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Following hurricane, Trump balks at welcoming residents of the Bahamas

09/10/19 08:40AM

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump filmed a video statement at the White House extending his best wishes to the people of the Bahamas, who are struggling in the wake of a deadly hurricane. After explaining that American agencies are going to help with recovery efforts, the president said, "On behalf of the United States and the people of the United States, we're working hard, we're with you, and God bless you."

Four days later, it seems "we're with you" may have been an unfortunate choice of words.

There were reports over the weekend on the Trump administration allegedly denying Bahamians without a visa access to the United States -- in some cases, being removed from ships ready to leave the island -- despite the emergency conditions. I'd initially hoped this was the result of a bureaucratic mix-up that could be easily fixed.

Those hopes were bolstered, at least initially, when acting Customs and Border Protection chief Mark Morgan told reporters yesterday that he believed it would be "appropriate" to extend temporary protected status to residents of the Bahamas, giving them the legal ability to live and work in the United States temporarily while recovery efforts are underway.

"This is a humanitarian mission," the CBP chief said. "If your life is in jeopardy and you're in the Bahamas ... you're going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not."

Morgan's boss didn't quite see it the same way.

President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering.

"We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren't supposed to be there," Trump said on the White House South Lawn before departing for a campaign rally in North Carolina, where he also planned to survey Dorian damage.

"I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers."

The Republican went on to emphasize that there are "large sections" of the Bahamas that were not devastated by Hurricane Dorian -- suggesting that Trump believes people whose communities were destroyed should simply go to a different part of their country.

Or put another way, when the president told Bahamians, "We're with you," he may not have fully meant 'with."

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Image: Donald Trump, William Barr, Wilbur Ross

Why a Trump cabinet sec reportedly threatened to fire NOAA officials

09/10/19 08:00AM

After a week of farcical presidential antics, Donald Trump's campaign to politicize hurricane forecasts took a truly ridiculous turn on Friday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a written statement endorsing the Republican's false claims about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama. The NOAA also took the extraordinary step of criticizing professionals at the National Weather Service for having told the truth.

It stood to reason NOAA leaders didn't come up with this scheme to prioritize politics over science on their own; someone must have directed the agency to embarrass itself. And who was it, pray tell, who told NOAA to reject reality? According to the New York Times, it was Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the cabinet secretary who oversees the agency.

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency's Birmingham office contradicted President Trump's claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion. [...]

[A]ccording to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency's perceived contradiction of the president.

Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.

Apparently feeling as if he had little choice, Jacobs did as he was directed and rejected what was true.

There's no shortage of angles to a story like this. There are the potentially dangerous consequences, for example, of politicizing and undermining public confidence in weather forecasts. There's the question of authoritarian strong-arm tactics in which government officials are told that the misjudgments of The Leader must be made true, science and reality be damned.

There are the investigations into the ordeal, including one announced yesterday from the Commerce Department's Inspector General's office.

But I'm also curious about Wilbur Ross' future.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.9.19

09/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Keep a close eye on this one: "President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed the idea of allowing Bahamians fleeing the destruction of Hurricane Dorian into the United States on humanitarian grounds, hours after his acting Customs and Border Protection chief said it was worth considering."

* NOAA: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting chief scientist said that he would investigate why the agency backed President Donald Trump's claims about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama over its own forecasters."

* In related news: "Also on Monday, the director of the National Weather Service broke with NOAA leadership over its handling of Trump's Dorian tweets and statements."

* Whether this will remain his position, no one knows: "President Trump declared that peace talks with the Taliban were 'dead, as far as I'm concerned,' saying he called off a meeting at Camp David after the militant group in Afghanistan killed 12 people, including one American soldier."

* This is bound to be interesting: "House Democrats announced Monday that they will investigate the role of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in what they characterized as efforts to influence the government of Ukraine to help the Trump re-election campaign."

* In related news: "The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging the White House to release security assistance funds for Ukraine meant to deter Russia."

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

White House struggles to explain underwhelming job growth

09/09/19 02:58PM

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest jobs numbers late last week, and the results were less than encouraging. The economy added 130,000 jobs in August, short of expectations, and a number that was artificially inflated by 25,000 temporary workers hired by the Census Bureau.

It's never wise to overreact to one month's jobs figures -- we routinely see outliers for one reason or another -- but for those concerned about a possible recession, the latest data didn't help. Making matters slightly worse, U.S. job growth has slowed quite a bit since Donald Trump took office.

The White House has offered some responses. They're not especially persuasive.

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, shrugged off a disappointing jobs report by saying August "is always a quirky month."

Well, maybe. Looking back over the last few years, some Augusts have looked great, others less so. But what Kudlow should probably appreciate is the fact that the broader concerns aren't limited to August. As things stand, 2019 is on track to be the worst year for American job creation this decade. The White House may find it tough to dismiss it as a "quirky" year.

Which led us to the second talking point.

