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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump draws odd parallel between Saudi Arabia, Brett Kavanaugh

10/17/18 08:00AM

At some level, Donald Trump seems to realize that practically everyone, including his own Republican allies, believes Saudi Arabia is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist and critic of the Saudi royal family. The American president, however, simply doesn't want to believe his lying eyes.

And so Trump has invested a considerable amount of time and energy in trying to cover for his allies in Riyadh, repeatedly telling the world how persuaded he's been by Saudi leaders' denials, and even peddling preemptive Saudi propaganda about "rogue killers."

In an interview with the Associated Press, the Republican went a little further still.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized rapidly mounting global condemnation of Saudi Arabia over the mystery of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, warning of a rush to judgment and echoing the Saudis' request for patience.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Trump compared the case of Khashoggi, who Turkish officials have said was murdered in the Saudis' Istanbul consulate, to the allegations of sexual assault leveled against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

"I think we have to find out what happened first," Trump said. "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."

I have a hunch this isn't the argument Republicans want to hear -- because if the Saudis and Kavanaugh are equally blameless, they really shouldn't have confirmed the partisan jurist to the Supreme Court.

Regardless, we're gaining fresh insights into how this president sees the world. As Jon Chait explained last night, "The rationale for confirming Kavanaugh is now the same as the rationale for believing the innocence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: They are both on Trump's side, and can therefore commit any crimes they want."

Exactly. Donald Trump is the most highly selective civil libertarian anyone has ever seen.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.16.18

10/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump's credulity continues to be a problem: "President Trump said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia's crown prince had again denied any knowledge of the fate of a Saudi dissident journalist, but would expand an investigation into his disappearance and suspected killing two weeks ago."

* On a related note, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia today to meet with leading officials, and "the cameras that recorded the officials' small talk ahead of the private meetings captured smiles and pleasantries, giving no hint that relations between the two countries are in crisis over [Jamal] Khashoggi's disappearance."

* The latest death toll from Hurricane Michael has reached "at least 28 across four states, with other deaths in Florida under investigation and officials still exploring some of the most ravaged areas."

* Surveying hurricane damage in Florida and Georgia yesterday, Trump declared, "We are doing more than anybody would've done." His instinct for self-aggrandizing rhetoric really is a sight to behold.

* He's really not letting this go: "President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticism of the Federal Reserve on Tuesday, lambasting the independent agency and expressing frustration with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. 'My biggest threat is the Fed,' Trump said in an interview with the Fox Business channel."

* The fact that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is holding judicial confirmation hearings in October, when most senators aren't on the Hill and the chamber isn't doing real work, is bothering Democrats for good reason.

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Trump vs. Stormy descends into 'Horseface' vs. 'Tiny'

10/16/18 04:04PM

The controversy surrounding Stormy Daniels and her alleged relationship with Donald Trump was once dismissed as a fairly obscure presidential scandal, which many observers overlooked. But what may have once been seen as a salacious, tabloid-esque affair has since turned into a meaningful story about a president and his team paying hush money to a porn star and lying about it.

Indeed, it was also this story that led the president's former personal attorney to declare in court that he made illegal payments "in coordination with and at the direction of" of Donald Trump, directly implicating the president in a felony.

Yesterday, part of the case reached its apparent conclusion: a federal judge dismissed Daniels' defamation lawsuit against Trump, rejecting an argument that a presidential tweet damaged her reputation. And while the rest of the controversy is ongoing, including an examination of Trump's hush-money scheme, the president apparently thought today would be a good time to take a victory lap.

President Donald Trump lobbed a crass insult at Stormy Daniels on Tuesday, calling the adult film star "horseface" after a federal judge dismissed her defamation suit against him.

"Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas," Trump wrote in a tweet that also referred to a news article about the suit being tossed.

This, evidently, is how the president publicly communicates now. We've reached the point in American history at which the head of our executive branch, while lashing out at an alleged former lover, uses words like "horseface" to describe a woman he paid hush money to, in violation of federal law.

There's no shortage of angles to this, but it's worth taking a moment to appreciate how Donald Trump talks about women he disapproves of. He's comfortable, for example, calling Stormy Daniels "horceface." He went after MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski by claiming she had had a 'facelift.' He said after a GOP primary debate that Megyn Kelly "had blood coming out of her wherever.'

