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Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes vsit to U.S. Mexico border in San Diego

This Week in God, 6.23.18

06/23/18 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a faith-based angle to the controversy over Donald Trump's family-separation policy, which has left Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an awkward position.

The White House's "zero tolerance" immigration measures have created no shortage of problems for the embattled attorney general, but NBC News reported this week that hundreds of leaders from the United Methodist Church -- Sessions' denomination -- have argued that the Alabama Republican violated church laws.

A group of more than 600 United Methodist clergy and church members are bringing church law charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration crackdown — chiefly the policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group accuses Sessions, a fellow United Methodist, of violating Paragraph 270.3 of the denomination's Book of Discipline. He is charged under church law with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church."

In a letter addressed to Sessions' pastors, 640 clergy members and laity urge "some degree of accountability" for the top law enforcement official in the country, who they say is affiliated with United Methodist churches in Alabama and the suburbs of Washington.

While Sessions may be accustomed to defending his position in federal courts or on Capitol Hill, responding to accusations of violating church law may prove to be more complicated.

If found guilty of breaking his denomination's laws, Sessions could theoretically be expelled following an ecclesiastical trial, though few expect this controversy to reach such a level.

In fact, Washington Post  analysis concluded that it's likely the attorney general will simply brush the Methodists' concerns aside: "It is not yet clear how Sessions responded to the letter from his fellow Methodists, but the likelihood of him changing his mind after getting pushback from individuals he does not know seems low, considering the affirmation he is getting from Christians who believe in what he does."

Also from the God Machine:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.22.18

06/22/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Fortunately, the vote wasn't close: "The House on Friday passed the most ambitious congressional push yet to address the growing opioid epidemic, with provisions directing federal agencies to prioritize training, support recovery centers and expand research on several fronts."

* In this case, Roberts voted with the four center-left justices: "In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to privacy advocates on Friday, ruling that police generally must have permission from a judge before they can get cellphone records to plot the movements of individual customers."

* Donald Trump today accused Democrats of concocting politically motivated "phony stories of sadness and grief." The fact that this is predictable doesn't make it any less offensive.

* Of course it did: "The European Union fought back on Friday against the Trump administration's tariffs, slapping penalties on an array of American products that target the president's political base, like bourbon, motorcycles and orange juice."

* I'll look forward to the appeal: "A New York federal judge ruled Thursday that the structure of the Consumer of Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional and that the watchdog agency should be eliminated."

* This guy: "Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Friday that he doesn't want Somali Muslims working at meat-packing plants in his district because they want consumers of pork to be sent to hell."

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Those who have Trump's ear tend to look a lot like him

06/22/18 03:48PM

Donald Trump hosted a meeting on immigration policy at the White House on Wednesday, and the Cabinet Room was filled with officials ready to participate. The meeting didn't produce any breakthroughs, though it did generate a fair amount of discussion about who didn't join the president at the negotiating table.

For example, no congressional Democrats were invited to participate. A photo from CBS News' Mark Knoller also made clear that practically everyone who had access to the president was a white, male Republican.

The Washington Post's Eugene Scott had a good piece on this:

A genuine fear of many Trump critics is that the president's vision of making America "great again" excludes those not among his base. Photos like the one from Wednesday's meeting fuel this belief.

If the president is truly interested in hearing the concerns of those his policies impact most, a start would be to, at the very least, include them in the conversation. Their absence speaks volumes and gives the impression that people most like Trump are the ones who matter most to him.

Some caveats are probably in order. The Knoller photo, for example, doesn't show that there was one woman lawmaker at the table on Wednesday, but she was out of frame. What's more, some of the relevant officials in the Trump administration -- including the president's Homeland Security secretary -- aren't white guys.

But that doesn't change the fact that when Trump sought the perspective of people he considered important in the immigration debate, nearly all of the people who had his ear looked and thought just like he looks and thinks.

And this is hardly the only example that's come up in Republican politics in recent years.

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An electronic benefit card for Georgia's food stamp program sits on the counter of Shinholster Grocery & Meat in Irwinton, Ga., Nov. 21, 2013.

With tax cuts finished, House GOP takes aim at food stamps

06/22/18 02:49PM

Last month, House Republican leaders suffered an embarrassing setback, failing to pass their farm bill. As it turns out, the setback was temporary. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

A deeply polarizing farm bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday, a month after the legislation went down to stunning defeat after getting ensnared in the toxic politics of immigration.

The legislation, which passed 213 to 211 with 20 Republicans joining Democrats in their unanimous opposition, includes new work rules for most adult food-stamp recipients -- provisions that are dead on arrival in the Senate.

The legislative prospects matter, of course. As the House GOP knows, the farm bill will need 60 votes in the upper chamber, and there's obviously no way Senate Democrats are going to go along with a regressive bill like this one.

Why would they? As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' Robert Greenstein explained yesterday, the House bill "includes cuts and changes to SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) that would eliminate or reduce food assistance for more than 1 million low-income households with more than 2 million people."

Making matters slightly worse, as Catherine Rampell explained, the GOP bill would also create a new layer of government bureaucracy, which "eats up nearly all the 'savings' from kicking people off food stamps," intended to make it more difficult for qualifying Americans to receive benefits..

The fact that all of this comes six months after Republicans approved massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations only adds insult to injury for many of those who'd be affected by the House proposal.

