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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.28.19

06/28/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Here's the roll call for this: "Amid escalating tensions with Tehran, the Senate on Friday rejected an attempt to require President Donald Trump to seek congressional approval for military action in Iran. The Senate chose not to attach an Iran amendment from Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia to a must-pass defense bill. The measure needed 60 votes to pass; supporters produced only 50 votes, with 40 senators voting against the amendment."

* Oregon: "Republicans in the Oregon Senate said Friday that they will end a more than weeklong walkout over emissions-lowering climate legislation that ground the Legislature to a halt, declaring victory in the political crisis that pitted 11 GOP lawmakers against a Democratic supermajority."

* Adding to this guy's many troubles: "Rep. Duncan Hunter denied an accusation from a former Capitol Hill staffer who said he drunkenly asked for her number and put his hand on her behind in 2014."

* Quite a story: "A 27-year-old woman in Alabama whose fetus died after she was shot in the stomach was charged with manslaughter by a grand jury. But the county district attorney said she may not face prosecution."

* SCOTUS: "The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will not take up Alabama's appeal involving the state's attempt to ban an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy."

* Speaking of SCOTUS, one of yesterday's rulings was important but overshadowed: "The Supreme Court has ruled that police may, without a warrant, order blood drawn from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol."

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Matt Gaetz

Leading Trump ally faces ethics probe over alleged witness tampering

06/28/19 02:45PM

The day before Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony, one of Donald Trump’s most flamboyantly partisan allies sent the former “fixer” an unusual message via Twitter.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wrote, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

As regular readers may recall, legal experts weighed in almost immediately, suggesting the online missive looked an awful lot like the Republican congressman was trying to influence Cohen’s testimony -- which would be witness tampering, which is a felony.

In the face of difficult questions, Gaetz initially refused to back down, but he hastily retreated soon after.

As Roll Call reported, the reversal didn't help.

Rep. Matt Gaetz faces an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee for a tweet that appeared to threaten former President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen with blackmail.

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it will establish an investigative subcommittee to review whether Gaetz, a staunch ally of the president, sought to intimidate Cohen before he testified to the House Oversight Committee.

It's worth noting that the Florida Republican might have been able to avoid the ethics investigation, but he refused to sit down with the committee for an interview.

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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

High court to decide whether Trump can end protections for Dreamers

06/28/19 12:25PM

The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the White House's effort to end DACA protections for Dreamers. Today, justices agreed to do exactly that.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide the fate of DACA, the federal program that has allowed 700,000 young people -- known as "Dreamers" -- to avoid deportation.

The court will hear the case during its next term, which begins in October.

The calendar is politically significant: if the justices hear oral arguments in the case in the fall or winter, we'll likely see a ruling around this time next year. Or put another way, the Supreme Court will likely issue its ruling on protections for Dreamers just as the major-party presidential nominating conventions are poised to get underway.

For those who need a refresher, it's worth considering the chain of events that brought us to this point. Barack Obama announced DACA protections for Dreamers shortly after the 2014 midterms, and the program worked exactly as intended -- right up until Donald Trump was elected.

As regular readers may recall, Candidate Trump vowed to pursue mass deportations, without exceptions. In a not-so-subtle shot at Dreamers, the Republican vowed, “[U]nlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.” This followed related comments in which he said Dreamers “have to go.”

As president, however, Trump seemed to realize how radical a posture this was. A few months into his term, the Republican said Dreamers should “rest easy” about his immigration policies. Trump told the Associated Press at the time that he’s “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

In September 2017, the administration changed course again, "rescinding" the program and its protections for the young immigrants.

For Trump, their fate became a bargaining chip, with the president telling congressional Democrats that the only way to save the Dreamers was to agree to finance a giant border wall. The gambit failed spectacularly for two reasons. First, when Dems grudgingly agreed to pay the ransom, the president balked and demanded even more concessions.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.28.19

06/28/19 12:00PM

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

* Last night's debate clearly wasn't great for former Vice President Joe Biden, but he nevertheless received some good news this morning: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) has decided to endorse him.

* Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro saw a dramatic increase in his presidential campaign's fundraising following Wednesday night's debate. This will help him, among other things, possibly qualify for future debates.

* Rachel asked South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg about a recent officer-involved shooting in his city and why the local police force has so few black officers. He was candid in taking responsibility: "Because I couldn't get it done. My community is in anguish right now because of an officer-involved shooting, a black man, Eric Logan, killed by a white officer. And I'm not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back. The officer said he was attacked with a knife, but he didn't have his body camera on. It's a mess. And we're hurting. And I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn't save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother's eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back."

* Last night, during his trip to the G-20 summit in Japan, Donald Trump turned to Twitter to talk about Democratic support for health-care benefits for undocumented immigrants. The president suggested he just won re-election: "That's the end of that race!"

* The Atlantic this week asked the Democratic presidential campaigns whether they support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump derailed in 2017. Though Joe Biden backed the agreement after the Obama administration helped negotiate it, his 2020 campaign wouldn't say whether the Delaware Democrat still supports it.

* In Miami yesterday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) tried to show support for striking workers at Miami International Airport, but he ended up inadvertently repeating a revolutionary rallying cry from Che Guevara. The presidential hopeful apologized soon after.

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Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol

House Dems pass bill on election-security safeguards, paper ballots

06/28/19 10:57AM

During Nancy Pelosi's first stint as Speaker of the House, she had an ally on the other side of Capitol Hill. The California Democrat first took the gavel after the 2006 midterms and immediately got to work with a Senate led by Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and for four years, they were cooperative allies.

After the 2018 midterms, Pelosi has returned to the role, though her new congressional partner is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- who doesn't quite see things the way Pelosi does.

With this in mind, this week's fight over a $4.6 billion border bill clearly did not go the way the Speaker hoped. The Senate version ended up passing the lower chamber yesterday, but as the roll call showed, Pelosi lost a significant chunk of her own conference en route to passage.

That said, it wasn't the only bill on the schedule yesterday. Roll Call reported:

The House passed an election security measure Thursday that would require voting systems to use backup paper ballots in federal contests, while also mandating improvements to the higher-tech side of the polls. [...]

The measure, known as the Securing America's Federal Elections Act, passed Thursday would authorize $600 million for states to bolster election security. It also would give states $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure.

It would also require implementation of cybersecurity safeguards for hardware and software used in elections, bar the use of wireless communication devices in election systems and require electronic voting machines be manufactured in the United States.

The bill, generally known as the SAFE Act, passed 225 to 184. Only one Republican -- Florida's Brian Mast -- supported the bill, and Democrats were unanimous on the proposal.

It now heads to McConnell's Senate, where the bill will almost certainly die. And if that dynamic sounds familiar, it's because we've seen quite a bit of it recently.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders exits the stage (for now)

06/28/19 10:07AM

Late last year, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sat down with Politico's Eliana Johnson at the Women Rule Summit, and the reporter asked Donald Trump's chief spokesperson about her legacy. She replied:

"I hope that it will be that I showed up every day and I did the very best job that I could to put forward the president's message, to do the best job that I could to answer questions, to be transparent and honest throughout that process and do everything I could to make America a little better that day than it was the day before."

As Sanders leaves the West Wing -- her last day is today -- it's probably safe to say "transparent" and "honest" aren't the first two adjectives most observers would use to describe her tenure.

If anything, Sanders is perhaps best known for effectively ending the daily White House press briefing, which has long been emblematic of Team Trump's antagonistic posture toward the free press.

But then there's her record for truthfulness to consider.

In May 2017, Sanders told reporters that "countless" FBI agents had told the White House that they had lost confidence in James Comey before the president fired him. When she was later asked about those comments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, Sanders conceded that she'd made up the claim.

It was a jarring incident, to be sure, but it was hardly the only time Sanders fell short of her "transparent and honest" standard.

