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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.17.19

01/17/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of a possible 2020 campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met yesterday with a group of women who worked on his 2016 team and who've alleged sexual misconduct as part of the senator's operation. One person who was in attendance told Politico, "It went as well as it could have."

* A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows Donald Trump with a 39% approval rating, but just as important is the president slipping with his base. The survey results showed his support slipping among self-identified Republican voters and white men without a college degree, generally seen as a key constituency in Trump's base.

* Adding to Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) troubles, the editorial board of The Messenger in Fort Dodge, Iowa, published a piece today expressing regret for having endorsed his re-election bid. "It is now clear that the endorsement we made was a mistake," the editorial read, while calling for the far-right Republican to resign.

* Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) spoke earlier this week at a reception intended to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander members of the 116th Congress. As part of his remarks, the Democratic lawmaker told attendees he's "an Asian trapped in a white body." Case yesterday tried to walk that back, saying, "I regret if my specific remarks to the national API community on my full absorption of their concerns caused any offense."

* As former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) launches his road trip, Politico  reports, "Becky Bond, a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and an adviser to O'Rourke's 2018 Senate run, has been talking with operatives in recent days about potential jobs on a 2020 campaign."

* Democratic leaders believe appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R), who has to run again next year, is vulnerable, and they already have a candidate in mind for the race. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) met yesterday with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), and said after the meeting, "It went great. I'm strongly considering it."

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York

Cohen says he paid to rig online polls at Trump's direction

01/17/19 11:00AM

Those who've spent a considerable amount of time online have come across websites that invite visitors to vote in unscientific polls. They generally tell us very little about public attitudes, but people often like to register their opinions, and website operators often like to create ways to engage visitors, so they're fairly common. Those who understand social-science research know to ignore the results.

Donald Trump is not one of those people. In fact, he's complained more than once about the results of online unscientific polls that failed to make him look good.

With this in mind, the Wall Street Journal published a rather remarkable article this morning on Michael Cohen's efforts -- when he was Trump's personal lawyer and "fixer" -- to "rig online polls in his boss's favor" before the 2016 elections.

To execute the plan, Cohen reportedly hired John Gauger, the chief information officer at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, and the owner of a small tech company called RedFinch Solutions LLC. The goal was simple: deliver online poll results intended to make Trump happy.

In January 2014, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger to help Mr. Trump score well in a CNBC online poll to identify the country's top business leaders by writing a computer script to repeatedly vote for him. Mr. Gauger was unable to get Mr. Trump into the top 100 candidates. In February 2015, as Mr. Trump prepared to enter the presidential race, Mr. Cohen asked him to do the same for a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Trump ranked fifth, with about 24,000 votes, or 5% of the total.

As is often the case with people who do work for Team Trump, Gauger said he never received the $50,000 he was promised, though he claims Cohen did give him a Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash.

Cohen denies that detail -- he insists payments were made by check -- though he seemed to confirm the gist of the story. In a tweet published this morning, Cohen pointed to the WSJ article and said that when it came to poll rigging, his actions were made "at the direction of and for the sole benefit of" Donald Trump.

The lawyer, who'll soon be incarcerated for crimes he committed under Trump's employ, added, "I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it."

Why should we care about details like these now? A few reasons.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Trying to shift shutdown blame, White House slams Dems' Puerto Rico trip

01/17/19 10:18AM

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on the divisions among White House staffers on the best strategy for the ongoing government shutdown, and it included an odd quote from one of Donald Trump's aides.

"Everyone wants to know what the president is doing," an unnamed senior White House official said. "Let me tell you what he's not doing. He's not going to Puerto Rico."

If it seems like we've heard this talking point a lot this week, it's not your imagination. On Tuesday, a reporter asked the president about the status of negotiations with congressional Democrats. "I've been here all weekend," Trump replied. "A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico, celebrating something. I don't know, maybe they're celebrating the shutdown."

As Vox noted, "Press secretary Sarah Sanders, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley all also attacked Democrats for making the trip."

I think we're supposed to believe that Democrats blew off negotiations to have fun in the sun in January. In reality, there were no negotiations to blow off and the trip had a substantive purpose. As the Washington Post  reported, the trip, months in the making, was designed to offer a congressional delegation the latest information on Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

According to members who participated, the three-day event featured informational sessions on the damage from the 2017 hurricane, meetings with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, presentations on the controversial oversight board created to meet the island's bond obligations, and information on how residents of territories can't access many of the government services available to residents of the 50 states.

There was a special "Hamilton" show as part of the trip, but members paid their own way, and the proceeds went to a local non-profit.

So why has this become such an important line of attack for Team Trump? Does it have something to do with the president's attitude toward the island?

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump shared 'serious misconceptions' about border at shutdown meeting

01/17/19 09:20AM

Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, Donald Trump's hosted three meetings at the White House with lawmakers to discuss his government shutdown. Each failed rather spectacularly. A fourth, quickly thrown together earlier this week, couldn't even attract Democratic participants.

Yesterday, Trump brought members of the House "Problem Solvers Caucus" -- a bipartisan group of relative moderates -- to the West Wing for a chat. The president and his team are obviously trying to divide congressional Democrats, excluding party leaders from the discussions, but he nevertheless got seven House Dems to come and hear his pitch.

By some accounts, it was a polite and friendly affair, though some aspects didn't go especially well.

