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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.3.19

09/03/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Dorian "is moving northwest toward the U.S. after virtually stalling over the Bahamas where it caused devastation and was blamed for at least five deaths."

* Walmart announced today that it will "discontinue the sale of ammunition used in high-capacity magazines and military-style weapons." The commercial giant added that it will ask its customers "not to openly carry firearms in stores even in states where it is permitted."

* Prime Minister Boris Johnson today lost his working majority in Parliament: "Rebellious British lawmakers have launched an audacious bid to stop the U.K. from leaving the European Union by the deadline of Oct. 31 without a deal."

* This won't quiet fears of an economic downturn: "U.S. manufacturing contracted for the first time in three years, surprising economists who had predicted an ongoing, slow expansion."

* The latest deadly developments in the war in Afghanistan: "An American soldier died during a combat operation on Thursday in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said, the third in just over a week."

* In related news; "Taliban forces launched a major attack on the Afghan city of Kunduz Saturday, even as peace talks continue with the United States to end America's longest war."

* 53 in August: "Seven people were killed near Odessa, Tex., on Saturday as a gunman started shooting indiscriminately at cars, bringing the number of victims of mass killings by firearms to 53 for the month."

* Trade war: "President Trump's trade war with China entered new territory on Sunday as his next round of tariffs took effect, changing the rules of trade in ways that have no recent historic precedent and driving the world's two largest economies further apart."

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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Why public support for gun reforms fails to produce change

09/03/19 12:43PM

Late last week, before the latest mass shooting in Texas left seven dead and 25 injured, Quinnipiac released the latest results on public attitudes on gun reforms, which left little doubt about Americans' appetite for action.

Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence say 72 percent of voters, including 50 percent of Republicans, 93 percent of Democrats, and 75 percent of independents. [...]

"In a country gripped by political polarization, American voters are united in their message to Congress: do more to reduce gun violence," adds Mary Snow [Polling Analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll].

The closer one looked at the specific results, the more one-sided they appeared: 93% support universal background checks, 82% support requiring a license to purchase a gun; 60% support a ban on assault weapons; and 46% support a mandatory buyback of assault weapons.

And on that last point, while 46% obviously isn't a majority, that's a striking level of support for a provocative and fairly new idea that wasn't really a major part of public debate as of a month ago.

As for mandatory licensing, when Al Gore proposed something similar two decades ago, the right used his position as a cudgel with which to beat him. Now, the idea enjoys 82% support -- in an era in which very few ideas enjoy the backing of 82% of the country.

And yet, even as I type this, I know that we're all thinking roughly the same thing: the odds of major gun reforms passing anytime soon are poor. Sure, 93% of Americans want universal background checks, and in theory that should be enough to prompt swift political action, but it's clear that action is unlikely.

It's worth reflecting from time to time on the disconnect between what the public supports and what the public gets on this issue.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.3.19

09/03/19 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced this morning that he will remain on Capitol Hill and skip West Virginia's 2020 gubernatorial race. It's big news because if Manchin had given up his seat, he likely would've been replaced by a Republican, dooming Democratic chances of reclaiming a Senate majority.

* How bad have things become for the Democratic Party in South Dakota? According to a local report, the state party will close its two offices later this month. South Dakota Dems will still have some staff, but they'll work remotely.

* Democrats hoped to boost participation in the 2020 presidential caucuses in Iowa and Nevada by allowing voters to participate by phone, but in light of new concerns related to tech security, those plans are now in doubt.

* After more than two decades on Capitol Hill, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) announced late Friday afternoon that he's retiring at the end of this Congress. Unlike some of the other retiring House Republicans, Democrats are unlikely to compete in Shimkus's southeastern Illinois district: Donald Trump won the district in 2016 by 46 points.

* Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) recently ended his presidential campaign and launched a U.S. Senate bid, quickly picking up an endorsement from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The former governor is, however, part of a very crowded primary field, and six of the women vying for the Democratic nomination have asked the DSCC to reconsider the endorsement.

* Speaking of Senate primaries, appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) will have to run again next year, and she's likely to face a tough race against former astronaut Mark Kelly, the likely Democratic nominee. But first, McSally will have to defeat a new primary rival, Phoenix-area businessman Daniel McCarthy, who kicked off his candidacy last week.

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Image: John Bolton

Why the sidelining of John Bolton in the White House matters

09/03/19 11:20AM

For months, the political world has seen a series of reports about the growing distance between Donald Trump and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton. At times, that distance has been literal: when the president traveled to the Korean peninsula in June, and entered North Korea, he brought with him family members and a Fox News personality, but not his top aide on matters of national security.

The New York Times reported in May that Trump and Bolton "have never clicked personally," and there's never been the kind of "chemistry" the president considers important.

