Latest StoriesRSS

select from:

E.g., 1/19/2019
E.g., 1/19/2019

Monday's Mini-Report, 12.17.18

12/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "Two former associates of ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn have been charged with 'covertly and unlawfully' trying to influence American politicians in a plot to extradite a Turkish cleric living in the U.S."

* Striking findings: "A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia's disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters' interests to help elect President Trump -- and worked even harder to support him while in office."

* The world tries to move on without us: "After two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries agreed Saturday on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming. The deal agreed upon at U.N. climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord."

* Quite a sight: "Opponents of Hungary's far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, demonstrated on Sunday for the fourth day in the past five, in what has become one of the most sustained displays of street opposition to Mr. Orban since he entered office eight years ago."

* Trump's intervention in the Matt Golsteyn case, apparently because of a Fox News segment, is going to get very messy.

* By some accounts, Pam Patenaude ran the Department of Housing and Urban Development because Ben Carson doesn't know how: "The HUD official considered by many to be crucial to both the agency's smooth operation and to Puerto Rico recovery efforts resigned Monday and will transition out of the role in January."

* Trump's not-so-successful success story: "North Korea on Sunday condemned the Trump administration for stepping up sanctions and pressure on the nuclear-armed country, warning of a return to 'exchanges of fire' and that peace with Pyongyang could be blocked forever."

* Barack Obama believes "Republicans will never stop trying to undo" the Affordable Care Act. I'm hard pressed to disagree.

read more

Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas

Trump points to renewed interest in family separations at the border

12/17/18 12:31PM

At a distance, Donald Trump's practice of separating migrant children from their families at the border appeared to run its course over the summer. In response to international outrage, the Republican president signed an executive order in June curtailing his "zero-tolerance" policy, and soon after, federal courts instructed the administration to reunite the families Trump had kept apart.

The efforts to undo what the White House did haven't always gone especially well, but it's also worth acknowledging that Trump doesn't appear eager to leave this disaster in the past.

"The Democrats [sic] policy of Child Seperation [sic] on the Border during the Obama Administration was far worse than the way we handle it now," the Republican wrote on Twitter yesterday. "Remember the 2014 picture of children in cages - the Obama years. However, if you don't separate, FAR more people will come. Smugglers use the kids!"

This wasn't the first time Trump lied about the Obama-era policy, and the truth is stubborn, whether the current president likes it or not. As the Associated Press explained:

Democratic President Barack Obama did not have a separation policy. The Trump administration didn't, explicitly, either, but that was the effect of his zero-tolerance policy, which meant that anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted, even those with few or no previous offences.

The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings and their children were separated. In most cases, if the charge took longer than 72 hours to process, which is the longest time that children can be held by Customs and Border Protection, children were sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department. Zero tolerance remains in effect, but Trump signed an executive order June 20 that stopped separations.

Trump also misrepresents 2014 photos of children in holding cells. They did not involve family separation. The photos, taken by The Associated Press during the Obama administration, showed children who came to the border without their parents and were being housed at a Customs and Border Protection center in Nogales, Arizona.

It's that other part of Trump's tweet, though, that's cause for additional concern.

read more

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.17.18

12/17/18 12:00PM

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

* Remember in Georgia's gubernatorial race, when Brian Kemp (R), just a few days before Election Day, accused the Democratic Party of Georgia of trying to hack into the voter database in a failed attempt to steal the election? An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has concluded Kemp, now the governor-elect, was lying.

* In North Carolina, Republican officials are making no secret of their plans to dump Mark Harris (R) if there's a do-over election in the state's 9th congressional district.

* Ahead of Mississippi's U.S. Senate runoff election a few weeks ago, several companies asked Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) to return their campaign contributions, unwilling to be associated with her suspected racism. At this point, most of those companies still haven't gotten their money back.

* In case there were any doubts, the Associated Press has finally called the race in New York's 27th district for Rep. Chris Collins (R). The Republican incumbent briefly ended his re-election bid after getting indicted on felony corruption charges, but most local voters apparently didn't mind.

