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E.g., 1/16/2019
Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Why Democrats refuse to pay Trump's ransom in the shutdown fight

01/16/19 11:04AM

To hear Donald Trump tell it, resolving the government shutdown would be incredibly easy. All Democrats have to do is give the president what he wants, at which point the Republican will agree to end the standoff. Indeed, to the extent that Trump has a "plan," it's based on the most basic of tactics: he's simply waiting for his opponents to quit and meet his demands.

As the longest shutdown in American history drags on, that's not happening. Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley expressed some amazement yesterday that congressional Democratic leaders "have not caved like a bunch of weenies."

The border wall-shutdown standoff is exactly the kind of situation in which another Democratic fold would seem to be, er, in the cards. And yet not only have [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi not folded, it doesn't seem like they've even thought about folding, despite some grumbling by new House members from swing districts.

It's gotten to the point where Donald Trump invited several centrist-ish rank-and-file Democrats to have lunch with him Tuesday without caucus leaders, ostensibly to woo and seduce them, but it didn't work; none of them went.

And this got me thinking: why haven't Dems given in?

The president seems to be driven by some twisted version of Richard Nixon's "madman theory." As the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne explained the other day, "The idea is that if one party to a negotiation behaves in a particularly crazy and dangerous way, the more reasonable people at the table will give in simply to end the lunacy and avoid catastrophe."

It seems likely that Trump expected this to work. So far, it hasn't, and it's worth appreciating why.

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After meeting Putin, Trump peddled Russian's claims to US media

01/16/19 10:11AM

In the summer of 2017, Americans first learned of a secret meeting between Russian operatives and top members of Donald Trump's campaign team. The discussion -- held in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 -- was intended to help the Republican obtain information from Moscow to help put Trump in the White House.

Soon after the story broke, Donald Trump Jr. -- a participant in the meeting -- issued a highly misleading press statement about what transpired. We later learned that the president personally dictated that statement while aboard Air Force One, during a return trip from a G-20 summit in Germany. This appeared to directly implicate the president in a cover-up.

But in an interesting twist, that apparently wasn't the only notable thing that happened on Trump's return flight from Germany on July 8, 2017.

The New York Times  reported today on each of the meetings the American president has had with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- discussions even U.S. officials know little about -- including their interactions at that G-20 gathering. The article included this tidbit:

Mr. Trump sought out Mr. Putin again during a dinner for all the leaders. Videotape later made public showed Mr. Trump pointing at Mr. Putin, who was seated across and down a long table, then pointing at himself and then making a pumping motion with his fist.

Mr. Trump later told The Times that he went over to see his wife, Melania Trump, who was sitting next to Mr. Putin, and the two leaders then talked, with Mr. Putin's interpreter translating. No American officials were present, and the White House did not confirm the encounter until more than 10 days later, after it was independently reported.

The day after the two meetings, as Mr. Trump was on Air Force One taking off from Germany heading back to Washington, he telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference.

I think it's safe to say this doesn't look great for the White House.

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Emissions from a coal power plant

Trump's 'law and order' rhetoric comes with some fine print

01/16/19 09:20AM

In a brief Q&A with reporters late last week, Donald Trump repeated some familiar talking points while attacking his political opponents. "The Democrats, which I've been saying all along, they don't give a damn about crime. They don't care about crime," he said. The president added, "But I care about crime."

In reality, Trump clearly cares about some crimes -- those committed by immigrants, for example -- but he and his administration seem far less concerned about other offenses.

Take environmental crimes, for example.

The Environmental Protection Agency hit a 30-year low in 2018 in the number of pollution cases it referred for criminal prosecution, Justice Department data show.

EPA said in a statement that it is directing "its resources to the most significant and impactful cases." But the 166 cases referred for prosecution in the last fiscal year is the lowest number since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president and 151 cases were referred, according to Justice Department data obtained by the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility advocacy group and released Tuesday. [...]

EPA referrals resulted in 62 federal convictions in fiscal year 2018, the fewest since 1995.

This isn't the only agency that's seen a significant drop in enforcing existing protections. The New York Times  reported in November, "Across the corporate landscape, the Trump administration has presided over a sharp decline in financial penalties against banks and big companies accused of malfeasance."

The Times' report highlighted a 62% drop in penalties from the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a 72% decline in corporate penalties from the Justice Department's criminal prosecutions.

Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, meanwhile, has dramatically curtailed its enforcement efforts, and the administration's enforcement of antitrust laws has reached a level unseen since the Nixon era.

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Needing Trump's backing, telecom giant books rooms at his hotel

01/16/19 08:41AM

About a month ago, the Associated Press published a good report on the degree to which Donald Trump's presidency has "changed Washington," and it touched on a provocative detail. Toward the end of the piece, the article noted that international leaders have learned that "some business at a Trump-owned hotel" can contribute to "a good relationship with the president."

As we discussed at the time, it's very easy to believe world leaders think this way, but it speaks to circumstances that aren't supposed to exist: foreign officials shouldn't be able to curry favor with an American president by doing business with his hotel. It's one of the reasons the pending Emoluments Clause cases are so important.

But it's not just international leaders who take this dynamic seriously. The Washington Post  reported this morning:

Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile's value and give it a huge new chunk of the cellphone market.

But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval from the Trump administration.

The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming "VIP Arrivals." That day's list included nine of T-Mobile's top executives -- including its chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer, chief financial officer and its outspoken celebrity chief executive, John Legere.

It's quite a coincidence, isn't it? On April 29, T-Mobile and Sprint announced a multi-billion-dollar merger. On April 30, T-Mobile's top executives started booking rooms in the president's hotel.

Perhaps, you're thinking, the company's executives simply needed a place to stay in the nation's capital for a couple of days. Maybe they just picked a hotel with a good location.

The trouble is, as the merger deal was pending, these same executives kept returning to the Trump International Hotel. The article added, "By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear."

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William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.

Would Trump's AG nominee bury a Russia scandal report from Mueller?

01/16/19 08:00AM

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday took up William Barr's nomination to serve as attorney general, but as the hearing unfolded, it was clear one topic would dominate the others.

Attorney General nominee William Barr spent nearly nine hours Tuesday answering questions about Robert Mueller's investigation at his Senate confirmation hearing, seeking to assuage Democratic concerns about his views of the Russia probe.

Democrats on the panel spent Tuesday's hearing probing his views on Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

On the surface, Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department delivered answers that seemed vaguely reassuring: Barr expressed a deep admiration for Mueller; the Republican lawyer dismissed the president's assertions that the investigation into the Russia scandal is a "witch hunt"; and Barr made clear that he believes the Mueller investigation must be allowed to continue until its completion, and would have the resources necessary to do so.

To a very real extent, each of these positions puts the attorney general nominee at odds with the White House.

But it's the caveats that matter. For example, Barr wouldn't commit to releasing a Mueller report at the end of the investigation. In fact, at one point, he seemed to raise the prospect of receiving a possible report from Mueller, which Barr would then summarize for Congress.

What's more, if career ethics officials at the Justice Department advised Barr to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, Barr said he'd be comfortable ignoring the guidance -- and keeping their advice hidden.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.15.19

01/15/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm looking for Republicans who might oppose Barr, and I'm not finding any: "In a terse back-and-forth with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a potential 2020 presidential contender, Attorney General nominee William Barr said on Tuesday that if he was advised by career ethics officials to recuse himself from the Russia probe, he would not heed the recommendation if he disagreed with it."

* A failed Brexit deal in the UK: "Theresa May suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat of any British prime minister in history Tuesday as lawmakers of all stripes crushed her plan to leave the European Union."

* This vote was not close: "The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday disapproving of racist remarks by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, amid a wave of bipartisan denunciation." (Democrat Bobby Rush was the only "no" vote. He said the resolution didn't go far enough.)

* Afghanistan: "A truck bomb exploded near a heavily fortified complex in eastern Kabul frequented by foreigners, killing four people and wounding scores of others, authorities said, as the U.S. pressed to get negotiations under way to end the 17-year war."

* Coast Guard: "The nation's 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members missed their scheduled paycheck Tuesday, as the only military branch to work without pay during the government shutdown."

* An avoidable mess: "The government shutdown has led to the cancellation of nearly 43,000 immigration hearings as of last week, burdening an already backlogged system, according to data from researchers tracking immigration statistics."

* I guess a new "gang" in the Senate was inevitable: "A bipartisan group of rank-and-file senators is holding discussions on how to end the weeks-long government shutdown, with talks between congressional leaders and the White House at a standstill."

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