Soon after, in reference to rival candidate Carly Fiorina, Trump said, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! .... I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

McConnell eyes cuts to Medicare, Social Security to address deficit

10/16/18 12:41PM

Nearly a year ago, as the debate over Republican tax breaks for the wealthy was near its end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted that the tax cuts didn't need to be paid for -- because they'd pay for themselves.

"I not only don't think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral," McConnell said in December 2017. "In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap."

Whether the GOP leader actually believed his own rhetoric is an open question, but either way, we now know the Kentucky senator's claim was spectacularly wrong. The Republican tax breaks have, as Democrats and those familiar with arithmetic predicted, sent the nation's budget deficit soaring.

Take a wild guess what McConnell told Bloomberg News he wants to do about it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.

"It's disappointing but it's not a Republican problem," McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. "It's a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future."

He added that he believes "Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid" funding constitutes "the real driver of the debt."

Before we get into the broader implications of McConnell's argument, it's important to understand that we already know it's the Republicans' tax breaks for the rich that have made the deficit vastly larger. When McConnell calls the increased federal borrowing "very disturbing," as he did this morning, it's like watching an arsonist wring his hands over the ashes he created.

The Senate GOP leader helped create this mess; he hasn't earned the right to complain about it.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.16.18

10/16/18 12:00PM

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

* With only three weeks remaining before Election Day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has reportedly invested another $18 million of his own money into his Senate campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

* On a related note, Mike Braun (R), a Senate hopeful in Indiana, has loaned his campaign nearly $2.4 million, despite having promised voters he wouldn't self-fund his candidacy.

* Despite Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) providing proof that her claims about her ancestry were accurate, Donald Trump condemned her again anyway this morning as a "fraud."

* In New York's 27th, a new Siena poll shows indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R), who represents the most Republican district in the Northeast, leading Nate McMurray (D) by just a few points, 46% to 43%.

* In West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, a district Donald Trump carried by 50 points, a new Monmouth University poll found Carol Miller (R) with a narrow lead over Richard Ojeda (D), 48% to 45%. (Also of interest: voters in this district prefer Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to his Republican challenger, Patrick Morrisey, 56% to 36%.)

* In Utah's 4th district, a new Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute poll found incumbent Rep. Mia Love (R) tied with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D), 46% to 46%.

* Donald Trump promised to headline a rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in "the biggest stadium in Texas we can find." That apparently didn't work out well: the president will instead hold an event in Houston next week at an arena that holds 8,000 people.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Wisconsin's Scott Walker plays a risky game on health care

10/16/18 11:20AM

"My wife is Type 1 diabetic," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wrote in a tweet over the weekend. "My mother is a cancer survivor. My brother has a heart condition. Covering pre-existing conditions is personal to me. And it's the right thing to do."

There's nothing wrong with the message, but it's tough to take the messenger seriously. Walker, currently running for a third term as governor, has long been a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, and he even ran on a presidential platform of destroying the health care reform law.

More recently, the Wisconsin Republican officially threw his support behind a dangerous lawsuit that would -- you guessed it -- gut protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. The governor could end his support for the litigation at any time, but he hasn't.

In other words, Walker's re-election pitch asks voters to believe he's secretly quite liberal on health care coverage, while also asking them to overlook most of what he's said and done on the issue over the last decade.

What's more, this is only part of a broader, dubious message. Politico  reported this morning:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sought for years to put Medicaid recipients to work. Now federal officials have given him most of what he wanted, but he's delaying the process for fear the changes will doom his flailing reelection bid, say three federal officials familiar with the deliberations. [...]

Walker's formal request to the Trump administration last year to overhaul Medicaid included provisions that were more aggressive than those sought by other GOP states -- part of the governor's effort to roll back Wisconsin's safety-net programs.

The Trump administration, by and large, gave Walker a green light, at which point he took his foot off the gas.

Politico quoted one official saying Wisconsin has been "stalling" on implementing regressive new Medicaid policies. "It's ended up being a lot of hurry-up-and-wait."

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The trouble with Trump's controversial choice to oversee Medicaid

10/16/18 10:40AM

One of the unsettling staples of Donald Trump's presidency is his habit of tapping officials to lead agencies whose work they fundamentally oppose. As regular readers know, prominent cabinet-level officials like Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Mick Mulvaney, and others have been asked to oversee departments that, in their minds, shouldn't even exist.

