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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.15.16

09/15/16 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Police in Columbus, Ohio, are "investigating how a 13-year-old boy wanted for questioning Wednesday night in an armed robbery ended up fatally shot by an officer. The child -- later identified by Columbus police as Tyree King -- had 'pulled a gun from his waistband' when officers attempted to take him and another male into custody, the Columbus Division of Police said in a statement. As the encounter unfolded, an officer shot King 'multiple times.'"
* Hillary Clinton returned to the campaign trail this afternoon, speaking at a rally in North Carolina. When she walked onto the stage, James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" played on the loudspeakers.
* President Obama today established "the first national marine monument in the Atlantic, declaring nearly 5,000 square miles off the New England coastline a fully protected area. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect 4,913 square miles that encompass three deep sea canyons and four underwater mountains."
* When it comes to U.S. policy in Syria, the Pentagon's mistrust of Russia is causing a rift between the State Department and the Defense Department.
* I was on a plane the other day and a flight attendant was concerned about passengers bringing these on board: "The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of 1 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones Thursday, calling the devices 'serious fire and burn hazards.'"
* Flint: "The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would provide emergency funding to help fix the drinking water infrastructure in Flint and other communities with contaminated systems. The Senate's vote was 95-3 for the $9.4 billion water projects bill containing the provisions that could benefit Flint."
* The Virginia Supreme Court today "refused to find Gov. Terry McAuliffe in contempt of court over his efforts to restore voting rights to felons."
In this Oct. 16, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Imagine Romney's first term was nearing its end right now

09/15/16 12:59PM

We couldn't have known at the time how important the quote would turn out to be. About six months before Election Day 2012, Mitt Romney sat down with Mark Halperin, who asked, "Would you like to be more specific about what the unemployment rate would be like at the end of your first year?"
The Republican nominee conceded he couldn't "predict precisely," but Romney added, "I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the polices that we put in place, we can get the unemployment rate down to 6%, perhaps a little lower."
At the time, the unemployment rate was 8.2%. Now, as we near what would have been the end of Romney's first term if he'd won, the unemployment rate is 4.9% -- far better than the GOP candidate's projection for his own success.
I thought of this today reading Vox's Ezra Klein's counterfactual about 2016 politics if the 2012 election had gone the other way, specifically in light of the latest Census Bureau data.
Here's a thought experiment. What if Mitt Romney had won in 2012? What if it was his economy that was seeing sub-5 percent unemployment, falling poverty, and the largest median wage gains since the Census Bureau began keeping records?
There would be parades in the streets. President Romney would be hailed as the second coming of Ronald Reagan -- or maybe even better! Progressivism would be discredited. The fundamental wisdom of conservatism would be affirmed.
Is there any doubt that Ezra's correct?
This is usually the point at which conservative readers email to remind me it's folly to believe the president is responsible for the direction of the planet's largest economy. It's a perfectly fair argument.
But let's not dismiss the political circumstances too quickly.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.15.16

09/15/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As promised, the Clinton campaign yesterday released more comprehensive information pertaining to Hillary Clinton's and Tim Kaine's health, and posted the content online.
* On a related note, Donald Trump took a similar step this morning, releasing another document from his gastroenterologist, Dr. Harold Bornstein, with additional results from his recent physical exam.
* The New York Times published some relevant details about the date of Donald Trump's improper campaign contribution to Florida A.G. Pam Bondi (R), which predates the report about her interest in possible charges against "Trump University."
* For the first time in a century, the Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest newspaper, is not endorsing a Republican presidential candidate. Instead the conservative paper has thrown its backing to Libertarian Gary Johnson.
* On a related note, Johnson, a former Republican governor, will be the first third-party candidate in 20 years to appear on the presidential ballot in all 50 states.
* In CNN's latest polling, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) both enjoy double-digit advantages over their Democratic rivals.
* Speaking of closely watched Senate races, the new Monmouth University poll in Nevada shows Rep. Joe Heck (R) up by three over former state A.G. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), 46% to 43%.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Asheville, N.C. on Sept. 12, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Editorial board argues, 'Even Trump's charity is a scam'