Indeed, the House's farm bill is almost impressive in being misguided in so many ways at once. The New Republic's Alex Shephard recently described this farm bill as capturing of "everything that's wrong with Congress" in one piece of legislation, which was shaped by dysfunction, cynicism, and "bad policies that will make Americans less healthy and safe."

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White House incompetence laid bare by immigration fiasco

06/22/18 12:42PM

The day after addressing the family-separation disaster he created, Donald Trump bragged yesterday, "I signed a very good executive order yesterday." A report in the Wall Street Journal this morning suggests the president is the only one who's impressed.

Changing, competing and contradictory explanations of the administration's immigration policy spread confusion from Washington, D.C., to the Mexican border, leaving front-line law-enforcement and social-service agencies unsure of what will happen to thousands of children. [...]

Meanwhile, the federal government is still wrestling with the prospect of rapidly running out of space, money or both to detain immigrants—especially as family units.

Those factors create an immediate tension with prosecution policy. If the Trump administration stops prosecuting all adults for illegal border entry, it could maintain its detention capacity for longer, but paring back prosecutions would also amount to a significant retreat in the eyes of many, including the president himself.

The White House originally said the issue simply couldn't be addressed with an executive order. Officials then threw one together, leaving many in the Department of Homeland Security in the dark, all while ignoring the advice of White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Different agencies within the administration, meanwhile, are under the impression that the executive order means different things -- relevant departments were "gripped by confusion" yesterday -- and the "slapdash nature of the effort" has only intensified the chaos.

Some in the White House aren't even sure why Trump started separating families at the border in the first place. The Washington Post talked to one senior official who said, "[W]e are all utterly confused why we went through this exercise."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.22.18

06/22/18 12:00PM

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

* In a key New Jersey congressional district, it's been a week since reports first surfaced about Republican candidate Seth Grossman calling diversity "a bunch of crap" and "un-American." TPM reported yesterday that Grossman "has doubled down on his anti-diversity rhetoric."

* In Wisconsin's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest poll from Marquette University Law School found incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) with leads of 11 and 9 points, respectively, against her likely Republican challengers.

* Two years ago in Arizona, Joe Arpaio lost his re-election bid for Maricopa County sheriff. Now, Arpaio wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions "to investigate whether the U.S. Justice Department under President Barack Obama improperly worked to sway voters against him." Apparently, he's not kidding.

* Ahead of Florida's Republican gubernatorial primary, Donald Trump has officially endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis. The congressman was considered a long-shot candidate, right up until the president started singing his praises after seeing his appearances on Fox News.

* On a related note, Trump also endorsed this morning Rep. Martha Roby (R), who's facing a runoff primary in Alabama, largely because her far-right critics believes she's been insufficiently loyal to the White House.

* It's been clear for a while that former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), who nearly won an upset in a U.S. Senate race two years ago, would run for another office, but it wasn't clear which one. Now we know: Kander reportedly intends to run for mayor in Kansas City.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

What Trump chooses not to understand about Democrats and immigration

06/22/18 11:20AM

At a cabinet meeting at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump threw a bit of a tantrum over congressional Democrats and their opposition to his immigration plans. The presidential rant went on for a while, but here's an excerpt from the official transcript:

"[Democrats] don't care about the children. They don't care about the injury. They don't care about the problems. They don't care about anything. All they do is say, 'Obstruct, and let's see how we do.' Because they have no policies that are any good. They're not good politicians. They got nothing going. All they're good at is obstructing.

"And they generally stick together. I respect them for that. That's about it. Their policies stink. They're no good. They have no ideas. They have no nothing -- the Democrats. All they can do is obstruct, and stay together, and vote against, and make it impossible to take care of children and families and to take care of immigration."

As if the tirade needed a little something extra, Trump added that Democrats "created, and they've let it happen, a massive child-smuggling industry."

But if we look past the hysterical nature of the president's whining, is there a credible point underneath? Is it possible that Democrats aren't willing to work constructively on the issue because they'd rather use this as a campaign issue in the fall?

Actually, no. We know this with certainty because the facts are plain, even if Trump prefers to ignore them.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

During immigration push, Trump cuts off House GOP leaders at the knees

06/22/18 10:48AM

As yesterday got underway on Capitol Hill, House Republicans prepared to vote on two immigration bills -- a far-right plan and a not-quite-as-far-to-the-right plan -- both of which were negotiated behind closed doors without Democratic input. The odds of either one passing were bleak.

Things quickly went from bad to worse. Members discovered that the less radical of the two measures, which enjoys the GOP leadership's support, not only lacked the votes needed to pass, it was also riddled with "technical drafting errors" as a result of sloppy legislating.

Soon after, the more radical proposal failed in the face of bipartisan opposition, and House Republican leaders, struggling with intra-party chaos and widespread confusion, announced that the other GOP bill would be voted on next week (after initially saying the vote would be today).

Trying to explain the slow-motion debacle, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a relative moderate on the issue, said yesterday that Republican lawmakers are trying to honor the president's wishes, but they don't really know what Trump wants. That dynamic intensified this morning.

After repeatedly saying Congress needs to solve the immigration problem, President Donald Trump on Friday called on lawmakers to delay dealing with the critical issue until after the midterm elections — while accusing Democrats of concocting politically motivated "phony stories of stories of sadness and grief" on the border.

"Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November," Trump tweeted. "Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!"

In other words, the Republican president would like the Republican Congress to simply stop trying to pass immigration legislation -- until 2019 -- which is pretty much the opposite of what House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his leadership team wanted Trump to say as they scramble to find the votes needed to pass their bill, which Trump is supposed to support.

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