* In Maine's 2nd congressional district, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) has given up on overturning the election by way of a recount, but he's still weighing an appeal of last week's federal court ruling. That ruling, from a federal judge, threw out the Republican congressman's challenge to Maine's system of ranked-choice balloting.

read more

Confetti on the floor on the last day of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Beware of presidential polling two years before Election Day

12/17/18 11:30AM

By most metrics, the 2020 presidential campaign hasn't begun in earnest. We know Donald Trump is seeking a second term -- he launched his re-election campaign last year, earlier than any president in history -- but the Democratic field, which is expected to be enormous, does not yet have any officially announced candidates.

That said, as a practical matter, the 2020 race began months ago, as likely Dem candidates started lining up support and scheduling events in states that hold early nominating contests. It was only a matter of time before polling began.

And that time is apparently upon us. CNN released the results of a national poll of Democratic voters late last week, and the Des Moines Register published a new poll of Iowa Dems over the weekend.

I'm not here to tell you the results are completely irrelevant, because they're likely to have some real-world impact, even if the results largely reflect name-recognition. If you're, say, a former vice president weighing whether to run, you might look to the results of independent polls to help guide your decision.

Likewise, if you're a sought-after Democratic campaign staffer or a major donor, and you'll soon have to make some decisions about your future plans, the polling may have a significant influence.

That said, about once every four years, I like to remind folks that presidential polling two years before Election Day has a dubious track record when it comes to predicting results.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane:

read more

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Ia., Sept. 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

Has a president ever faced impeachment over campaign finance violations?

12/17/18 11:00AM

As Donald Trump's legal woes mount, the standard response from most congressional Republicans is to avoid the subject altogether. The Washington Post published a good collection of responses from prominent GOP senators who didn't want to touch the allegations surrounding the president with a 10-foot subpoena.

But then there's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Capitol Hill's more shameless Trump cheerleaders, who rarely seems to turn down an opportunity to defend his Oval Office ally. The South Carolinian's latest pitch stood out for me as a little different than most. TPM reported:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch supporter of President Trump, said Friday that Trump directing Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments could represent a campaign finance violation "in theory." But he cautioned Democrats against crying impeachment.

"Campaign finance violations have never been used to impeach anybody," Graham told Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

"If you think that this is worthy of impeachment in the House, go ahead," Graham said. "I think most Americans probably won't agree with you."

The argument here isn't that Trump is innocent. Rather, Graham treats Trump's possible guilt as inconsequential. Even if the president participated in an illegal scheme involving hush-money payments, the argument goes, it's merely a "campaign-finance violation," and presidents don't get impeached for campaign-finance violations.

Putting aside questions of propriety, is this true? The historical record gets a little tricky.

read more

A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Awkward truth about the ruling in the ACA case: it's 'pretty bananas'

12/17/18 10:30AM

As the political, legal, and policy worlds come to terms with Friday night's ruling rejecting the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, it's tempting to think we'd see a debate unfold along predictable partisan and ideological lines. Democrats and health care advocates will condemn the far-right jurist's judicial activism, while Republicans and "Obamacare" critics will defend the ruling as a reasonable step in the right direction.

That's not quite what's happening, at least not entirely.

Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan and prominent health care advocate, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend, explaining, "The legal arguments in previous rounds of litigation over the ACA may have been weak, but they were not frivolous. This case is different; it's an exercise of raw judicial activism. Don't for a moment mistake it for the rule of law."

What strikes me as important, however, is how many conservatives agree with Bagley's conclusion.

Lawyers on both sides of previous A.C.A. battles said the reasoning behind this one was badly flawed, notably in its insistence that the entire 2010 law must fall because one of its provisions may have been rendered invalid by the 2017 tax overhaul legislation. Had Congress meant to take such radical action, they said, it would have said so at the time.

Ted Frank, a lawyer at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who is critical of the ACA, told the Washington Post the decision was "embarrassingly bad" because "you're twisting yourself into knots" to reach a particular conclusion.

Perhaps the most striking piece came from Case Western Reserve University School of Law's Jonathan Adler and Yale Law School's Abbe Gluck, who co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times, despite having fought on opposite sides of the issue:

read more

Maybe Trump should try harder not to sound like a mob boss

12/17/18 10:00AM

Apropos of nothing, Donald Trump lashed out yesterday afternoon at his former personal attorney/"fixer," using some rather unusual language for an American president.

