. There is, however, an obvious follow-up question: what exactly does the president have in mind?

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump, according to one senior administration official, has asked aides to figure out "how the hell we can get these people off the streets." With those vague directions in mind, officials took a look at a specific facility.

A team of Trump administration officials toured a California facility once used by the Federal Aviation Administration this week as they searched for a potential site to relocate homeless people, according to three government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private tour. [...]

The FAA facility toured by administration officials is located in or near Los Angeles, but its precise name or whereabouts -- or whether it is a current or former government facility -- were not immediately known.

It also remains unclear how the federal government could accomplish getting homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles, or what legal authority officials would use to do so.

I have so many questions. Let's say the reporting is right, there's a big FAA facility in Los Angeles, and some Trump administration officials believe it could serve as a place to put homeless people. How is this supposed to work? Would the homeless simply be dropped off at a giant warehouse turned into a makeshift shelter? How would they get there? Which federal agency would enforce such a policy? Would the homeless be forced to stay? Does the administration have the legal authority to do any of this?

One senior administration official told the Post, "We're not rounding people up or anything yet."

What exactly did this person mean by "yet"?

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Why two of Trump's judicial nominees are suddenly in trouble

09/13/19 10:40AM

As a rule, the Republicans' judicial pipeline works with remarkable efficiency. Partisan operatives tell Donald Trump who to nominate; the White House sends the nominees to Capitol Hill, and the Republican-led Senate serves as a rubber stamp. The result is a largely successful initiative to move the entire federal judiciary to the right.

As regular readers know, however, there are occasional exceptions. A small handful of Trump nominees have been derailed by intra-party divisions, racial controversies, or humiliating incompetence exposed during the confirmation process.

Will the list of failed nominees grow longer? It's a distinct possibility.

We talked earlier this week about Steven Menashi, one of the president's far-right lawyers, who's been nominated for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, despite a tough-to-defend record of radicalism that includes an argument about democratic countries working better when everyone is of the same ethnicity.

As Rachel noted on the show the other day, Menashi's confirmation hearing this week could've gone better. Politico reported on the bipartisan disappointment with him:

Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday castigated President Donald Trump's nominee to the powerful Second Circuit Court of Appeals for dodging their questions as well as his prior controversial writings.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in particular chided Steven Menashi for not being more forthcoming during his confirmation hearing after the nominee wouldn't provide specifics on how or if he helped shape Trump's immigration policy. Menashi is currently associate counsel to the president.

At one point, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) added, "Counsel, you're a really smart guy but I wish you'd be more forthcoming."

Whether this will be enough to derail Menashi's nomination -- which, under the blue-slip rule, shouldn't really exist since both of New York's Democratic senators oppose him -- remains to be seen, but he didn't do himself any favors during his confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, an entirely different Trump judicial nominee is in trouble for a very different reason. Politico reported late yesterday:

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

Indicted House Republican pleads not guilty to felony charges

09/13/19 10:06AM

One of the oddities of the 2018 election cycle was that two incumbent congressmen ran for re-election while under felony indictment. One of the other oddities is that most of their constituents didn't seem to mind.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) won despite a fairly long list of charges, accused by prosecutors of misusing campaign contributions to pay for luxurious personal expenses. Last week, the Republican's lawyers argued that the case against him is built on evidence from his campaign-finance forms, and according to Hunter's legal team, those materials were filed as part of a legislative act and therefore should be immune from prosecutorial scrutiny.

I have a hunch this won't work out especially well for the GOP lawmaker, but time will tell. Hunter's trial is scheduled to begin in January. Several months later, he'll likely face a primary challenge from former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who retired from a nearby district, and who's apparently interested in a comeback.

And while there's no doubt that Hunter's scandal features all kinds of interesting drama, let's not forget the other indicted congressman, who was in court yesterday. Roll Call reported:

Rep. Chris Collins pleaded not guilty to a revised indictment on Thursday in New York, where he, his son Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins' onetime fiancee, were initially indicted in August 2018 on insider trading charges and lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors have dropped three of the original eight securities fraud charges against Collins and two against his son and Zarsky in order to speed up the pretrial process in time for the trial slated for Feb. 3, 2020.... The defense team for Collins, a longtime Republican from New York's 27th District, could delay that trial date for the congressman through a potentially lengthy pretrial appeals process.

