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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.13.19

09/13/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Not at all what the Bahamas needs: "A tropical storm warning was issued Thursday for the Bahamas, less than two weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated the commonwealth's northwest region as a Category 5 hurricane."

* A story we've been following closely: "An internal memo prepared by a top Trump immigration official recommends that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services be stripped of its authority to delay deportations for undocumented immigrants receiving treatment for serious medical conditions."

* Asylum policy: "Following the Supreme Court's decision to allow the Trump administration to go forward with its toughest asylum policy to date, officials from the Department of Justice and Homeland Security on Friday detailed how they would begin enforcement, including by turning back children who arrive at the southern border without their parents."

* Well, well: "Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are negotiating for Jeff Sessions's testimony in their impeachment investigation of President Trump, an appearance they hope could bolster their inquiry given the former attorney general's rocky relationship with Trump."

* I hope to circle back to this next week: "A federal appeals court Friday breathed new life into a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump's profiting from restaurants and hotels patronized by government officials violates the Constitution."

* Hmm: "A Taliban official says the insurgent group's negotiating team has arrived in the Russian capital just days after U.S. President Donald Trump declared a deal that had been nearly a year in the making was dead."

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In this Jan. 21, 2011, file photo, Manager Nick Reynoza holds a 100-watt incandescent light bulb at Royal Lighting in Los Angeles.

Trump tackles lightbulb policy in a perfectly Trumpian way

09/13/19 04:43PM

Last week, the Trump administration rolled back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, which represented a pointless step backwards. As The Hill’s report on this noted, the new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

At a campaign rally in North Carolina earlier this week, Donald Trump addressed his policy and shed some light (no pun intended) on why he and his team adopted their latest position.

"I'm not a vain person, and I know I have no vain people especially these incredible ladies in the front, but I look better under an incandescent light than these crazy lights that are beaming down on us."

Last night, speaking to the House Republican Conference, he did it again.

"The lightbulb. People said, 'What's with the lightbulb?' I said, 'Here's the story...' And I looked at it -- the bulb that we're being forced to use -- number one, to me, most importantly, the light is no good. I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst."

In fairness, the president went on to make some additional comments about bulb prices, but this was nevertheless the second time this week the public heard Trump address energy policy by focusing on his perceptions of his own physical appearance.

Which is a policy dynamic that's awfully tough to defend.

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Air Force: Trump's border wall gambit risks national security

09/13/19 02:56PM

It was earlier this year when Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration, giving himself the authority to raid the Pentagon budget and redirect funds to his border agenda, whether Congress liked it or not. Last week, the administration started offering specific details about which projects were supposed to receive Defense funds, but which will now lose out to pay for unnecessary border barriers.

Domestically, there are all kinds of worthwhile priorities that have suddenly been stripped of funding, including schools and daycare facilities for the children of American troops, as well as construction work in Puerto Rico. But internationally, the developments are just as striking, with the president taking steps to deny assistance to European allies facing possible Russian aggression.

NBC News advances the story further today, highlighting a report compiled by the U.S. Air Force.

President Donald Trump's plan to pay for his proposed border wall by taking funds from more than four dozen Air Force military construction projects poses various national security risks for the U.S. armed forces, according to a report compiled by the U.S. Air Force.

The report, obtained by NBC News, details the importance of each of the 51 military projects chosen by the Trump administration to lose their funding....

The full report is well worth your time to appreciate the scope and scale of the problem, though I was especially struck by NBC News' reporting on scrapped investments that would have upgraded airfields in Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Hungary, and Slovakia, "leaving the bases unable to support U.S. and NATO airplanes."

The report quoted an Air Force official saying, "We had no advanced notice of what projects they chose."

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Why Trump believes his national security advisers 'don't have to work'

09/13/19 12:52PM

As things stand, Donald Trump does not currently have a White House national security adviser, which is an incredibly important and influential job. The NSA -- or technically, the assistant to the president for national security affairs (APNSA) -- is responsible for coordinating the White House policy process on matters related to national security and international affairs. The person in the job has a considerable reach, involving the White House National Security Council and a variety of departments and agencies across the executive branch.

Trump has gone through three national security advisers in 32 months. One of them, Michael Flynn, is now a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.

The president said on Wednesday he had five leading contenders to replace John Bolton at the post. He upped that number yesterday, telling reporters during a brief Q&A there are now 15 people on his list.

"A lot of people want the job. And we -- it's a great job. It's great because it's a lot of fun to work with Donald Trump. And it's very easy, actually, to work with me. You know why it's easy? Because I make all the decisions. They don't have to work."