President Trump lashed out Friday at the news media after the release of an underwhelming August jobs report, accusing journalists of stoking anxiety about a potential recession.

"The Economy is great. The only thing adding to 'uncertainty' is the Fake News!" Trump tweeted Friday, hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released an August jobs report that fell below expectations.

American news organizations were around last year, when job growth was stronger. The president will have to do better than this.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

On high crimes, the question shifts from 'whether' to 'how many'

09/09/19 12:57PM

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump was so desperate to expand border barriers ahead of his 2020 campaign that he'd directed aides to "aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules." Those who were caught running afoul of the law, the president reportedly added, would be rewarded with presidential pardons.

The day the article was published, MSNBC's Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter, "This is, I think, pretty unambiguously a high crime/misdemeanor." And when I saw the tweet, I immediately nodded in agreement. There's plenty of scholarly debate about what meets the threshold for presidential misconduct worthy of impeachment, but it seems more than reasonable to think offering pardons to those who commit crimes while scrambling to build an unnecessary "wall" with raided funds in defiance of Congress' wishes probably crosses the line.

But what's unsettling is just how often political observers are confronted with the same question. It's little wonder that the congressional impeachment inquiry is due to expand.

House Democrats return to Washington this week poised to significantly broaden their nascent impeachment inquiry into President Trump beyond the findings of the Russia investigation, but they will confront a fast-dwindling political clock.

Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment, Democratic lawmakers and aides have sketched out a robust four-month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.

I won't pretend to know what's going to happen as a result of these inquiries or the vigor with which they'll be pursued. It's no secret that much of the House Democratic leadership is deeply skeptical of impeaching Trump -- not because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies think he's innocent, but because they think the process will help him win a second term, especially after the Republican-led Senate quickly ignores any articles of impeachment approved by the lower chamber.

But tactical considerations aside, it seems the underlying question isn't whether Trump is facing credible allegations of high crimes and misdemeanors, but how many high crimes and misdemeanors the president may have committed.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.9.19

09/09/19 12:00PM

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

* A Washington Post/ABC News poll released over the weekend found former Vice President Joe Biden leading the Democratic 2020 presidential field nationally with 29%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders with 19%, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 18%. Sen. Kamala Harris, at 7%, was the only other candidate above 5%. It's also worth noting that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was at 2%, which may help her qualify for the party's debate in October.

* On a related note, Tom Steyer reached 2% in Nevada in a CBS News poll, which means he will be the 11th candidate to qualify for the October debates. It also means we're likely to see back-to-back debates on successive nights again, unlike this week, when 10 candidates share a single stage.

* It's Election Day in two North Carolina congressional districts tomorrow, and Donald Trump will be in the Tar Heel State tonight, hoping to rally support for the GOP candidate, Dan Bishop, in the competitive do-over race in the 9th district. The president has also published a few related tweets on the race in recent days.

* Mark Sanford, a former South Carolina governor and former three-term congressman, announced on Fox News yesterday that he's running against Trump in a GOP presidential primary.

* In related news, Sanford will not have the ability to vote for himself: South Carolina Republicans agreed over the weekend to cancel the state's 2020 Republican presidential primary in order to protect Trump.

* At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Kamala Harris became the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to endorse mandatory buybacks of military-style assault weapons, though she conceded officials would have to "work out the details."

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Pompeo's whopper: Team Trump is the most science-friendly in history

09/09/19 11:13AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at an event Kansas on Friday, where he fielded a question from a Kansas State University physics professor who asked a very good question.

"As you know, there have been an exodus of scientists across many of the federal agencies. This exodus has been driven largely because the results of their work has been suppressed. Indeed, recently a well-regarded physicist/chemist Dr. Rod Schoonover left the U.S. Department of State due to the suppression of even a security-cleared version of his assessment on the impact of climate change on national security. I add parenthetically that, in my opinion, the Department of State can ill afford the loss of any good scientists.

"My question is: Do you support the suppression of scientific reports from within the U.S. Department of State? If not, how did this happen? And if so, why?"

Pompeo was less impressed with the question than I was.

"Well, it won't shock you that I disagree with most of what you just said. Of course, no one supports the absence of science. I would argue that this State Department -- indeed, this administration -- has relied on science far more than the previous administration, and I would argue more than any administration in history. [...]

"We turn to scientists and facts-based approaches to every single difficult challenge we face every day."

I realize the cabinet secretary was able to say all of this with a straight face. That's part of the problem. The idea that the Trump administration has set a historically high bar, relying on science in ways that exceed every administration in the history of the country, is completely bonkers.

Indeed, the timing of Pompeo's comments was almost comical: the same day the Kansas Republican praised Team Trump's handling of science, Trump's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration threw National Weather Service scientists under the bus for daring to tell the public truths the president didn't like.

The ridiculous incident signaled to scientists throughout the government that there's an expectation their work will be in accordance with the White House's political vision.

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