But the division is about far more than personalities. This Washington Post report from the other day amazed me.

As the president's top aides prepared for a high-stakes meeting on the future of Afghanistan earlier this month, one senior official was not on the original invite list: national security adviser John Bolton.

The attendance of the top security aide would normally be critical, but the omission was no mistake, senior U.S. officials said. Bolton, who has long advocated an expansive military presence around the world, has become a staunch internal foe of an emerging peace deal aimed at ending America's longest war, the officials said.

Trump has differed with his national security adviser on everything from Iran to Venezuela to North Korea, but Bolton's opposition to diplomacy in Afghanistan has apparently "irritated" the president and "led aides to leave the National Security Council out of sensitive discussions about the agreement."

According to the Post's report, Bolton asked for a copy of the draft agreement the United States is trying to strike with the Taliban, but his request was denied: "[T]he U.S. envoy leading the negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad, denied the request, saying Bolton could read the agreement in the presence of a senior official but not leave with it in hand, U.S. officials said."

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Did Donald Trump share classified information (again)?

09/03/19 10:40AM

Last week in Iran, officials tried and failed to launch a purported satellite, prompting Donald Trump to publish a tweet insisting the United States was involved in the incident. The point of the presidential tweet wasn't altogether clear, though by most measures, Trump seemed to be taunting Tehran.

But the president's tweet didn't just feature text; it also included a detailed photo. As MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell reported, it wasn't long before observers started wondering whether Trump had publicly released classified material.

Two outside experts said the image that accompanied the tweet would be available only to a government source and was very likely classified.

They noted the resolution on the image is higher than images available to anyone but the government. It could have come from a presidential intelligence briefing, they said. [...]

With his detailed public message, the president could be letting Tehran know that the U.S. is watching, analysts suggested. In the process, however, Trump might have disclosed critical aspects of U.S. intelligence capabilities, something usually done only for important tactical reasons, including public presentation of evidence to the United Nations Security Council to buttress U.S. claims about a military incident.

For his part, Trump told reporters late Friday afternoon, "We had a photo. I released it, which I have the absolute right to do."

That may be true. While I won't pretend to be an expert, presidents have declassification authority. In this case, it's entirely possible that Trump was presented with a sensitive photograph; he declassified it; and he published it to Twitter.

Indeed, CNBC spoke to a U.S. defense official who said "the picture in Trump's tweet, which appeared to be a snapshot of a physical copy of the satellite image, was included in a Friday intelligence briefing."

But even if the president's tweet was technically allowed, what's permissible isn't always what's wise. Why signal our intelligence gathering capabilities? How does that benefit the United States? Didn't Trump spend a year and a half on the campaign trail complaining about Hillary Clinton being careless with sensitive intelligence?

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An employee reviews a customer's application as part of a background check for a handgun sale, in Houston, Texas.

After latest mass shooting, Trump downplays background checks

09/03/19 10:05AM

In February 2018, on the heels of the mass shooting at a Florida high school, Donald Trump announced that he would be "strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks." The president backed off soon after.

In early August 2019, on the heels of back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Trump again expressed support for a "strong" system of background checks. "I think background checks are important," the Republican told reporters last month, adding, "There's a great appetite -- and I mean a very strong appetite -- for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we've never had before." The president again backed off soon after.

Over the Labor Day weekend, Trump didn't bother with the pretense following the latest mass shooting.

President Donald Trump on Sunday said that a mass shooting that took place a day earlier in Texas "really hasn't changed anything" about how lawmakers are approaching gun control legislation.

"We are in the process of dealing with Democrats and Republicans, and there's a big package of things that's going to be put before them by a lot of different people I've been speaking to a lot of senators, a lot of house members, Republicans, Democrats -- this really hasn't changed anything, we're doing a package and we'll see how it comes about," Trump said outside of Marine One. "That's irrespective of what happened yesterday in Texas."

"Over the last five, six, or seven years, no matter how strong you need the background checks, it wouldn't have stopped any of it," he claimed.

It's notable that Trump saw background checks as a go-to talking point for a while, and now it's been removed from the president's rhetorical quiver.

But his comments about "a big package of things" was also interesting, in part because no one can say with confidence whether it exists in reality, and in part because it's only natural to wonder what the package might contain if it's real.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House

Trump 'suggested' Pence stay at president's Irish golf club

09/03/19 09:20AM

There are plenty of fine hotels in Dublin that could accommodate Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Ireland, but the Republican and his family have instead decided to stay at Donald Trump's luxury golf course -- which is three hours away by car.

Or to put that in an American context, imagine a foreign official having meetings in Chicago and staying in Indianapolis.

And whose bright idea was this? According to Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff, it was Donald Trump himself who made the recommendation.