This struck me as a surprisingly interesting comment, which is worth unpacking a bit.

First, when Trump said "a lot of people" want to serve as the next national security adviser, that's almost certainly not true. He used nearly identical language after firing Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that was because the White House was struggling to find a new Pentagon chief at the time. He felt the need to lie to obscure the embarrassment.

It's far easier to believe that real candidates for the job don't want it because they've seen what's happened to those who've held the job under Trump. As Eliot Cohen, a veteran of the Bush/Cheney administration, said this week, no matter who replaces Bolton, "it's not going to be an important position anymore -- there really isn't going to be much of a process under Trump."

Second, the fact that Trump described the White House national security adviser as basically a do-nothing gig in which someone simply watches the president make decisions says a great deal about how things work -- or fail to work -- in the current West Wing.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.13.19

09/13/19 12:00PM

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

* Last year, after the Tennessee Black Voter Project kicked off an initiative to register new voters in a state with one of the lowest registration rates in the country, Tennessee's Republican-led legislature passed a new law to make voter-registration drives far more difficult. Yesterday, a federal judge blocked that law.

* Following a provocative exchange in last night's Democratic presidential primary debate, Julián Castro argued this morning that he wasn't targeting Joe Biden over his age. In the same interview, however, the former HUD secretary went on to refer to Biden "as someone who's 'been around for a long time' and had trouble hearing him."

* Andrew Yang, a Democratic presidential candidate, announced at last night's debate that he wants to create a test model for his universal-basic-income idea by paying 10 people $1,000 a month for a year. That's probably not something a presidential hopeful can do legally.

* If you enjoyed Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign, you can look forward to a sequel. "Look, I hope to run again," he told reporters yesterday. "We came very, very close in 2016. And it's the most fun I've ever had in my life." The Texas Republican won 11 primaries in his race, second only to Donald Trump's 41.

* Speaking of former presidential candidates, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said yesterday he won't endorse anyone in the 2020 presidential primaries or the presidential general election. Given Romney's history, however, don't be too surprised if he changes his mind.

* In Colorado, the massive field of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates is starting to get a little smaller. Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh became the second Senate hopeful to end his candidacy, announcing yesterday that he's supporting former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston ended his campaign last week.

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Homeless women sit amid their belongings on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2014.

Trump admin on homeless: 'We're not rounding people up or anything yet'

09/13/19 11:20AM

During his remarks to the House Republican Conference last night, Donald Trump suggested Los Angeles and San Francisco are in need of a presidential rescue. "We are going to have to step in and do something about it," he said, adding, "We can't allow it. And in the not too distant future, you are going to see we are going to step in."

Though the president didn't explicitly use the word "homeless," that seemed to be what he was referring to last night when he went on to say, "We are going to give them notice. In fact, we gave them notice today. Clean it up. You got to do something. Can't have it. These are our great American cities and they're an embarrassment."

The fact that Trump has taken an interest in homelessness in some of the nation's largest cities isn't necessarily a bad thing. There is, however, an obvious follow-up question: what exactly does the president have in mind?

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump, according to one senior administration official, has asked aides to figure out "how the hell we can get these people off the streets." With those vague directions in mind, officials took a look at a specific facility.

A team of Trump administration officials toured a California facility once used by the Federal Aviation Administration this week as they searched for a potential site to relocate homeless people, according to three government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private tour. [...]

The FAA facility toured by administration officials is located in or near Los Angeles, but its precise name or whereabouts -- or whether it is a current or former government facility -- were not immediately known.

It also remains unclear how the federal government could accomplish getting homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles, or what legal authority officials would use to do so.

I have so many questions. Let's say the reporting is right, there's a big FAA facility in Los Angeles, and some Trump administration officials believe it could serve as a place to put homeless people. How is this supposed to work? Would the homeless simply be dropped off at a giant warehouse turned into a makeshift shelter? How would they get there? Which federal agency would enforce such a policy? Would the homeless be forced to stay? Does the administration have the legal authority to do any of this?

One senior administration official told the Post, "We're not rounding people up or anything yet."

What exactly did this person mean by "yet"?

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Why two of Trump's judicial nominees are suddenly in trouble

09/13/19 10:40AM

As a rule, the Republicans' judicial pipeline works with remarkable efficiency. Partisan operatives tell Donald Trump who to nominate; the White House sends the nominees to Capitol Hill, and the Republican-led Senate serves as a rubber stamp. The result is a largely successful initiative to move the entire federal judiciary to the right.

