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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.9.20

01/09/20 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, a newly released Monmouth poll found Pete Buttigieg leading the Democratic presidential field with 20% support, followed closely by Joe Biden at 19%, Bernie Sanders at 18%, and Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Amy Klobuchar, who had 6%, was in fifth place in the poll, and every other candidate was below 5%.

* On a related note, ahead of next week's Democratic presidential primary debate, the Monmouth results didn't help any candidate get closer to qualifying for the debate. The polling cutoff is tomorrow.

* Buttigieg's Democratic presidential campaign picked up an important endorsement when Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) threw his support behind the mayor and agreed to serve as a national campaign co-chairman. It's Buttigieg's first endorsement from a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

* With Donald Trump's impeachment trial looming, Cory Booker told the Associated Press the Senate proceedings could deal a "big, big blow" to his presidential campaign, especially with time running out ahead of Iowa's Feb. 3 caucuses.

* Facebook announced this morning that it's sticking to its current advertising policies, which allow candidates to lie to the public.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Public Policy Polling's latest survey found astronaut Mark Kelly (D) leading appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R), 46% to 42%. If Democrats are going to have any chance of winning a Senate majority, this will be a critical contest.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Despite Constitution, Sanders fears Congress having war powers

01/09/20 11:25AM

The U.S. House is poised to vote this afternoon on a war powers resolution intended to limit the Trump administration's military actions against Iran. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained this morning why she thinks the effort is a mistake.

"You know, I can't think of anything dumber than allowing Congress to take over our foreign policy.... I think the last thing we want to do is push powers into Congress' hands and take them away from the president. [...]

"[T]he last thing I want to do is see them take power away from President Trump and put it into their own hands. I don't think anything could be worse for America than that."

I don't mean to sound picky, but no one's talking about "pushing" war powers "into Congress' hands." That would be unnecessary, since those powers are already in Congress' hands.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution isn't exactly subtle on this point. The document explicitly gives the legislative branch the power "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water." The Constitution goes on to authorize Congress to "raise and support armies, "provide and maintain a navy," and "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."

These are not obscure American concepts. At issue are bedrock principles of our system of government.

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New poll shows woeful international confidence in Trump

01/09/20 11:04AM

There are a handful of strange boasts that Donald Trump repeats incessantly, but one of the president's favorites is the idea that he commands global respect and singlehandedly improved the United States' international standing. As we've discussed before, the Republican has convinced himself that we were a global laughingstock before he took office, and thanks to his awesomeness, he's turned things around.

"You know, this is a new age," he boasted at a White House event last year. "This is a very exciting time. It's very exciting time for our country. Our country is respected again all over the world, they are respecting like we haven't been respected in many, many years, I'll tell you."

Part of the problem with the president's odd boast is that global surveys in 2017 and 2018 showed that Trump had it exactly backwards: his international stature was weak and his presidency damaged the United States' reputation abroad. The other part of the problem is that the problem isn't improving. USA Today reported:

Confidence in President Donald Trump to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs remains broadly negative, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The Washington-based Pew study, released Wednesday, found that among people it polled in 32 countries, 29% express confidence in Trump. Sixty-four percent say they lack confidence in the White House occupant.

The figures stand in marked contrast to the final years of Barack Obama's presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump's predecessor to direct America's role in the world in a positive manner.

The full report from the Pew Research Center is online here, and it paints a deeply unflattering portrait of Trump's global reputation.

Among the top-line takeaways from the 32-nation survey:

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Following threat, Trump adds to his list of awkward bluffs

01/09/20 10:21AM

Three days after Donald Trump approved an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, there was all kinds of speculation about how officials in Tehran would retaliate. The American president published a tweet with a stern warning to Iran, warning them of dire consequences if the country tried to counter-attack.

"The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way...and without hesitation!"

As is often the case, Trump flubbed some of the relevant details -- for example, the United States has spent $2 trillion on defense over three years; it's not something that "just" happened -- but the underlying point was clear: if Iran launched a retaliatory strike, the American president would target Iran.

On Tuesday, Iran launched a dozen ballistic missiles at bases housing U.S. forces. A day later, thankfully, Trump suggested he didn't much care about the retaliatory strike.

For those of us who hoped to see a de-escalation in tensions, this was unambiguously good news. After all, the alternative was a possible war with catastrophic consequences. It's nevertheless notable, however, that Trump made a rather specific threat over the weekend, and as of the president's public remarks yesterday, he doesn't appear to have any intention of following through on that threat.

In fact, Trump instead announced a new round of sanctions against Iran, which according to administration officials, may not actually be implemented.

Again, the steps away from the brink are worthy of relief, especially given the very real possibility of a cycle of deadly violence. But there's also a larger issue of Trump making a habit of making bold threats, on a wide variety of issues, only to retreat soon after.