Pence, who is traveling with his wife, sister, and mother, is staying at the president's Doonbeg, Ireland golf club during his trip to the country. Rather than stay in Dublin, where he is set for a day of meetings and events with Irish officials, Pence is making the back-and-forth trip from Doonbeg to Dublin, a more than one hour flight each way. Originally, Pence was scheduled to conclude his trip in Doonbeg, where the vice president has familial ties. Now, Pence is flying back-and-forth between Dublin and Doonbeg before other European visits.

On whether the president asked Pence to stay at his Irish golf club, Short said: "I don't think it was a request, like a command ... I think that it was a suggestion."

As the NBC News report added, Short quoted the president having said to Pence, "Well, you should stay at my place."

The VP's aide added, "It wasn't like a, 'You must.' It wasn't like, 'You have to.' It's a facility that could accommodate the team. Keep in mind, the Secret Service has protected that facility for him, too, so they sort of know the realities, they know the logistics around that facility."

During his congressional testimony earlier this year, Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer, told lawmakers the president "doesn't give you orders. He speaks in code, and I understand the code because I've been around him for a decade."

This came to mind reading about Trump's "suggestion" that his vice president stay at the Trump-owned venue on the other side of Ireland.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Trump admin reverses course on 'deferred action' plan for sick kids

09/03/19 08:40AM

It was just a week ago when the Boston Globe published an article that was almost hard to believe. "Severely ill immigrants, including children with cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other grave conditions, are facing deportation under a change in Trump administration policy that immigration advocates are calling cruel and inhumane," the newspaper reported.

For all of Donald Trump's talk about targeting "bad hombres" to keep Americans safe, in this case, his administration was targeting children receiving treatment for life-threatening ailments who'd been granted "medical deferred action." By threatening the kids and their families with deportation, the administration's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was effectively delivering death sentences.

The policy was almost cartoonish in its malevolence. Even critics of the Republican White House, who've come to expect the worst from Trump and his team, were taken aback by the reports. These families were told they had 33 days to leave the country.

Yesterday, as the New York Times reported, the administration appeared to back off.

The Trump administration on Monday announced that it would reconsider its decision to force immigrants facing life-threatening health crises to return to their home countries, an abrupt move last month that generated public outrage and was roundly condemned by the medical establishment. [...]

On Monday, the agency said in a statement that while limiting the program was "appropriate," officials would "complete the caseload that was pending on August 7."

This is reassuring, but I have some follow-up questions.

1. Exactly who was it who thought deporting sick children would be a good idea? What problem was the administration trying to solve? Who did officials think would benefit from such a policy?

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Why Trump's hurricane antics are so terribly odd

09/03/19 08:00AM

In recent years, American presidents have routinely been evaluated on their administrations' responses to hurricanes. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush created a low standard, and there's a broad expectation that his successors need to take care to avoid following his example.

But before a storm reaches soil, there's not a whole lot for a president to do. Donald Trump nevertheless skipped a scheduled event in Poland commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion, citing the threat posed by Hurricane Dorian, and sending Vice President Mike Pence in his stead. The VP told his hosts in Warsaw over the weekend, "The president is where he needs to be."

Where Trump evidently needed to be was on a golf course, where he reportedly received updates on the storm.

But that's not all the president did. Over the weekend, Trump's preparation for Dorian featured a few key curiosities. First, the president published a tweet including Alabama among the states "most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated." Twenty minutes later, the National Weather Service, while not referencing Trump specifically, published a tweet of its own, telling the public, "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east."

When news outlets noted the president's error, Trump took great offense, insisting he was right, reality notwithstanding.

Second, as the deadly storm drew closer and began to wreak havoc on the Bahamas, the president had a Festivus-like airing of grievances, complaining about Debra Messing, AFL–CIO President Richard Trumka, four progressive congresswomen of color, and news organizations.

And then, of course, there was his unexplained unfamiliarity with Category 5 hurricanes.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Back in the saddle

09/03/19 06:52AM

I believe there was a Creed song that began, "Hello my friend, we meet again. It's been a while, where should we begin? Feels like forever." And with those lyrics in mind, let's dig back in with a little Q&A about the last few weeks.

Are you finally back to work?

Yes, I am. Thanks for everyone's patience.

You were a little cryptic when you started this break. Where'd you go?

As it turns out, I didn't actually go anywhere; I was at my desk working on a book project.

Wait, you're writing a book?

Actually, yes. It's not yet done, but the show was kind enough to give me a few weeks off to work on the project full-time, and I made a lot of progress.

And when, pray tell, might we see this book?

That's a tough one to answer. I'm still weighing publishing options -- if you're reading this and you work for a book publisher, let's connect -- but ideally, I'd like to see it on sale sometime next year. It's still very much up in the air. As a first-time author, it's not a process I can speak to with any expertise.

What's the book about?

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