As regular readers know, however, there are occasional exceptions. A small handful of Trump nominees have been derailed by intra-party divisions, racial controversies, or humiliating incompetence exposed during the confirmation process.

Will the list of failed nominees grow longer? It's a distinct possibility.

We talked earlier this week about Steven Menashi, one of the president's far-right lawyers, who's been nominated for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, despite a tough-to-defend record of radicalism that includes an argument about democratic countries working better when everyone is of the same ethnicity.

As Rachel noted on the show the other day, Menashi's confirmation hearing this week could've gone better. Politico reported on the bipartisan disappointment with him:

Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday castigated President Donald Trump's nominee to the powerful Second Circuit Court of Appeals for dodging their questions as well as his prior controversial writings.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in particular chided Steven Menashi for not being more forthcoming during his confirmation hearing after the nominee wouldn't provide specifics on how or if he helped shape Trump's immigration policy. Menashi is currently associate counsel to the president.

At one point, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) added, "Counsel, you're a really smart guy but I wish you'd be more forthcoming."

Whether this will be enough to derail Menashi's nomination -- which, under the blue-slip rule, shouldn't really exist since both of New York's Democratic senators oppose him -- remains to be seen, but he didn't do himself any favors during his confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, an entirely different Trump judicial nominee is in trouble for a very different reason. Politico reported late yesterday:

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

Indicted House Republican pleads not guilty to felony charges

09/13/19 10:06AM

One of the oddities of the 2018 election cycle was that two incumbent congressmen ran for re-election while under felony indictment. One of the other oddities is that most of their constituents didn't seem to mind.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) won despite a fairly long list of charges, accused by prosecutors of misusing campaign contributions to pay for luxurious personal expenses. Last week, the Republican's lawyers argued that the case against him is built on evidence from his campaign-finance forms, and according to Hunter's legal team, those materials were filed as part of a legislative act and therefore should be immune from prosecutorial scrutiny.

I have a hunch this won't work out especially well for the GOP lawmaker, but time will tell. Hunter's trial is scheduled to begin in January. Several months later, he'll likely face a primary challenge from former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who retired from a nearby district, and who's apparently interested in a comeback.

And while there's no doubt that Hunter's scandal features all kinds of interesting drama, let's not forget the other indicted congressman, who was in court yesterday. Roll Call reported:

Rep. Chris Collins pleaded not guilty to a revised indictment on Thursday in New York, where he, his son Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins' onetime fiancee, were initially indicted in August 2018 on insider trading charges and lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors have dropped three of the original eight securities fraud charges against Collins and two against his son and Zarsky in order to speed up the pretrial process in time for the trial slated for Feb. 3, 2020.... The defense team for Collins, a longtime Republican from New York's 27th District, could delay that trial date for the congressman through a potentially lengthy pretrial appeals process.

For those who might need a refresher, the case against the New York Republican paints an unsettling picture.

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Image: Beto O'Rourke

Texas GOP rep tells Beto O'Rourke: 'My AR is ready for you'

09/13/19 09:20AM

Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) recently endorsed a mandatory-buyback program for assault weapons: not only would consumers no longer be allowed to buy AR-15s and AK-47s, but Americans who currently own them would be legally required to sell them to the government in exchange for compensation.

It's a fairly new and controversial proposal for a national candidate, though an independent poll last week found 46% support for the idea.

When the issue came up during last night's debate, the Texan said, "[I]n Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was shot by an AR-15, and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15 in Odessa and Midland, there weren't enough ambulances to get to them in time. Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

One viewer registered a specific kind of objection via Twitter.

A Texas state representative had a menacing response to Beto O'Rourke's statement in Thursday's debate that "hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15."

"My AR is ready for you Robert Francis," Republican Representative Briscoe Cain tweeted about O'Rourke, using the presidential candidate's legal first and middle name.

Cain later deleted the tweet. Nevertheless, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest those who threaten to shoot presidential candidates probably shouldn't own military-style assault weapons.

O'Rourke told CNN this morning that his campaign contacted the FBI about the Texas Republican's missive. "I mean, anytime you have somebody threatening to use violence against somebody in this country to resolve a political issue -- or really for any reason -- that's a matter for law enforcement," the Texas Democrat said.

Time will tell whether Briscoe Cain faces any legal troubles for his not-so-subtle threat, but it's worth contextualizing this incident because it's part of a larger story.

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