For those who might need a refresher, the case against the New York Republican paints an unsettling picture.

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Image: Beto O'Rourke

Texas GOP rep tells Beto O'Rourke: 'My AR is ready for you'

09/13/19 09:20AM

Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) recently endorsed a mandatory-buyback program for assault weapons: not only would consumers no longer be allowed to buy AR-15s and AK-47s, but Americans who currently own them would be legally required to sell them to the government in exchange for compensation.

It's a fairly new and controversial proposal for a national candidate, though an independent poll last week found 46% support for the idea.

When the issue came up during last night's debate, the Texan said, "[I]n Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren't enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

One viewer registered a specific kind of objection via Twitter.

A Texas state representative had a menacing response to Beto O'Rourke's statement in Thursday's debate that "hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15."

"My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," Republican Representative Briscoe Cain tweeted about O'Rourke, using the presidential candidate's legal first and middle name.

Cain later deleted the tweet. Nevertheless, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest those who threaten to shoot presidential candidates probably shouldn't own military-style assault weapons.

O'Rourke told CNN this morning that his campaign contacted the FBI about the Texas Republican's missive. "I mean, anytime you have somebody threatening to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue -- or really for any reason -- that's a matter for law enforcement," the Texas Democrat said.

Time will tell whether Briscoe Cain faces any legal troubles for his not-so-subtle threat, but it's worth contextualizing this incident because it's part of a larger story.

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Despite his promises, Trump pushes deficit past $1 trillion mark

09/13/19 08:41AM

After the Great Recession ended, it seemed as if trillion-dollar deficits were a thing of the past. As the Wall Street Journal reported late yesterday, pointing to new data from the Treasury Department, we've again passed the threshold -- and it's worth understanding why.

A strong economy typically leads to narrower deficits, as rising household income and corporate profits help boost tax collections, while spending on safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance tends to decline.

The U.S. economy has been growing for 10 years as of July, the longest economic expansion on record. Yet annual U.S. deficits are on track to exceed $1 trillion starting this year, due in part to the 2017 tax law, which constrained federal revenue collection last year, and a 2018 budget deal that busted spending caps enacted in 2011.

I should emphasize that there's still another month remaining in the fiscal year, which will likely affect the overall deficit for the 12-month period. That said, it's a safe bet that the deficit will still exceed $1 trillion.

These aren't exactly the fiscal results Donald Trump promised the electorate before his election. As regular readers may recall, in February 2016, the future president appeared on Fox News and assured viewers that, if he were president, he could start paying off the national debt “so easily.” The Republican argued at the time that it would simply be a matter of looking at the country as “a profit-making corporation” instead of “a losing corporation.”

A month later, in March 2016, Trump declared at a debate that he could cut trillions of dollars in spending by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Asked for a specific example, he said, “We’re cutting Common Core.” (Common Core is an education curriculum. It costs the federal government almost nothing.)

A month after that, in April 2016, Trump declared that he was confident that he could “get rid of” the entire multi-trillion-dollar debt “fairly quickly.” Pressed to be more specific, the future president replied, “Well, I would say over a period of eight years.”

By July 2016, he boasted that once his economic agenda was in place, “we’ll start paying off that debt like water.”

As Catherine Rampbell recently explained, "Federal deficits have widened immensely under Trump's leadership. This is striking not only because he promised fiscal responsibility – at one time even pledging to eliminate the national debt within eight years – but also because it's a historical anomaly.... Trump's own policies are to blame for this aberration."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Questions about military stops at Trump's Scottish resort grow louder

09/13/19 08:00AM

Toward the end of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate, Pete Buttigieg reminded the audience that Americans currently have a president "who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment. We saw what's going on with flights apparently being routed through Scotland just so people can stay at his hotels? I'll tell you, as a military officer, the very first thing that goes through your mind, the first time you ever make eye contact with somebody that you are responsible for in uniform, is do not let these men and women down. This president is doing exactly that."