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Georgia's Collins takes Iran debate in an unusually toxic direction

01/09/20 09:20AM

There's no shortage of reasons to have concerns about Donald Trump's decision to order an airstrike that killed an Iranian general last week. After all, the mission risked sparking a war, while adding increased instability in the Middle East. It also alienated our allies in Iraq, and derailed, at least temporarily, U.S. efforts to combat ISIS.

On the other hand, there's Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, a close White House ally, and a politician who argued on national television last night that Democrats asking questions about last week's mission are "in love with terrorists." The Washington Post reported:

Collins's comments Wednesday night reflected what's become a talking point among Trump supporters in the wake of the U.S. drone attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, blamed for the deaths of more than 600 coalition soldiers in Iraq.

"They are in love with terrorists," Collins said of Democrats on Fox Business Network's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." "We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That's a problem."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, no Democrats have "mourned" Soleimani's death, and the idea that Collins' domestic rivals "are in love with terrorists" is obviously an ugly slander. The Georgia Republican, who's reportedly gearing up for a possible U.S. Senate campaign, is engaging in the kind of toxic, gutter politics that honorable public servants tend to avoid.

To borrow a line from the late, great Elijah Cummings, we must be better than this.

It's also important to acknowledge how offensive it is in a free society to try to stifle debate and dissent over foreign policy this way. Collins' cheap rhetoric seems intended to intimidate, signaling to Democrats that those who question his leader's risky and dangerous decisions should expect to be labeled as terrorist sympathizers.

It's all the more reason for honest brokers to ignore such nonsense and engage in a spirited debate without fear of small voices and closed minds.

But stepping back, there's also a larger context to consider: has Doug Collins ever heard Donald Trump's thoughts on foreign policy and Gold Star families?

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Trump's newly announced Iranian sanctions may not exist

01/09/20 08:40AM

In the wake of Iran firing ballistic missiles in the direction of American troops this week, Donald Trump, thankfully, suggested yesterday he didn't want to escalate matters with a retaliatory strike of his own. That said, the Republican also seemed eager to respond to Iranian aggression with ... something.

And so, in a White House address yesterday, Trump said, "As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior."

I made the case yesterday that no one should necessarily assume that these "additional punishing" sanctions are real. As it turns out, as of this morning, their existence is very much in doubt.

Ordinarily, when an administration is poised to impose economic sanctions on a foreign country, there's some kind of briefing, usually involving the Treasury Department. There was no such briefing yesterday. CNN reported, "[I]t was not immediately clear what shape those sanctions would take. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment."

The New York Times added this report overnight:

He said instead that he would ratchet up sanctions on Iran, although administration officials said later that they had no specific plan to do so. The administration has already imposed so much economic pressure on Tehran that it was unclear if additional measures would make a meaningful difference.

Oh. So when Trump told the world that the United States is "immediately" imposing "powerful" sanctions, he may have been referring to sanctions that are not, in reality, real.

Making matters slightly worse, there's a degree of familiarity to these circumstances.

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'Insulting' briefing exposes Trump's hollow policy on Iran

01/09/20 08:00AM

It's been a week since a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, touching off a crisis in the region, and there's been no shortage of questions about why, exactly, Donald Trump launched the mission. Yesterday, administration officials went to Capitol Hill to deliver a classified briefing to lawmakers, explaining the justification for the military offensive.

I think it's safe to say it did not go well. Congressional Democrats were amazed by how hollow the presentation was, and to a surprising degree, some of the frustrations were bipartisan.

Lawmakers came away with vastly different interpretations of two classified briefings that top Trump administration officials held Wednesday about the airstrike last week that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with two Republican senators sharply criticizing the officials.

"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

The Utah Republican, whom no one has ever accused of being a moderate, added that the administration's presentation was "insulting and demeaning." Lee went on to tell reporters after the briefing that Trump administration officials suggested to lawmakers that debate over the president's policy is itself dangerous and should be avoided to prevent "emboldening" Iran.

That is, of course, an indefensible attitude in a free society and in a political system with checks and balances. But the fact that Team Trump peddled such a line, while failing to make a compelling case for the Soleimani mission, underscores the emptiness of the White House's position.

As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put it after yesterday afternoon's session, "We did not get information inside that briefing that there was a specific, imminent threat that we were halting by conducting that operation.... I think it is likely because [that information] doesn't exist."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.8.20

01/08/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Plane crash in Iran: "A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed after takeoff in Tehran on Wednesday, killing all on board the Boeing 737-800, according to Ukrainian officials.... It is unclear how the plane went down, but video from the crash site showed what appeared to be pieces of an aircraft fuselage, an engine and other debris on the outskirts of Iran's capital."

* This isn't quite the way Trump described it earlier today: "The Iranian missile strike on American locations in Iraq on Tuesday was a calibrated event intended to cause minimal American casualties, give the Iranians a face-saving measure and provide an opportunity for both sides to step back from the brink of war, according to senior U.S. officials in Washington and the Middle East."