We appear to have a new addition to the list. The Associated Press reported late yesterday:

President Donald Trump has tapped a Maine official who battled Medicaid expansion for a position that puts her in charge of the national program, the federal agency confirmed Monday.

Mary Mayhew's role of deputy administrator and director of the U.S. Center for Medicaid and the CHIP Services will place her in charge of the federal health care program for low-income people.

Seema Verma, the head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, confirmed the hire and cited Mayhew's work as commissioner of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services under Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Mayhew's tenure on Paul LePage's team impressed health care opponents, but for everyone else, it was cause for concern. She spent several years condemning the Affordable Care Act, rejecting Medicaid expansion -- despite the policy's strong, bipartisan backing in Maine -- and taking steps to impose new eligibility restrictions on the existing Medicaid program.

She also used her position in Maine to lobby other states not to implement Medicaid expansion through the ACA. It wasn't part of Mayhew's job description to advise other states, but she took it upon herself to urge policymakers elsewhere not to expand coverage to millions of low-income families far from Maine's borders.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Trump picks a misplaced fight over his Saudi Arabian business ties

10/16/18 10:00AM

The more the Russia scandal intensified, the more Donald Trump went out of his way to insist he's had no business dealings with the foreign adversary. The problem with the president's rhetoric, of course, is that we've already seen quite a bit of evidence of his business dealings in Russia.

With this in mind, it was striking to see Trump push a related line this morning, insisting via Twitter that he has "no financial interests in Saudi Arabia." Reports to the contrary, the president added, are "fake news."

He's wrong again. I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to quote a Rachel Maddow Show segment from last week at length:

"In 2015, before he was president but around the time he started running, Donald Trump registered eight shell companies that all included the word 'Jeddah' in the company name... Jeddah is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia.

"Trump creating eight shell companies with that city name in the company name -- based on past Trump organization practices -- that would seem to indicate that the president was planning to build a hotel in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. He didn't build that hotel, at least he hasn't yet. Those companies were dissolved shortly after he was elected president.

"But then three days after Trump's inauguration, lobbyists working for the Saudi government went out of their way to make sure the American press reported that they were spending almost $300,000 to put up a gigantic Saudi entourage at the Trump Hotel in Washington.

The Trump Hotel in Manhattan has sort of been on hard times recently. Its revenues have declined for two straight years. But in the first few months of this year, that hotel turned its fortunes around, basically got bailed out. For the first time in years, revenue at the Trump Hotel in Manhattan increased thanks specifically to a very, very, very profligate and expensive visit from the Saudi crown prince -- and his entourage too.

"Donald Trump has a business history and a business present with Saudi Arabia, and that's the kind of thing we never have had to factor in before when considering why president was acting a specific way toward a specific country."

During his presidential campaign, Trump went so far as to boast, "Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much."

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

How far Duncan Hunter is prepared to go to win

10/16/18 09:20AM

The federal criminal indictment against Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) paints a rather brutal picture. As we discussed over the summer, prosecutors have alleged that the Republican congressman and his wife stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work.

A Washington Post report on this in August highlighted the Hunters' efforts to cover up their alleged misdeeds, often claiming their purchases were for charities -- including veterans' charities -- claims the indictment says were fraudulent. The Post's article added that the prosecutors' allegations "read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician."

It's against this backdrop that the California Republican is running for re-election anyway. And as it turns out, Hunter probably likes his chances: his 50th congressional district is among the "reddest" on the West Coast. In fact, Donald Trump may have lost California by 30 points, but he won Hunter's district by 15 points.

But if the conservative incumbent is confident, he has a funny way of showing it. Indeed, if Hunter liked his chances, the GOP incumbent wouldn't have to resort to tactics like these against Democratic rival, Ammar Campa-Najjar.

"He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar," said Hunter, "so he sounds Hispanic.... That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government."

Actually, Ammar Campa-Najjar is Christian. And Campa is his Hispanic mother's family name.

And he's not trying to "infiltrate" anything.

This comes on the heels of a Hunter ad suggesting his challenger is some kind of terrorist sympathizer as part of a commercial filled with demonstrably false claims.

There's no shortage of ugly races in 2018, but Hunter's message is almost certainly the most offensive of the year.

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