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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump pretends 'many' Dems secretly agree with him about wall, shutdown

01/14/19 04:25PM

Donald Trump declared publicly last week that he'd spoken privately to some of his presidential predecessors who'd made a secret confession to him: they admitted that they should've built a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. This immediately became problematic, not only because it was an absurd claim, but because reporters can call every living president.

And last week, each of Trump's predecessors made clear that the Republican was lying about the conversations that only occurred in his imagination.

This morning, the president approached this in a way that's harder to disprove:

"We have a very big crisis, a humanitarian crisis on the border. Everybody knows it, [congressional Democrats] know it. And many of them are saying, 'We agree with you.' Many of them are calling and many of them are breaking. The Republicans are rock-solid."

For now, let's put aside the fact that Republicans are not unified, Trump's efforts to pretend otherwise notwithstanding. Similarly, we can look past the fact that literally zero congressional Democrats, at least publicly, have broken with their party and endorsed the idea of paying the president his ransom.

What I find interesting is the idea that Trump wants us to believe that Dems have secretly called the White House to say how correct they think he is.

Unlike last week's incident with the former presidents, this is practically impossible to definitively disprove. There are, after all, nearly 300 Democrats in Congress (between both chambers). Is it possible two or three of them reached out to the White House to signal sympathy for the president's position? I seriously doubt it, but sure.

The trouble is, it'd be easier to believe Trump's fanciful boast if he weren't frequently describing imagined conversations with people whom he insists have secretly told him how right he is.

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This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York.

Trump picks a curious time to praise his favorite supermarket tabloid

01/14/19 12:50PM

Even before taking office, Donald Trump made no secret of his affection for the National Enquirer. The Republican insisted that the supermarket tabloid "should be very respected" and deserves "Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting."

As president, his support hasn't faded. Take yesterday, for example.

Four days after Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos announced a divorce with his wife MacKenzie, a prominent figure took to Twitter to comment on the matter: Donald Trump.

The president appeared to mock the business giant and Washington Post owner in a tweet Sunday night, referring to Bezos as "Jeff Bozo."

"So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post," Trump wrote. "Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!"

The confluence of events was apparently too much for the president. Trump hates the Washington Post because of its coverage of his White House, which leads Trump to also hate Jeff Bezos, because he publishes the newspaper, and Amazon, because Bezos owns the online retailer.

The Republican also, of course, loves the National Enquirer, which has helped Trump with glowing coverage, and which reportedly uncovered damaging information about Bezos, contributing to the breakup of his marriage.

Trump thought it'd be a good idea to tie all of this together, declaring that the supermarket tabloid is "far more accurate" than one of the nation's premier news organizations -- all while demonstrating the maturity of an ill-tempered child. ("Jeff Bozo"? Seriously?)

But what makes this of particular note is the timing of the developments.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.14.19

01/14/19 12:00PM

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

* Julián Castro, a former member of Barack Obama's cabinet, kicked off his Democratic presidential campaign over the weekend. He made the announcement from his hometown of San Antonio, where he formerly served as mayor.

* In the latest CNN poll, Donald Trump's approval rating is just 37%, but of likely interest to the White House is this: among whites without college degrees -- the heart of the president's base -- Trump has a 45% approval rating and a 47% disapproval rating. It's the first time in Trump's presidency that he's been "underwater" with this constituency.

* Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has hired a series of prominent Democratic staffers, leaving no doubt about her plans to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

* On a related noted, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has scheduled a trip to South Carolina on Jan. 25, which also leaves little doubt about her 2020 plans.

* Just two weeks into his new term on Capitol Hill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) isn't denying his interest in returning to West Virginia and running for governor next year. If the conservative Democrat is serious about this, his seat will likely flip from "blue" to "red" soon after.

* Trying to clarify his electoral plans, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) said late last week that he will, in fact, seek a second term later this year. Asked why he still hadn't filed the necessary campaign materials, the Republican said, "I'm the governor of Kentucky, that's my focus, not paperwork."

* Georgia's Stacey Abrams (D), who very nearly won a gubernatorial race last year, was in D.C. last week, where she met with Democratic leaders about a possible 2020 campaign against incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R).