* A big vote tomorrow: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Wednesday that the House will vote Thursday on a war powers resolution to limit the Trump administration's military actions against Iran."

* The Treasury Department apparently doesn't want this information to emerge until after the election: "The Trump administration is seeking to delay a Democratic effort to require the Secret Service to disclose how much it spends protecting President Trump and his family when they travel -- until after the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the discussions."

* The latest in a series of controversies surrounding Trump's inaugural committee: "A major donor to President Trump's inaugural committee intends to plead guilty to obstruction of justice, the man's attorney said Tuesday, after federal prosecutors filed a new charge alleging that the wealthy investor backdated a check and deleted emails to hinder an investigation into where he got the money he ultimately gave the committee."

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In strange speech, Trump appears to back off escalation with Iran

01/08/20 01:00PM

For those concerned about escalating military tensions with Iran, last night's retaliatory ballistic-missile strike opened the door to a couple of possible routes for the White House. In light of the modest damage, and the absence of apparent casualties, Donald Trump certainly had the option of de-escalating the crisis and backing off a possible war.

On the other hand, the American president explicitly warned Iran not to retaliate in response to last week's U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani. Tehran ignored that warning, and fired ballistic missiles in the direction of American troops, which raised the possibility of Trump responding in kind with a fresh round of hostilities.

It's sometimes difficult to understand Trump's rhetoric, and his stated intentions are often at odds with his administration's actions, but as of two hours ago, the Republican appeared to prefer the former option over the latter.

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Iran "appears to be standing down" after its missile attack on U.S. targets in Iraq, and he vowed to keep up the pressure on Tehran with "punishing" new economic sanctions.

Trump made the comments in an address to the nation Wednesday from the White House less than a day after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing of a top general.

Flanked by several members of his team, the president specifically said, "Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good things for the world."

Trump added that "no American or Iraqi lives were lost" in the Iranian attacks, which further reinforced the impression that he doesn't plan to escalate matters -- beyond new economic sanctions. (It's worth noting that Trump, as recently as June, announced economic sanctions against Iran that did not exist in reality. Whether these newly announced measures are real remains to be seen.)

Insofar as the speech was closely watched for signals about the next steps, the president's rhetoric seemed to bring a sigh of relief to many observers who feared a U.S. military response to Iran's military response. That said, it was nevertheless discouraging to see and hear Trump deliver a strange speech to an anxious public, repeating a series of demonstrably false claims.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.8.20

01/08/20 12:00PM

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

* More than five weeks after his guilty plea, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) submitted his resignation letter yesterday. As the Associated Press noted, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) "has not said whether he will order a special election or leave the seat open until a successor emerges from the November general election."

* Republican officials in Wisconsin yesterday agreed to exclude Donald Trump's primary rivals from the state's GOP primary ballot. State Republican Parties in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina have done the same thing.

* Trump's re-election campaign is reportedly poised to spend $10 million to advertise during the Super Bowl, and according to Politico's report, the message is "expected to run early in the game, when viewership is likely to be at its highest." (It's unclear whether Team Trump will air one 60-second commercial or two 30-second commercials.)

* Michael Bloomberg's Democratic presidential campaign also announced yesterday that it, too, has bought Super Bowl ad time, investing $10 million in a 60-second spot.

* The next debate for Democratic presidential candidates is six days away, but DNC Chair Tom Perez said yesterday that if the presidential impeachment trial is underway, the party is prepared to postpone the event. Of the five candidates who've qualified to participate, three are sitting U.S. senators.

* An amazing campaign-finance statistic: Tom Steyer's Democratic presidential campaign has spent more on advertising than 12 of the other Democratic candidates combined. Michael Bloomberg's campaign, meanwhile, has more than doubled Steyer's ad spending.

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Trump tries to argue that Bolton's testimony wouldn't matter

01/08/20 11:08AM

Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton jolted the debate over Donald Trump's impeachment trial this week, announcing that he's willing to testify. As we discussed yesterday, it created a challenge Senate Republicans would have preferred to avoid: how would they justify excluding voluntary testimony from an important witness with first-hand information about the president's culpability?

At the White House, the anxiety was different, but just as acute: what would Bolton say and how much damage could his testimony do?

Trump addressed the issue yesterday, suggesting Bolton would have very little to offer.

Q: Will you be okay if John Bolton testifies? He indicated yesterday that he would if he is subpoenaed.

TRUMP: Well, that's going to be up to the lawyers. It will be up the Senate. And we'll see how they feel. [Bolton] would know nothing about what we're talking about....

That's a line that might make the president feel better. It's also a line Trump might want senators to believe as they weigh the possibility of witnesses during the upcoming impeachment trial.

It's not, however, even close to being true.

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