"Remember, Michael Cohen only became a "Rat" after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started. They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY'S OFFICE! Why didn't they break into the DNC to get the Server, or Crooked's office?"

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, the FBI did not "break into" Michael Cohen's office. Rather, federal law enforcement executed a court-approved search warrant.

That's neither "unthinkable" not "unheard of." It happens every day. Even Trump, for all of his limitations, should be at least vaguely aware of this.

What's more, the president's tweet was, as best as I can tell, the first time Trump has referred to anyone publicly as a "rat" -- a label he used to condemn Cohen for cooperating with law enforcement.

So what we have here is a sitting president -- who’s responsible for faithfully executing the nation’s laws, who appoints federal judges, and and who chose senior members of the Department of Justice, including the attorney general and FBI director -- publicly condemning someone for cooperating with federal law enforcement, while simultaneously criticizing the FBI for executing a lawful search warrant.

In other words, the line between Donald J. Trump's rhetoric and the dialog from villains in mob movies is getting uncomfortably blurred.

There is a degree of irony to all of this. To hear the president tell it at campaign rallies, he's a great champion of law enforcement. In practice, however, Trump's posture toward law enforcement tends to break down into three categories:

read more

Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani comments on a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision outside Los Angeles Superior court in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Rudy Giuliani isn't doing his client in the White House any favors

12/17/18 09:30AM

Rudy Giuliani is the highest-profile member of Donald Trump's legal defense team, though it's not altogether clear whether the former mayor does any real legal work. Giuliani often seems to play more of a public-relations/media-spokesperson role for the president.

Which, all things considered, is a difficult dynamic to understand, because the New York Republican seems to constantly make things worse for his client by talking to the media.

On ABC News' "This Week" yesterday, George Stephanopoulos noted that, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, Michael Cohen "provided valuable information about Russia-related matters for its investigation." It led to this exchange:

GIULIANI: I have no idea what they're talking about. Beyond what you just said, I have no idea what they're talking about...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me ask you a few specifics --

GIULIANI: I have no -- I have no idea -- I know that collusion is not a crime. It was over with by the time of the election.

On the first point, it's true that there is no statute covering "collusion," per se -- it's more a political term than a legal one -- but cooperating with a hostile foreign power to intervene in an American election is most definitely illegal.

But more importantly, what exactly did Giuliani mean, "It was over with by the time of the election"? In that sentence, what does "it" stand for?

There was also this exchange:

read more

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Chased by multiple scandals, Zinke resigns from Trump cabinet

12/17/18 09:00AM

A few weeks ago, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) reflected on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's many scandals and made the case that it was time for the scandal-plagued cabinet member to step down. Zinke responded in an unusually personal way, issuing a statement that began, "It's hard for [Grijalva] to think straight from the bottom of the bottle."

It was obviously a "stunning breach of decorum," but it was also part of an incomprehensible strategy: the U.S. House panel that has direct oversight over the Department of the Interior is the Natural Resources Committee. And in about a month, the Natural Resources Committee will be chaired by Raul Grijalva.

In other words, the top member of Congress with oversight over Zinke's agency wanted the secretary to resign, and Zinke fired back by accusing the congressman of being an alcoholic. I suggested at the time that the developments hinted that the Interior secretary wasn't planning to stick around much longer. Sure enough, the Republican is exiting stage right.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will leave his job in the administration at the end of the year, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Saturday morning.

The president said in a follow-up tweet that the White House would announce a replacement next week. Trump chose Zinke in December 2016 to serve in the cabinet-level position.

According to the Washington Post, Zinke's final public appearance was at a holiday party last week, which he said he wanted to attend before exiting the president's cabinet. The article added, "He invited lobbyists and conservative activists to his executive suite, where he posed for photos in front of a large stuffed polar bear wearing a Santa cap, according to an attendee."

read more

Mick Mulvaney

New WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the fine art of failing up

12/17/18 08:30AM

It's no secret that Donald Trump's search for a new White House chief of staff wasn't going well. It was also painfully obvious that the president was eager to squelch the chatter that this was a job no one wanted to accept.

The result was an awkward new arrangement announced late Friday afternoon.

Budget director Mick Mulvaney headed to the White House Friday expecting to attend a meeting on federal budget issues, according to a source close to him. Instead, by the end of the day, he would -- at least temporarily -- become President Donald Trump's third chief of staff.

