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U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross gestures as he leaves after addressing delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.

On the Census, Wilbur Ross' memory has apparently been jogged

10/12/18 12:44PM

The Trump administration announced in March that that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, and as regular readers know, the move immediately drew swift condemnations. The criticisms were rooted in fact: the question is likely to discourage immigrants' participation in the census, which would mean under-represented communities in the official count, affecting everything from political power to public investments.

There's ongoing federal litigation challenging the policy, and the plaintiffs have been eager to depose Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who's responsible for overseeing the Census. The Trump administration has fought tooth and nail to block Ross from answering questions about the rationale behind the change.

And we're starting to learn why. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled talking with former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, according to a document filed Thursday by the Justice Department, though he testified to Congress that he had not done so.

The document, part of a multistate lawsuit against the Trump administration over the question, said Ross recalls Bannon calling him in the spring of 2017 to ask whether Ross would speak to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about ideas for a possible citizenship question on the census.

Let's back up and review how we reached this point. Once the legal challenge to the Census policy got underway, the administration disclosed some pretty interesting emails. In May 2017, for example, Steve Bannon asked Wilbur Ross to "talk to someone about the census." Soon after, the Commerce secretary started demanding that his team include the controversial question.

And while that's notable in its own right, it's especially important because Ross may have lied to Congress about the series of events.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.12.18

10/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In Georgia's closely watched gubernatorial race, a new Atlanta Journal Constitution  poll shows Brian Kemp (R) narrowly leading Stacey Abrams (D), 48% to 46%. It's the second poll this week to show the far-right candidate ahead by two points.

* On a related note, Kemp, who's currently serving as Georgia's secretary of state and officially overseeing the race he's running in, was sued yesterday over his office's rejection of 53,000 voter-registration applications.

* Though one poll this week found Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) narrowly ahead in his bid for a third term, the new NBC News/Marist poll found his challenger, Tony Evers (D), up by double digits, 53% to 43%.

* The day after we learned that Donald Trump personally lobbied the prime minister of Japan on behalf of Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, Politico  reported that the casino magnate "is pumping tens of millions of dollars more into Republican Party coffers in an 11th-hour push to save their congressional majorities."

* In Maine's gubernatorial race, Republican Shawn Moody is dealing with revelations that he fired a woman in 2006 after she became a mother. The woman, Jill Hayward, filed a complaint against him with the Maine Human Rights Commission, and Moody ultimately paid her $20,000 to settle the complaint.

* It appears increasingly likely that Greg Orman's independent gubernatorial campaign in Kansas will split the mainstream vote and propel Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach into the governor's office, despite Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly's bipartisan backing.

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Elizabeth Warren, who was then still a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

Why John Kelly called Elizabeth Warren an 'impolite arrogant woman'

10/12/18 11:20AM

Before John Kelly became White House chief of staff, he was Donald Trump's first secretary of Homeland Security during a rather trying time for the administration. Soon after taking office, the president launched his Muslim ban, which Kelly was tasked with implementing.

This made the retired general the recipient of many questions, especially from Congress, and BuzzFeed reported on one conversation that apparently didn't go well.

White House chief of staff John Kelly called Sen. Elizabeth Warren an "impolite arrogant woman" in a private email he exchanged last year with his top aide following a telephone conversation with the Massachusetts Democrat about the Trump administration's travel ban.

"Absolutely most insulting conversation I have ever had with anyone," Kelly, then serving as the secretary of homeland security, wrote to Kevin Carroll, who was then his senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, in an email from Feb. 8, 2017. "What an impolite arrogant woman. She immediately began insulting our people accusing them of not following the court order, insulting and abusive behavior towards those covered by the pause, blah blah blah."

(Incidentally, "Blah blah blah" is a phrase with a rich legacy in Republican politics.)

BuzzFeed News' Jason Leopold, who obtained Kelly's email in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, added that in context, the "court order" he referred to in the message was "a temporary restraining order issued by federal judges in Massachusetts and New York on Jan. 28 and 29, 2017, which blocked" the president's first iteration of his proposed ban.

But to fully appreciate Kelly's complaints about Warren, it's important to see the Massachusetts senator's side of the story.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Texas' Beto O'Rourke shatters fundraising record

10/12/18 10:40AM

I tend not to focus too much on fundraising reports, especially among congressional candidates, but these numbers are simply stunning.

Texas Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Beto O'Rourke raised a record $38.1 million in the third quarter, the campaign announced Friday, nearly tripling his overall fundraising haul for the cycle.

The blockbuster quarter surpasses the record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race -- set by Rick Lazio in his race against Hillary Clinton in New York in 2000.

The total was "powered by 802,836 individual contributions and without a dime from PACs, corporations or special interests," the campaign said in a press release.

