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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Automatic voter registration expands its reach to a new state

06/20/19 09:20AM

During Paul LePage's (R) two terms as Maine's governor, progressive governance faced largely insurmountable hurdles. But with Gov. Janet Mills (D) in office, it's a new day in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday signed an automatic voter registration bill into law. [...]

Maine will automatically register voters who do business with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles by 2022 under the bill, which has a one-time cost of $140,000 in federal funds.

Maine's secretary of state could also allow certain groups like private colleges to help automatically register voters.

For AVR proponents, this was obviously encouraging news, but it's not the only development of note: New York's state Senate easily passed an automatic-voter-registration proposal of its own yesterday, and the policy appears well on its way to becoming law fairly soon.

According to the tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, there are now 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have adopted AVR, including Maine. New York would be the 17th.

That's a third of the country. Not bad for a policy that didn't exist in any state as recently as four years ago.

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On curing cancer, the Trumps aren't exactly on the same page

06/20/19 08:43AM

Donald Trump Jr. thought it'd be a good idea to warm up a crowd in Orlando this week, shortly before his father officially kicked off his presidential re-election bid, and as part of his pitch, Trump Jr. took a curious shot at former Vice President Joe Biden.

"What was the good one last week? Remember? Joe Biden comes out, 'Well, if you elect me president, I'm going to cure cancer.' Wow, why the hell didn't you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?"

It was at the exact same event that Donald Trump Sr. made a related claim:

"We will push onward with new medical frontiers. We will come up with the cures to many, many problems; to many, many diseases -- including cancer and others."

So when Biden shares his ambitious goal of curing cancer, it's worthy of mockery, and when Trump does the same thing, it's fine?

By any reasonable standard, Trump Jr.'s derision was a rather cheap shot. Even putting aside the fact that his father later made a related vow, advances in medical research offer the promise of new treatments and cures, and to suggest one former senator was responsible for speeding up scientific progress is foolish.

For another, Biden's interest in the issue was intensified by the loss of his son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

Complicating matters a bit, it's also worth noting for context that the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to NIH medical research would've adversely affected the fight to find a cure for cancer, making the president's rhetoric in Orlando that much more difficult to believe.

But what I find especially interesting is the fact that Trump Sr. picked this up as an issue in the first place.

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump's claim about 'the unholy alliance' of lobbyists rings hollow

06/20/19 08:00AM

At his re-election campaign kickoff event this week, Donald Trump made a curious boast to supporters about his record as president: "We stared down the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests, who made a living bleeding our country dry. That's what we've done."

He did not appear to be kidding.

The president's timing could've been better. His comments in Orlando about "staring down" lobbyists and special interests came just hours after Trump tapped a former lobbyist to oversee the Pentagon.

...Trump tapped Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, as the acting Defense secretary this afternoon. He'll replace Pat Shanahan, the former Boeing executive who had served in an acting capacity since the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. [...]

Esper was a registered lobbyist for Raytheon as recently as 2017 before Trump nominated him to be Army secretary.

Politico added in a separate report that the Trump administration is currently engaged in sensitive negotiations with Turkey, which Esper will likely have to recuse himself from because the talks will affect Raytheon -- the defense contractor for which Esper lobbied until recently.

At the next cabinet meeting at the White House, Esper won't have to feel too self-conscious about being a former lobbyist, since he'll have plenty of company. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt lobbied for the energy industry, as did EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar wasn't exactly a lobbyist for a giant pharmaceutical company, but he did oversee the company's lobbying efforts.

Azar has also worked with Joe Grogan, a former drug industry lobbyist who went on to help shape the Trump administration's drug-pricing plan. Trump ultimately promoted the former lobbyist to lead the White House's Domestic Policy Council.

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Pence NSA kept Butina tie secret at Senate confirmation: WaPo

Pence NSA kept Butina tie secret at Senate confirmation: WaPo

06/19/19 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow relays the details of a new Washington Post report that exposes the close personal relationship between Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, and Paul Erickson, boyfriend of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina, which Thompson left unmentioned at her confirmation hearing well... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.19.19

06/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A bank Trump knows very well: "Federal authorities are investigating whether Deutsche Bank complied with laws meant to stop money laundering and other crimes, the latest government examination of potential misconduct at one of the world's largest and most troubled banks, according to seven people familiar with the inquiry."

* Evidence for the White House to ignore: "The United Nations extrajudicial executions investigator said there was 'credible evidence' that high-level Saudi officials, including powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, could be liable for the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

* The accused are three Russians and a Ukrainian: "Investigators have identified four people they say were responsible for the rocket attack that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. At a press conference Wednesday, an international joint investigation team said that murder charges would be brought against them in the Netherlands."

* Uncooperative: "President Donald Trump's former aide Hope Hicks refused to answer questions Wednesday about her time working in the White House as she testified behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee, lawmakers said."

* It appears that censure is off the table: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday ruled out a congressional censure of President Trump, a move some lawmakers have suggested as a less divisive alternative to launching impeachment proceedings."

* A historic hearing: "Lawmakers on Wednesday held the first congressional hearing in more than a decade on reparations, spotlighting the debate over whether the United States should consider compensation for the descendants of slaves in the United States."

* Another headline for Trump's inaugural committee: "A Ukrainian-Russian developer who wanted access to President Trump's inauguration filed a lawsuit on Tuesday saying he was bilked out of the $200,000 he paid for what he thought would be V.I.P. tickets to the event."

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A military aide holds a medal during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House on Nov. 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Trump to award misguided economist the Presidential Medal of Freedom

06/19/19 12:31PM

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is supposed to be a unique American honor. Today, its value will be diminished when Donald Trump awards it to Art Laffer.