Trump, who had been rebuffed by at least two potential replacements to the outgoing chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, hastily settled on Mulvaney as acting chief after initially refusing vice presidential chief of staff Nick Ayers' request to serve in a similar interim capacity.

It's not like Trump's other impulsive decisions have ever gone poorly, right?

This will be the third powerful post Mulvaney has held on Team Trump over the last 22 months, following a year-long stint as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

According to the White House, Mulvaney will be "acting" chief of staff -- a title the former congressman reportedly requested -- and NBC News' report added that Mulvaney intends to serve for no longer than six months.

Complicating matters a bit, Mulvaney will remain the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), at least for now, which creates a dynamic that, at face value, seems difficult to understand: serving as the White House budget director is a full-time job, as is serving as the White House chief of staff.

What's more, with a possible government shutdown on tap for later this week, one is tempted to assume Mulvaney would be awfully busy right now with his principal duties at OMB.

There's plenty of room for speculation about whether Mulvaney can succeed where Reince Priebus and John Kelly fell short -- I tend to think this president's operation is ungovernable, setting up whomever holds the post for failure -- but as the South Carolina Republican prepares to assume control over Trump's White House, there's another angle to his rise that's important to keep in mind:

Mick Mulvaney excels at failing up.

read more

Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's wrong: there's nothing 'great' about new health care ruling

12/17/18 08:00AM

Late on Friday night, a far-right judge with a reputation for giving Republicans what they want handed the GOP a rather extraordinary gift: U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional.

In the short term, nothing has changed in terms of the application of the law -- "Obamacare" remains in place while the appeals process moves forward -- but the ruling, derided as ridiculous by experts from the left, right, and center, has put the health security of tens of millions of Americans in jeopardy.

Donald Trump couldn't be more pleased.

President Donald Trump on Saturday hailed a court decision against Obamacare as "a great ruling for our country," while a U.S. government official said the decision by a Texas judge would have no immediate impact on health coverage. [...]

"It's a great ruling for our country. We will be able to get great health care. We will sit down with the Democrats if the Supreme Court upholds," Trump told reporters during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on a rainy Saturday.

On Twitter, the president added that the district court's decision is "great news for America!"

While many of Trump's pronouncements are odd, this was an especially difficult position to defend. The Republican just spent months on the campaign trail, boasting at one rally after another that he and his party will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.

And yet, there was Trump, celebrating a ruling that stripped people of these same protections.

Indeed, the right-wing decision has introduced a degree of uncertainty -- and by some measures, chaos -- into a system countless families rely on. For those Americans terrified of losing their benefits as part of an ugly GOP scheme, it's not at all clear what, exactly, the president considers "great."

What's more, Trump's misplaced joy notwithstanding, most Republican policymakers don't seem nearly as excited as the president.

read more

A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Court ruling in GOP case puts health security for millions in jeopardy

12/15/18 08:27AM

We've seen some big news break late on a Friday night, but this one was a doozy.

A federal judge in Texas struck down the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, ruling that former President Barack Obama's signature domestic legislation has fallen down like a losing game of "Jenga." [...]

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth sided with the argument put forward by a coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, that Obamacare could no longer stand now that there's no penalty for Americans who don't buy insurance.

There's a lot to unpack, so perhaps it's best to unpack the developments with a Q&A.

Didn't the Supreme Court already rule in favor of the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality? Twice?

Yes, but the Republican tax breaks, approved last year, changed the policy landscape a bit. As we discussed over the summer, when GOP officials approved their regressive tax plan, they simultaneously zeroed out the health care law's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.

Did last night's ruling come as a surprise?

That's a matter of perspective. Most objective legal experts considered the litigation idiotic, but the Republicans behind the lawsuit took their case to the most conservative court they could find in Texas, expecting to find a partisan judge who would rule their way. Evidently, that worked.

But Donald Trump said the judge in this case is "highly respected."

Well, Donald Trump says a lot of things. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, is known as a fierce ideologue who has "previously blocked Obama-era efforts to extend medical leave protections to same-sex couples and to include gender-identity discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under the health law."

I've heard for months that this case was about Republicans trying to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but the ruling seems far more sweeping.

read more