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President seeks credit for spending time in the White House

01/14/19 11:20AM

Of all the Republican arguments related to the shutdown, my personal favorite is the talking point that says Donald Trump deserves enormous credit for spending time in the White House. This came up briefly during the president's latest interview with Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend.

PIRRO: You're sitting there waiting for a deal, the Democrats are not sitting with you. If this isn't an emergency, I don't know what is.

TRUMP: Well, I haven't actually left the White House in months.... I've been here virtually every night, I guess every night other than one day I flew to Iraq and then to Germany to see our troops.

That's not even close to being true. During the seven days preceding the interview, Trump visited Camp David, Capitol Hill, and McAllen, Texas. He'll be in New Orleans today (though he told the public he'd be in Tennessee.) In the weeks leading up to his shutdown, the president also traveled to Philadelphia, Kansas City, Mississippi, and Argentina.

But while I don't much care about Trump's travels, I do care about the underlying point he wants the public to believe: it's impressive, the argument goes, just how much time the president has been willing to spend inside the White House during the government shutdown.

Trump has stressed this point during cabinet meetings, during multiple television interviews, and in a series of tweets. Some of his prominent cheerleaders, including acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney have parroted the same line.

The Associated Press reported this morning that the president "has expressed bafflement that he is not getting more credit for largely staying put during the shutdown."

Perhaps I can help explain the dynamic that has left Trump so confused.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

As shutdown persists, McConnell and Senate GOP remain on the sidelines

01/14/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump argued over the weekend that congressional Democrats should return to Capitol Hill "and work to end the Shutdown." It followed related remarks the president made on Friday, in which he said Democratic lawmakers should "come back and vote."

I suppose the message that the public is supposed to believe -- after this and a series of related missives Trump either published or re-tweeted -- is that the Democratic-led House just isn't doing enough work to resolve the shutdown the president created more than three weeks ago.

It's an odd argument for a couple of reasons. The first is that House Dems, immediately after taking the reins in the chamber, started passing measures that would re-open the government and end the shutdown. So far, each of the bills has passed with at least some bipartisan support, and the measures mirror the proposals Republicans -- including the president -- supported as recently as Dec. 19, which is less than a month ago.

The idea that Democrats are just sitting passively, uninterested in resolving the problem, is belied by their obvious legislative record. Trump wants Dems to "come back and vote," despite the fact that they've already done this.

The second angle dovetails nicely with the first: it's the Republican-led Senate that's sitting on its hands. The Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz explained the other day:

President Trump is not the only person in Washington who could end this government shutdown now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could bring a "clean" funding bill to the floor, free up his GOP caucus to support it and could quite possibly secure enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Since the start of the new Congress, the Democratic-led House has voted four times on measures that would re-open all or some of the federal government. The number of votes in the Republican-led Senate, at least so far, is zero -- and that's not because of filibusters, but rather, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't brought any bills related to the shutdown to the floor.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump insists he has a shutdown 'plan' (which no one else has seen)

01/14/19 10:00AM

It seems painfully obvious at this point that Donald Trump stumbled into a government shutdown with no idea how to resolve it. That, alas, was 24 days ago -- at the start of the longest shutdown in American history.

For his part, the president has heard the chatter about his non-existent strategy, and over the weekend, he pushed back against the charge in a notable way. In a pair of tweets, Trump wrote:

"I just watched a Fake reporter from the Amazon Washington Post say the White House is 'chaotic, there does not seem to be a strategy for this Shutdown. There is no plan.' The Fakes always like talking Chaos, there is NONE. In fact, there's almost nobody in the W.H. but me, and I do have a plan on the Shutdown.

"But to understand that plan you would have to understand the fact that I won the election, and I promised safety and security for the American people. Part of that promise was a Wall at the Southern Border. Elections have consequences!"

First, the idea that Trump believes there's no "chaos" in the White House because there's no one there working is kind of hilarious.

Second, while it's true that the president ran on a platform of building a wall, it's also true that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, which makes it awfully difficult to claim the American electorate endorsed his sparse platform. For that matter, if the president agrees that elections have consequences, he might want to take a fresh look at the results from the national congressional elections from two months ago -- the one in which House Democrats won their biggest victory since the Watergate era.