The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan recently said of Sanders, "She would claim to represent the truth on behalf of a president who lies. She did it disrespectfully and apparently without shame or an understanding of what the role of White House press secretary should be. She misled reporters or tried to, and through them, misled the American people. And all with her distinctive curled-lip disdain."

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An administration cannot expect to have two parallel foreign policies

06/28/19 09:20AM

It's no secret that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, throughout his troubled tenure in Donald Trump's cabinet, found himself marginalized and ignored. What we didn't know is the extent to which Jared Kushner, the president's young son-in-law, circumvented the nation's chief diplomat to pursue his own foreign policy.

President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner held frequent talks with Saudi Arabia's crown prince and other foreign government officials without briefing or informing senior U.S. diplomats about his discussions, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers in testimony released Thursday.

Tillerson recounted his experience in the top diplomatic job at a closed-door hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month and the transcript was released to NBC News and other media Thursday.

Tillerson, fired last year by Trump, said he was sometimes caught off guard by Kushner's talks with foreign officials. In one case, Tillerson said he was dining at a restaurant in Washington when the owner of the restaurant told him Mexico's foreign minister was seated at another table.

Apparently, the Mexican foreign minister "was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it." The Mexican official was "rather shocked" to learn that the things Kushner had said were totally new to the sitting U.S. secretary of State.

Worse, this wasn't an isolated example. Tillerson also addressed Kushner's efforts with Saudi Arabia, which operated largely outside the proper channels. As the former cabinet secretary put it, the presidential son-in-law "was in charge of his own agenda," and there was "typically not a lot of coordination" between Kushner and the U.S. embassy.

As some accounts emphasized, Kushner also routinely left then-Defense Secretary James Mattis in the dark, too. As the New York Times noted, "In some cases, as in the blockade of Qatar, where the United States has its main Middle East military air base, Mr. Kushner’s moves forced Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Mattis to scramble to contain the damage to American diplomacy, according to the accounts."

Part of the problem with this is that it's a governing dynamic that cannot work. An administration cannot expect to have two parallel foreign-policy operations. Indeed, it's practically farcical: Kushner wasn't coordinating with the actual foreign-policy team for reasons unknown, while Tillerson and Mattis weren't coordinating with Kushner because they didn't think they had to.

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Democratic presidential candidates wave as they enter the stage for the second night of the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami.

Twenty candidates, two debates, four hours, and a few happy campaigns

06/28/19 08:46AM

If you've seen any coverage of last night's debate, you've probably heard that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) walked away the big winner, while former Vice President Joe Biden fell far short. From where I sat, that assessment sounds about right.

It was the 10-word interjection that upended the trajectory of the night, if not the 2020 campaign so far. "I would like to speak on the issue of race," Ms. Harris declared. The room soon went silent.

Ms. Harris turned to address Mr. Biden, directly and personally, marrying her own identity as an African-American woman with a pointed critique of not just his recent rhetoric about working with segregationists but what they worked on together. "You also worked with them to oppose busing," she said. "And you know, there was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me." [...]

She pressed on, framing her follow-ups as the prosecutor she once was. "Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?"

No one should be surprised that the California senator excelled. To know anything about Kamala Harris is to recognize the kind of skills she brings to the table: watch her in any Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and it's obvious the former prosecutor and state attorney general is always prepared and sharp.

Transferring those skills to the debate stage obviously wasn't difficult.

As she dominated, I started thinking about the occasional political value of the luck of the draw. Ahead of the back-to-back debates, the DNC randomly assigned the contenders, and the campaigns had literally no control over which night they'd compete and against whom.

We'll never know, of course, but what would the conversation look like if Harris and Biden didn't share a stage? She would've excelled anyway -- Harris bested her rivals because of her talent, not because of luck -- but would a different lineup have left the former vice president less bruised?

Indeed, it's a fun counterfactual to consider as a thought experiment. What if Julian Castro hadn't competed against Beto O'Rourke? What if Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had shared a stage? If Warren had gone up against Biden, would the former vice president have struggled just as much?

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