Laffer helped popularize the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves through faster economic growth. It almost never works out in practice. But Laffer and his namesake curve remain darlings of Republican politicians.

On Wednesday, Laffer will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- from President Trump.

You'll probably see reports today that describe Laffer as the "godfather" of supply-side economics, though that isn't quite right. Others promoted the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves before him, but Laffer famously sketched out the idea on a cocktail napkin for Dick Cheney in 1974, and soon after, the "Laffer Curve" was born.

The nation's finances have never been the same.

As Slate's Jordan Weissmann recently put it, "There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America's understanding of economics than Art Laffer. So, of course, Donald Trump is now awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

Laffer spent much of the spring peddling the idea that the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, should be blamed on President Barack Obama, who took office in January 2009. (He also predicted a decade ago that Obama's plan would "destroy the economy." Instead, it rescued the country from the Great Recession and initiated a recovery that's still ongoing.)

More recently, as regular readers may recall, Laffer served as the architect of then-Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) failed right-wing economic experiment in Kansas, which destroyed state finances and did little to improve the state's economy. Laffer vowed that Brownback's plan would generate "enormous prosperity," which is largely the opposite of what actually happened.

When the GOP governor's agenda failed to deliver on any of the expected results, Laffer was pressed for an explanation. "Kansas is doing fine," he boasted.

Kansas was not doing fine.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.19.19

06/19/19 12:00PM

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

* In his first 24 hours after kicking off his re-election campaign, Donald Trump raised more than $24 million. Most Democratic presidential hopefuls have struggled to raise anything close to that over the course of a few months.

* A USA Today/Suffolk poll released this morning found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democratic presidential primary field with 30%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 15% support and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 10%. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was close behind with 9%, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was fifth with 8%, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), at 2%, was the only other candidate above 1%.

* Speaking of polls, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found Biden with a big lead in Florida, where he enjoys 41% support. Sanders was second with 14%, followed by Warren at 12%. Largely mirroring the national picture, Buttigieg was fourth with 8%, while Harris was fifth with 6%. No other candidate topped 1%.

* That same poll found each of the top Democratic contenders leading Trump in Florida in hypothetical match-ups, though Biden, with a nine-point advantage, did the best.

* In Alabama, disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) will announce today whether he's launching another U.S. Senate campaign ahead of the 2020 race. [Update: It now appears Moore's announcement will happen tomorrow, not today.]

* Brad Parscale, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, told CBS News yesterday that polls are less reliable now because the electorate is so "complex." As a rule, that's not a message campaign managers share when the polls look good for their candidates.

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Asked about his credibility crisis, Trump tries to change the subject

06/19/19 11:20AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump was asked a question that few American presidents have ever heard. "Why should Americans trust your administration to tell the truth about what's going on with Iran?" a journalist asked. "If we go to war, why should we believe you if you say why?"

The fact that a question like this would even be asked is extraordinary. The American mainstream has gradually gotten used to the fact that their president is among the world's most flamboyantly dishonest people, and at some level, Trump seems to realize that much of his country sees him as a man who lies almost uncontrollably.

And the result is a crisis of credibility so severe that a reporter felt justified asking the president, to his face, why the public should believe his claims about a looming national security crisis.

This was Trump's response in its entirety.

"Well, we have Iran. We've been talking to various people on lots of different sides. And we'll see what happens with Iran. We're very well set. We're very well configured. We have a lot of things going on with Iran.

"I spoke with President Xi, this morning, of China. We'll be meeting at the G20. And I think that is working out pretty much as I anticipated it would. China very much wants to discuss the future, and so do we.

"So the relationship with President Xi is a very good one. We had a long talk this morning."

In case there are any doubts, this wasn't a transcription error. Trump was asked, "Why should Americans trust your administration to tell the truth about what's going on with Iran?" and Trump's response -- for reasons unknown -- meandered to some unrelated thoughts about China.

And as weird as that was, it seemed even more notable that the president made no effort to push back against the idea that he lacks credibility on matters of global significance.

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Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, speaks at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 7, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Meet the new head of the US Commission on Int'l Religious Freedom

06/19/19 10:40AM

It's been a couple of decades since Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose work is largely self-explanatory. Members of the panel, appointed by the president and lawmakers, are tasked with monitoring threats to religious liberty abroad and making policy recommendations in support of the oppressed.

As of this week, the commission has a new chairman. His name is Tony Perkins, who also serves as the head of the right-wing Family Research Council.

Perkins was originally chosen as a commission member last year -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tapped him for the post -- but now he's been promoted. As New York's Sarah Jones explained, it's a deeply discouraging development.

....Perkins isn't much of a household name. But he has for years worked toward a definition of religious freedom that maximizes First Amendment rights for conservative Christians, while minimizing the rights of Muslims, nontheists, and members of other minority traditions.

At various points in his prolific career, Perkins has argued that there is "a disproportionate overlap" between homosexuality and pedophilia and that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead inexorably to the persecution of conservative Christians.... Same-sex relationships remain illegal in much of the world, and LGBT people can face violence and death, meted out either by vigilantes or courts. They won't have an advocate in Perkins, nor, for that matter, will many religious minorities.

As Right Wing Watch reported, it was in 2014 that Perkins suggested that Christians who support legal equality for LGBTQ people don't have the same legal protections as more conservative Christians, because a "true religious freedom" has to be "based on orthodox religious viewpoints."

But Perkins has reserved some of his most unsettling ire for Muslims, arguing among other things that Islam "is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a compressive system which is incompatible with the Constitution."

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