09/15/16 11:20AM

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who's done yeoman's work covering Donald Trump's controversial charitable foundation, moved the ball forward on his reporting last night, on the trail of a six-foot-tall portrait of the Republican candidate himself. Trump spent $20,000 that belonged to his charity on the giant painting, and according to the Post, it was apparently shipped to a Trump-owned golf club in New York.
Fahrenthold noted, "If Trump did not give the painting to a charity -- or find a way to use it for charitable purposes -- he may have violated IRS rules against 'self-dealing,' which prohibit nonprofit leaders from spending charity money on themselves."
Of course, if this line of inquiry points to misdeeds, it would only be the latest in a series of controversies related to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The Washington Post's editorial board, which isn't exactly reflexively liberal, has seen enough, noting in a piece this morning, "Even Trump's charity is a scam."
Mr. Trump has cultivated the persona of a generous man, repeatedly claiming on television he would donate to charity "out of my wallet" and accepting honors from groups he appeared to support. In fact, an exhaustive investigation by Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold shows that Mr. Trump retooled his foundation about a decade ago to act as an intermediary for other people's charitable giving, a racket from which Mr. Trump gained in reputation and from which he may even have occasionally profited.
Mr. Trump does not appear to have given his own money to the Trump Foundation since 2008, and by then Trump funds had become a tiny slice of the organization's revenue. Since then, the available records suggest, a charitable group that bears the billionaire's name has been funded by others. That has not stopped Mr. Trump from claiming credit for doling out other people's cash.
The editorial board added that the available evidence surrounding the foundation suggests Trump "is a scam artist."
That's not an unreasonable conclusion under the circumstances, but I wanted to add one related point to this. As best as I can tell, this charitable foundation is the only meaningful proof of Donald Trump's philanthropic side. Trump has apparently had great financial success in the private sector, but his record of helping others is far thinner.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Democrats face tough odds in fight for Senate control

09/15/16 10:48AM

It wasn't too long ago that the conventional wisdom about 2016 leaned heavily in Democrats' favor: Hillary Clinton was in the driver's seat in the presidential race; Dems were well positioned to reclaim the Senate majority; and there was even some chatter about the House majority being up for grabs.
At least for now, it's fair to say the conventional wisdom has changed quite a bit. Republican control of the House is a near-certainty; Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump has been cut in half; and Republicans are increasingly optimistic about holding onto the Senate.
The New York Times' Upshot, for example, maintains a frequently updated forecasting model showing which party is favored to control the Senate in the next Congress. A month ago, by a roughly two-to-one margin, Democrats were favored to be in the majority. As of this morning, however, according to this model, there's a 51% chance Republicans will be in charge.
Daily Kos has its own projections, and it too shows the GOP favored to keep its Senate majority. The Huffington Post's forecasting model tilts even more heavily in the Republicans' favor.
The math is pretty straightforward: Dems need a net gain of four seats to reach parity (a 50-50 Senate) and a net gain of five seats to claim a majority outright. There's really only one "blue" seat Dems are worried about -- Harry Reid is retiring in Nevada -- and if Catherine Cortez Masto comes up short, Democrats will need to flip five "red" seats for a tie and six for a majority.
That's not easy under the best of conditions. Democrats remain very optimistic about flipping "red" seats in Illinois and Wisconsin, and moderately optimistic about Indiana, Pennsylvania, and maybe New Hampshire. Both parties are certainly keeping an eye on races in North Carolina, Missouri, Florida, and possibly Arizona.
But the more one looks at that list, the more it seems Senate Democrats face tough odds.
History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

GOP campaign's tax-return talking points continue to unravel

09/15/16 10:00AM

Donald Trump's line on tax returns has taken several twists and turns, but in recent months, he and his team have settled on a single talking point: the Republican presidential candidate would release the materials, but an IRS audit makes that impossible.
Is there any evidence Trump is actually being audited? No. Does an audit prevent Trump from disclosing the documents? No. But the candidate and his campaign have nevertheless stuck to the line, even if that means he'll be the first major-party nominee since Watergate to hide his tax returns from public scrutiny.
Occasionally, however, the Republican campaign forgets what it's supposed to say. Trump conceded last week, for example, that he could release his returns "immediately" -- audit or no audit -- but he's choosing not to. Yesterday, Donald Trump Jr., a prominent voice in his father's campaign, also strayed from the script in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
When asked why his father has not released his tax returns as presidential candidates have traditionally done, Trump Jr. said, "Because he's got a 12,000-page tax return that would create ... financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from (his father's) main message."
Well, yeah, but that (a) isn't a credible excuse for secrecy; and (b) further proves that the "audit" justification is a sham.
Consider what Trump Jr. is arguing here: the campaign could share relevant information, but then people might ask inconvenient questions, so Team Trump prefers secrecy to disclosure. In effect, Trump Jr. tried to say with a straight face, "If we release his tax returns, a bunch of people might ask annoying questions. No thank you."
Rev. Faith Green Timmons interrupts Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he spoke during a visit to Bethel United Methodist Church, Sept. 14, 2016, in Flint, Mich. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump chides Flint pastor who interrupted his anti-Clinton speech