But I'm especially interested in the idea that Trump really does, all evidence to the contrary, "have a plan on the shutdown." Evidently, it's a secret plan, because the president hasn't told anyone -- including his own White House staff -- what it is.

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

On the shutdown, Americans aren't buying what the GOP is selling

01/14/19 09:20AM

The day before Donald Trump delivered an Oval Office address on immigration, Jared Kushner called Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), by most measures Congress' most conservative Democrat, and a lawmaker who's generally eager to work on bipartisan agreements. Did the White House reach out to the West Virginian about a possible compromise?

Not exactly. The New York Times  reported late last week that Kushner explained to Manchin that Trump would not budge: unless Democrats wanted the shutdown to continue, they'd have to approve funding for a border wall. As part of the same conversation, the article added, Kushner "left the senator with the impression that the White House believed public opinion would be on the president's side after the speech, and that Democrats would simply have to relent."

There's fresh evidence that those assumptions were backwards.

By a wide margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president's assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A majority of Americans (54%) oppose the president's dream of a giant border wall. A nearly identical number (53%) blame Trump and his party for the ongoing government shutdown, which is now the longest in the nation's history.

As for White House plans for a national-emergency declaration, in which Trump would grant himself the power to spend money on a wall in defiance of Congress' wishes, Americans are opposed to the idea by more than a 2-to-1 margin (66% to 31%).

Making matters worse for the GOP, despite Trump's incessant talk about the "crisis" at the border, just under a fourth of the country (24%) endorses the president's characterization of the status quo.

The results from a new CNN poll are no better for Trump: it found 56% of Americans oppose a wall and 55% blame Republicans for their shutdown.

The practical implications of results like these matter.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after the meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2

Trump went to 'extraordinary lengths' to conceal Putin chat details

01/14/19 08:40AM

Ahead of his July 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump insisted that the meeting be limited to a one-on-one discussion, with no other U.S. officials, even members of the Trump cabinet, participating. The White House never exactly explained why, but the assumption throughout the government was that the American leader would brief U.S. officials on the details of the meeting afterwards.

That didn't happen. White House officials, military leaders, and even Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats all conceded in the days following the summit that they didn't fully know what transpired behind closed doors.

It wasn't an isolated incident. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend that the Republican has "gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations" with the Russian autocrat who attacked our elections in 2016 in order to put Trump in power.

[Trump has established a pattern] of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States' main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump's face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference. [...]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump's behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

In one instance, according to the Post's reporting, Trump "took possession" of his own interpreter's notes after a conversation with Putin.

The publication of the report represented a one-two punch of sorts: over the course of 24 hours, the New York Times reported on the FBI's investigation into whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia against American interests, while the Washington Post reported that Trump hid details of his conversations with the Russian president.

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Asked whether he's worked for Russia, Trump doesn't answer directly

01/14/19 08:00AM

In late October 2016, about a week before Election Day, Kellyanne Conway thought she'd come up with a line that would help Donald Trump's candidacy. Targeting Hillary Clinton, Conway told Fox News, "If you're under your second FBI investigation in the same year, then you do have a ... corruption and an ethics problem."

In hindsight, that might not have been the ideal standard for Conway to have set.

Throughout much of his presidency, Trump has repeatedly responded to the Russia scandal with the same four-word phrase: "I'm not under investigation." We've known for quite a while that the assertion was wrong: Trump is the subject of an ongoing counter-espionage probe, which has explored, among other things, whether the president obstructed justice.

What we didn't know until Friday night, however, was that the FBI had another line of inquiry that pre-dated Special Counsel Robert Mueller's efforts.

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president's behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president's own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence.

According to the Times' reporting, which hasn't been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, officials at the bureau had long been concerned about Trump's Russian ties, but it was the circumstances surrounding Comey's ouster -- which the president admitted to NBC News' Lester Holt was related to Trump's concerns about the Russia investigation -- that "helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry."

The historic nature of this is quite breathtaking. Throughout much of the Cold War, the FBI launched plenty of investigations into Americans thought to be possibly working on behalf of a foreign adversary.

None of them was a sitting president of the United States.

For those inclined to support Trump and give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose the obvious response to revelations like these is to argue that the president only appeared to be a Russian asset when the FBI opened its inquiry. That's not, however, the White House's argument.

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