The comments were well timed: just as the Democratic debate was getting underway, Politico published an interesting new report on the simmering controversy:

The U.S. Air Force has lodged crews at President Donald Trump's Scotland resort up to 40 times since 2015, a figure that is far higher than previously known.

The tally represents the preliminary results of an Air Force review launched after POLITICO reported last week that an Air National Guard crew stayed at Turnberry in March. Congressional Democrats have also been investigating military stays at the property, but have yet to receive any information from the Pentagon.

While this advances the story, there are some elements to this that we do not yet know. For example, we learned this week that some of the U.S. military stops at the Prestwick Airport -- about 20 miles away from Trump's struggling business -- predated the Republican's presidency. That didn't negate the burgeoning controversy, since the flights to the airport Trump is eager to prop up went up considerably after he took office, but it's a relevant detail.

And with this in mind, if U.S. servicemen and women stayed at the Trump-owned Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort 40 times, and all or nearly all of the visits occurred during the Obama era, there'd be fewer questions about possible abuses.

But if all or nearly all of the visits occurred after Trump became president -- or if the total jumped from one administration to the next -- we're right back where we started, wondering about a possible scheme to put money in the sitting president's pocket, while bolstering an airport the president's business needs to survive.

Of course, if the lines between Trump the president and Trump the businessman were clearer, and there weren't so many concerns about the Republican trying to profit from his office, unprecedented controversies like these wouldn't even come up.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.12.19

09/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* No good can come of this: "The Trump administration rolled back a major Obama-era clean water regulation on Thursday, reversing protections for certain waterways and wetlands that had fallen into a legal grey area after a series of Supreme Court challenges."

* The more the court's conservatives play the role of Trump fixers, the worse it is for the rule of law: "The U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday gave the Trump administration permission to enforce its toughest restriction yet on asylum seekers at the southern border, even though a lawsuit to stop the new policy is still working its way through the lower courts."

* Adding to our national embarrassment: "Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a message for refugees rejected by U.S. President Donald Trump: Canada will take you."

* McCabe's indictment would be dramatically controversial in light of Trump's crusade against him: "Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Thursday that his appeal against possible criminal charges against him has been rejected, according to a person familiar with the decision."

* It's almost as if the entire policy is shaped by one man's uninformed whims: "President Trump said Wednesday night that the United States would delay its next planned tariff increase on China by two weeks, as 'a gesture of good will' that may help to mend the seriously damaged ties between the world's two biggest economies."

* Michael Cohen, back in the news: "The former personal attorney for President Donald Trump has entered into an agreement with New York City prosecutors to provide information about the president's business operation, a source familiar with the situation told NBC News Wednesday."

* A provocative allegation: "The U.S. government concluded within the last two years that Israel was most likely behind the placement of cell-phone surveillance devices that were found near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington, D.C., according to three former senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter."

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As intra-party debate continues, Dems advance impeachment proceedings

09/12/19 12:52PM

There's no shortage of questions surrounding the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, including concerns over Democratic divisions on the issue, public support, and possible political consequences.

And while those questions may not yet have clear answers, the House Judiciary Committee voted today -- along party lines -- to establish the rules for an impeachment process. As NBC News reported:

Under the resolution, which does not need to be approved by the full House, Nadler can designate hearings run by the full committee and its subcommittees as part of the impeachment investigation. The committee's lawyers are also able to question witnesses for an additional hour beyond the five minutes that are allotted to each member of Congress on the panel.

Additionally, the president's lawyers will be able to respond in writing to evidence and testimony presented to the committee, and evidence can be received in closed session.

Though the practical implications of the step are limited, Roll Call noted that this was the "first vote on text that focuses on the Judiciary Committee deciding whether to impeach Trump."

Today's move does not necessarily mean the president will be impeached or even that articles of impeachment will be drawn, but the House panel has now set the rules of the road so that the process can move forward fairly and judiciously.

Obviously, it signals that the impeachment threat is real and that lawmakers are taking the possibility seriously. This formal step of establishing procedural rules was also taken during Richard Nixon's and Bill Clinton's presidencies.

As for what to call this, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in his opening statement this morning, "Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature."

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