"He believes what he believes": That's what Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), who met with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday along with a handful of his colleagues from the "Problem Solvers Caucus," told [the Washington Post] about the president's "very serious misconceptions of the border."

"He mentioned, 'I don't even know why we have ports of entry. You can just drive down the border and turn left into the U.S.' ... I think he's convinced himself that that's what the border is," Gonzalez told us. "I was listening to him today. He makes a lot of comments that are so untrue. But I believe that he actually believes them."

That's certainly important -- it's never been altogether clear if the president actually believes his own nonsense -- though it's not at all reassuring to think Trump, two years into his presidency and nearly four weeks into his shutdown, is still badly confused about the most basic details of the issue he claims to care so deeply about.

The idea behind yesterday's meeting was itself suspect -- Trump should be reaching out to lawmakers in a decision-making authority, and no congressional leaders from either party or either chamber were on hand for yesterday's chat -- but Vicente Gonzalez's peek behind the curtain reminds me of something important about the president's capacity.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

On shutdown, Trump gets one thing right: 'We are getting crushed'

01/17/19 08:41AM

At a certain level, Donald Trump seems to realize that the political fight over his government shutdown is not going well. The New York Times  reported overnight:

President Trump has insisted that he is not going to compromise with Democrats to end the government shutdown, and that he is comfortable in his unbendable position. But privately, it's sometimes a different story.

"We are getting crushed!" Mr. Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, after watching some recent coverage of the shutdown, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

That's the first quote I've seen from the Republican about the shutdown that I'm inclined to endorse.

Earlier this week, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found most Americans blaming Trump and his party for the shutdown, and rejecting the White House's idea for a giant border wall. A CNN poll soon followed with very similar results.

A day later, a national Quinnipiac survey pointed in the same direction -- most Americans don't want a wall, don't approve of the president's shutdown strategy, and blame Republicans for the mess -- which was soon followed by a Pew Research Center poll that not only found the same results, it also found that most Americans don't want Democrats to give in to Trump's demands.

Yesterday, a poll from PBS NewsHour, NPR, and Marist offered very similar findings, and FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver published an analysis on what the shutdown is doing to Trump's approval rating (hint: nothing good).

And yet, despite all of this evidence, there's apparently still some debate within the White House about the merits of the president's political strategy.

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Lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at a press conference after appearing in court to call for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against video game giant Activision in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 16, 2014. (Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Giuliani stuns with new claim: 'I never said there was no collusion'

01/17/19 08:00AM

When Rudy Giuliani comments on the investigation into the Russia scandal, his observations tend to fall into two broad categories: he reflects on things that have happened in the past and things that might happen in the future.

When the former mayor focuses his attention on the latter, his comments are of little value. Giuliani often seems hopelessly lost about where Donald Trump's legal defense is headed, the status of talks with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, and what the president is likely to do next. By and large, when it comes to future developments, Giuliani routinely appears to be guessing.

But when he comments on things that have already happened, I think there's a qualitative difference. More specifically, when Giuliani talks about the past, he's reflecting on things he presumably knows more about: evidence he's seen, witnesses he's spoken to, details he's reviewed, etc.

With this in mind, when Giuliani dramatically changes his story about central questions at the heart of the Russia scandal, it's worth taking note. Consider this exchange from last night between the former mayor and CNN's Chris Cuomo.

CUOMO: Mr. Mayor, false reporting is saying that nobody in the campaign had any contacts with Russia. False reporting is saying that there has been no suggestion of any kind of collusion between the campaign and any Russians. Because now you have Paul Manafort giving poll data that winds up leading to this coincidence --

GIULIANI: I -- I never said -- well, you just misstated my position. I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign --

CUOMO: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have no idea if -- I have not. I said the president of the United States.

There a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that Giuliani, in reality, really is on record saying that the Trump campaign -- not just the president himself -- did not collude with Russia during its attack on the American elections. Giuliani is now changing his story. It seems likely that he learned something new that led him to adopt this new position.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.16.19

01/16/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An explosion this morning in Syria left four Americans dead: "Two American service members, a U.S. Defense Department civilian employee and a contractor supporting the department were killed while 'conducting a routine patrol,' according to a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, and a statement from U.S. Central Command."

* The attack in Kenya: "Dozens of people remain missing one day after a deadly attack on a popular hotel complex in Nairobi, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society. Tuesday's attack started with car bombs before armed men invaded the DusitD2 hotel complex, which includes bars, restaurants, offices and banks."

* May survives the no-confidence vote: "Theresa May narrowly survived another bid to oust her as prime minister on Wednesday -- the second attempt in five weeks -- leaving Britain with a leader but without a plan as it barrels toward a March 29 deadline to leave the European Union."

* A vote we were watching closely: "Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer came up just short in his effort to get legislation through the chamber blocking the Treasury Department from easing sanctions on a trio of Russian companies."

* I'm still not entirely sure how this is legal: "The Internal Revenue Service is recalling about 46,000 of its employees furloughed by the government shutdown -- nearly 60 percent of its workforce -- to handle tax returns and pay out refunds. The employees won't be paid during the shutdown."

* The West Wing has cause for concern: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is sinking panel resources into a robust investigative staff to revive the probe into President Donald Trump's ties to Russia with roughly seven committee staffers directing their energy full-time."

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