09/15/16 09:20AM

Donald Trump made the curious decision yesterday to visit Flint, Michigan, despite the wishes of the local mayor. As Rachel explained on last night's show, the Republican presidential candidate showed up anyway, toured a water facility, and delivered remarks at the Bethel United Methodist Church, where he'd been invited to make an appearance.
It didn't go well. Trump, predictably, went after Hillary Clinton in his brief speech, right up until the Rev. Faith Green Timmons, the church's pastor interrupted him. "Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done in Flint, not give a political speech," she said.
Trump, clearly surprised, quickly responded, "Okay, that's good. Then I'm going to go back to Flint."
Of course, Trump has a long track record of not responding well to public rebukes, so no one should have been surprised this morning when the Republican candidate turned his attention to the pastor. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Donald Trump on Thursday said the pastor who interrupted him as he launched into an anti-Clinton speech at an African-American church the day before was "so nervous she was shaking" when she introduced him to her congregation.
In an interview on Fox News, the Republican presidential nominee suggested Faith Green Timmons, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich., had planned to disrupt his remarks ahead of time.
"When she got up to introduce me, she was so nervous she was shaking and I said, 'Wow this is sort of strange,'" he said. "And then she came up. So she had that in mind, there's no question about it.... Everyone plays their games."
Yes, Donald Trump believes the smart move this morning is to target the African-American woman who invited him to address her congregation.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Scott Walker confronts alarming new allegations in Wisconsin

09/15/16 08:43AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) dealt with the "John Doe" investigations into alleged political misconduct for quite a while, and despite troubling evidence, the Republican governor's allies on the state Supreme Court ended the probe last summer.
But while the investigation may no longer exist, the revelations from the controversy continue. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday:
Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure aimed at retroactively shielding paint makers from liability after a billionaire owner of a lead producer contributed $750,000 to a political group that provided crucial support to Walker and Republicans in recall elections, according to a report released Wednesday.
Citing leaked documents gathered during a now-shuttered investigation into the governor's campaign, the Guardian U.S., an arm of the British newspaper, reported that Harold Simmons, owner of NL Industries, a producer of the lead formerly used in paint, made three donations totaling $750,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth between April 2011 and January 2012.
The provision intended to help the Republican donor's business, the article added, "was inserted in a budget bill in the middle of the night despite warnings about its constitutionality."
To briefly recap what the "John Doe" controversy was all about, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. There was, however, ample reason to believe Walker and his team were directly involved in overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources during his successful recall election.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the allegations, adopting a rather extreme approach to campaign-finance laws, giving Walker a free pass. But the Guardian's reporting nevertheless sheds light on the Republican governor's behind-the-scenes efforts -- and what kind of benefits Walker's supporters received.
In this case, Walker reached out to Simmons, encouraging him to donate generously to the right-wing Club for Growth, which helped keep the governor in office. Soon after, Walker and his GOP allies helped Simmons' business, shielding it from lead-paint lawsuits.
A voter marks a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

New polls serve as a wake-up call: Trump could win presidency

09/15/16 08:00AM

The blunt assumption has dominated much of the political world's thinking for months: "There's simply no way Americans will elect an unqualified, racist television personality to be president of the United States. That's just not just who we are as a people."
And throughout most of the 2016 election season, there's been a steady stream of evidence to bolster the thesis. Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump has never reached insurmountable heights, but her national advantage has nevertheless had the benefit of longevity.
But as summer gets ready to turn to fall, it's time to take a fresh look at old assumptions about the presidential race.
Yesterday afternoon, the latest national Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton leading Trump by five, 48% to 43%, which is half the advantage she enjoyed in the same poll in late August. Once third-party candidates are added to the mix, the Democrat's lead shrinks to just two points, 41% to 39%.
This morning, another major national poll pointed to an even closer contest.
With less than eight weeks before Election Day, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a tight contest, with both candidates still struggling to win the confidence of their respective bases, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.
Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has the support of 46 percent of likely voters nationwide, to 44 percent for Mr. Trump, the Republican, including those who said they were leaning toward a candidate.... In a four-way race, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are tied at 42 percent each.
Note, both of these polls were conducted late last week through early this week, so respondents were likely aware of intense media coverage of Clinton's pneumonia and "deplorables" comment in reference to Trump's extremist supporters.
And if these survey results weren't quite enough to cause Democratic handwringing, new state-based polling from CNN almost certainly did the trick.