Team Beto has every reason to boast. The Texas congressman is running a fine race; he's generated all kinds of excitement in a contest that many expected to ignore; and he's forced Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and other Republicans to scramble to hold onto a seat in one of the nation's most reliably "red" states.

Indeed, a $38.1 million quarterly haul would be a good total for a competitive presidential candidate. Jeb Bush raised $35.5 million for his entire national candidacy a few years ago -- and Jeb was a pretty good fundraiser.

The fact that an underdog Senate candidate raised that much in a midterm is jaw-dropping. If O'Rourke had raised $3.8 million in the quarter, it would've been fairly impressive. He instead raised 10 times that number.

But -- and you probably knew a "but" was coming -- I don't imagine Democratic officials are delighted with the news out of Texas.

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Image: US-SAUDI-ISLAMIC-SUMMIT-TRUMP

Trump sure could use ambassadors in Saudi Arabia and Turkey right now

10/12/18 10:04AM

There was a point over the summer when Donald Trump abruptly -- and as we later learned, temporarily -- canceled his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. The White House did not, however, give a heads-up to our South Korean allies, who were left terribly confused by the American president's antics.

Ordinarily, it'd fall to the U.S. ambassador to South Korea to help smooth things over, but that wasn't possible: a year and a half after taking office, the Trump administration didn't have an ambassador to South Korea.

This came to mind yesterday as the White House confronted an intensifying international incident over the disappearance and apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who lives in the United States, who was reportedly killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey by a squad of Saudi Arabian officials.

Turkish officials have reportedly provided U.S. officials with proof of Khashoggi's slaying. The American president, meanwhile, is prioritizing an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which doesn't really exist.

As the pressure mounts, our U.S. ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have their work cut out for them. Or at least, they would if we had U.S. ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

There was a striking back and forth during a State Department press briefing yesterday with Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino.

QUESTION: In terms of your high-level diplomatic talks, other than the calls you – other than the calls that you've read out here, presumably you have people on the ground in both Ankara, Istanbul – in Ankara, Istanbul, and Riyadh all pushing this, right?

PALLADINO: Our embassies overseas, absolutely.... Our diplomatic mission overseas.

QUESTION: Who again – what's the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?

PALLADINO: I don't have that in front of me right now and I -- Matt --

QUESTION: What's the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?

PALLADINO: I see what you're getting at.

What the reporter was getting at, of course, was the fact that those ambassadors don't exist.

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Larry Kudlow

Top White House official: Trump 'says a lot of things'

10/12/18 09:21AM

Donald Trump hasn't made much of an effort to restrain his criticisms of the Federal Reserve this week, condemning the central bank in ways no American president ever has. Just two days ago, the Republican declared, "I think the Fed has gone crazy." He added a few hours later, the Fed "is going loco."

Yesterday, during a Q&A with reporters, Trump went so far as to say, "I think the Fed is out of control."

As the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained very well, presidential rhetoric like this is dangerous, and it's likely that Trump further rattled investors yesterday with his over-the-top criticisms. But to hear the White House tell it, Trump's latest tantrums shouldn't be taken too seriously.

After President Donald Trump warned that the Federal Reserve is "going loco" and "making a big mistake," his chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow stepped in front of reporters at the White House and insisted the President wasn't "calling out the Fed."

"I don't think he's calling out the Fed, quote-unquote. I really mean this," Kudlow told a group of reporters in the driveway leading to the West Wing. "He has his views. But he's not saying to them, 'Change your plan, do this differently.' None of that stuff. He knows the Fed is independent and he respects that."

Yes, of course. We can tell how much he respects the independent agency by the frequency with which he tells the public the Fed is "crazy," "loco," and "out of control."

Kudlow went on to tell reporters, "The president says a lot of things. He has a lot of fun."

I realize White House officials frequently find it necessary to downplay Trump's tantrums. It's especially important when the president rattles international markets with reckless rhetoric.

But for the White House to argue that the president "says a lot of things" and "has a lot of fun" is unsatisfying for a reason.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Trump points to dubious arms deal to excuse Saudi Arabia

10/12/18 08:42AM

The available evidence points in a fairly obvious direction: Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and critic of his country's royal family, disappeared last week, and was reportedly killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey by a squad of Saudi Arabian officials.

It appears to have been a brazen murder, which has resulted in a backlash against Riyadh. What's been far less clear is what Donald Trump intends to do about it. Earlier this week, the American president said he hoped the situation would "sort itself out." Yesterday, in a Q&A with reporters, Trump added that his administration is "looking at it very strongly."

The Republican went on to say, however, that Khashoggi is not an American citizen and his apparent murder happened abroad -- which seemed to signal Trump's lack of interest in what transpired. It was soon followed by this exchange:

Q: Will Jamal Khashoggi's case affect the way you deal with MBS or other Saudi officials?

TRUMP: We'll have to see what happens. A lot of work is being done on that, and we're going to have to see what happens. I don't like stopping massive amounts of money that's being poured into our country on -- I know they're talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they're spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others, for this country.

I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.... I will tell you, upfront, right now, and I'll say it in front of senators: They're spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment and other things.... I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion -- which is an all-time record.

There are a few important angles to this, from corruption to confusion.

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People walk down Wall Street in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Donald Trump's stock market boasts run into a rude reality

10/12/18 08:00AM

At a White House press conference last week, Donald Trump brought up one of his favorite talking points as proof that his presidency has been a success.

"The stock market is at an all-time high," he boasted. "Think of that -- over 50 percent since my election. Fifty percent. People -- the 401(k)s -- and they have 401(k)s, and they were dying with them for years. Now they're so happy."

Yesterday, as the major U.S. indexes dropped sharply for the second straight day, the president fielded a reporter's question on this, and was content to keep bragging.

Q: Mr. President, you have talked a little bit about the markets. The markets are down again, today. How long do you think this correction, which you said was coming anyway, is expected to last?

TRUMP: Well, we're still up 40 percent for the period of time. So, I mean, the markets are way up over what they were.

Part of the problem is that the president is throwing around bogus numbers that he appears to have simply made up. As CNBC's John Harwood noted late yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 26% from Trump's first day in office through yesterday's close. That's obviously not close to the gains the president has pointed to, and it's also short of the 38% increase we saw over a comparable period in Barack Obama's presidency.

Making matters slightly worse, the bulk of those gains came last year. Looking exclusively at 2018, the DJIA is only up about 1% after factoring in this week's losses.

And just to twist the knife a bit, it's worth emphasizing that Trump's own actions -- his trade war with China, his aggressive public criticisms of the Federal Reserve -- have likely contributed to the latest market losses.

But the real political problem was the president tying his fortunes to Wall Street in the first place.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.11.18

10/11/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Michael: "Search-and-rescue teams rushed on Thursday to reach communities that Hurricane Michael leveled, hoping to find survivors of the powerful storm after its rampage through the Florida Panhandle and beyond left buildings collapsed and splintered, hospitals damaged, roads and water systems compromised and more than a million homes and businesses without electricity."

* Wall Street "had another rough day on Thursday, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index dipping into correction territory and the Dow Jones closing 548 points down after another day of market convulsions."

* The White House insisted yesterday, "The fundamentals and future of the U.S. economy remain incredibly strong." That sounds an awful lot like John McCain said just as the Great Recession was getting underway.

* Will Trump listen? "Lawmakers from both parties are publicly demanding that the U.S. government hold Saudi Arabia accountable for any role it played in the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2."

* Capital punishment: "Washington became the 20th state to do away with the death penalty on Thursday when the state's Supreme Court ruled that the way the punishment is carried out violates the state constitution."

* Matthew Whitaker: "President Trump talked recently with Jeff Sessions's own chief of staff about replacing Sessions as attorney general, according to people briefed on the conversation, signaling that the president remains keenly interested in ousting his top law enforcement official."

* I hope you saw Rachel's segment on Peter W. Smith: "A veteran Republican activist whose quest to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from hackers dominated the final months of his life struck up a professional relationship with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, as early as 2015, and told associates during the presidential campaign that he was using the retired general's connections to help him on the email project."

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018.

Trump keeps looking at hurricanes through a historical lens

10/11/18 04:12PM

At a White House event earlier, Donald Trump reflected on Hurricane Michael, which he described in historical terms.

"The one good thing we can say ... is that it was the fastest hurricane anybody has seen. It was speedy. If it wasn't, there would be absolutely nothing left," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "It was incredibly powerful." [...]

"We have not seen destruction like that in a long time," he said.

The president used similar language yesterday, describing Hurricane Michael as being exceptionally large. "When you look at it, topically, it's almost the entire size of the Gulf," Trump said. "And they haven't seen that. Maybe they haven't seen that at all. Nobody has seen that before."

This has quickly become the president's go-to framing: recent hurricanes aren't just serious threats and deadly disasters, he insists that people see the storms as unprecedented.

A month ago, Trump said of Hurricane Florence, "They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever." (He later said the storm was "one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water.")

The president did the same thing last year. As Hurricane Harvey approached Texas' gulf coast, Trump couldn’t stop marveling at its size and intensity. At a news conference, he said, “I’ve heard the words, ‘epic.’ I’ve heard ‘historic.’ That’s what it is.” It followed a tweet in which Trump added, "Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen."

Soon after, as Irma approached land, he tweeted, “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!” It was followed by, “Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen."

A Washington Post piece noted last year that Trump tends to focus on "the historic epicness" of a hurricane.

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