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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.24.17

07/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Jared Kushner "spent about two hours Monday answering questions from Senate investigators about his contacts with Russian officials, insisting he had not colluded with foreign agents before or after the 2016 presidential campaign."

* Afghanistan: "An errant U.S. airstrike confirmed by the Pentagon killed 12 Afghan National Police officers and wounded two others, Helmand provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Safi said Saturday."

* A disappointing ruling: "A federal judge on Monday allowed President Trump's voting commission to go forward with seeking voter data from 50 states and the District, ruling that the White House advisory panel is exempt from federal privacy review requirements whatever additional risk it might pose to Americans' information."

* Poland: "Andrzej Duda was a relatively obscure member of the right-wing Law and Justice party when the leader of the party and the most powerful man in the country plucked him from the chorus line to become its candidate for president in 2015. For most of the party’s first 20 months in power, he was a reliable proponent for the governing party’s nationalist initiatives."

* I guess the chat with Trump at the White House is off? "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hit back on Friday at U.S. lawmakers opposed to the prospect of his visiting the White House, saying he would never go to the United States, which he called a 'lousy' country."

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Blake Farenthold, Chris Matthews - 09/20/2013

House Republican has unfortunate words for 'some female senators'

07/24/17 04:20PM

Sometimes, a quote is so misguided, it's hard to know where to start.

A Texas Republican congressman says it's "absolutely repugnant" that the GOP-led Senate hasn't acted on repealing the health care law and he singled out "some female senators from the Northeast."

In a radio interview with "1440 Keys," Rep. Blake Farenthold said the Senate has failed to show the courage to dismantle the health care law. The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to move ahead on legislation.

According to the Associated Press' report, Farenthold added, in apparent reference to Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Shelley Moore Capito, "If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style."

In other words, Farenthold is so upset about the state of the health care debate, he can imagine a duel with members of his own party who see the issue differently.

Oh my.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, accompanied by fellow GOP lawmakers, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, following a GOP caucus lunch.

GOP senators still unsure which health care bill they hope to pass

07/24/17 12:54PM

There was an interesting moment on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday when host Chris Wallace asked Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) a good question: "As the number three Republican in the Senate, do you know what you're going to be voting on next week?"

The South Dakota Republican responded by talking a bit about Senate procedure, before complaining about the Affordable Care Act, so the host tried again, asking what GOP leaders intend to bring forward as their party's health care bill. Thune responded:

"I think ultimately that's a judgment that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go."

Let that sink in for a moment. Republican leaders will decide "at some point this week" what health care legislation senators will vote on this week. As of yesterday, GOP senators had no idea what bill it might be, and as of this morning, there's still broad uncertainty.

The first vote, kicking off the process, is scheduled for tomorrow.

This isn't how legislating in the United States is supposed to work on any issue, but it's especially indefensible when dealing with life-or-death policymaking.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.22.17

07/24/17 12:00PM

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

* In an unusually classless display, Kelli Ward, who lost to John McCain in a primary last year, has called on the longtime senator to resign his seat in light of his illness. She also wants Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to appoint her to fill the vacancy.

* Congressional Democratic leaders are rolling out their new "Better Deal" economic agenda today, with some events on Capitol Hill, and new op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

* Gallup found that Donald Trump's support is still above 50% in 17 states. He's also below 40% in the same number of states.

* There was reportedly a staff shake-up at the Republican National Committee late last week that led to, among other things, Katie Walsh returning to the RNC. Walsh, a longtime colleague of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, had worked at the White House for about three months, before joining a pro-Trump group called America First Policies. Walsh has, in other words, had three jobs in four months.

* Bolstering rumors that Scott Pruitt, Trump's far-right EPA administrator, is planning to run for office in his home state of Oklahoma, the New York Times found that he made 10 trips to the state over three months this year, "largely at taxpayer expense."

* In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) has already said he doesn't intend to run against Sen. Angus King (I) next year, but he said he's been unimpressed with the top GOP candidate, state Sen. Eric Brakey. "I'm going to watch what Eric Brakey's doing and if he doesn't start resonating pretty quick, there's a possibility I might change my mind," LePage said on Thursday.

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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Kellyanne Conway makes her case against Bob Mueller

07/24/17 11:31AM

Kellyanne Conway spoke with CNN's Brian Stelter yesterday, and while they covered a fair amount of ground, I was struck by this exchange on speculation that Donald Trump may look for ways to get rid of Special Counsel Bob Mueller:

STELTER: [M]any people are afraid if this president fires Robert Mueller, we will be in a constitutional crisis. Why doesn't the president just want Mueller to prove that Trump is right, that Russia was a hoax? Why doesn't he want Mueller to go ahead and confirm that for him?

CONWAY: Well, isn't Mr. Mueller and his band of Democratic donors doing that? Are they trying to do that?

In context, it wasn't altogether clear what point Conway was trying to make. It sounded as if Conway was looking for a way to use the phrase "Mr. Mueller and his band of Democratic donors" and so she just forced the phrase into the conversation.

Regardless, there have been multiple reports of late about Trump World looking for ways to undermine and discredit Mueller's ongoing investigation, and Conway was effectively sharing what she'd come up with: some people on the special counsel's team have contributed to Democratic candidates for public office.

Conway made a similar pitch to Fox News late last week, and on Twitter last month.

It is, by any fair measure, a tough sell. This investigation is, after all, being led by Mueller, a lifelong Republican. Unless Conway and her colleagues are prepared to argue that Trump can only be investigated by an entire team made up exclusively of other Republicans, Mueller working with some attorneys who've supported Democratic candidates isn't exactly scandalous.

But even putting that aside, if Democratic donations are inherent grounds for suspicion according to Team Trump, Conway has reason to be paranoid while walking through the West Wing.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Trump still wants a federal investigation into Hillary Clinton

07/24/17 10:45AM

Since taking office six months ago, Donald Trump has periodically called for assorted investigations, though in nearly every instance, the president seemed to more or less blurt out the idea without any real thought or planning.

Trump has, for example, said he wants Barack Obama investigated for "wiretapping" Trump Tower during the election. The president also demanded an investigation into "voter fraud" in the 2016 presidential election. Trump, at one point, even said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) should be investigated for his claims about his military service.

This morning, the president added to his list in rather dramatic fashion. Trump tweeted:

"So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?"

Note, since becoming president, every investigation Trump has called for has been ... how do I put this gently ... quite bonkers.

Indeed, while we've all become quite accustomed to Trump saying deeply strange things, especially via social media, this morning's missive was quite a bit worse than his usual fare.

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Image: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony Scaramucci

White House offers a mixed message on new Russia sanctions

07/24/17 10:00AM

In mid-June, a bipartisan Senate majority easily approved new legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia, as part of the U.S. response to Russia's election attack, Donald Trump's refusal to accept the evidence notwithstanding. The final vote was 97 to 2.

In the days and weeks that followed, the White House has launched an aggressive push to derail the bill -- or at least water it down considerably -- before it can pass the House. Those efforts have apparently failed. The New York Times reported over the weekend:

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House's argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation would sharply limit the president's ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions -- a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump's tenure.

With broad backing, the bill is expected to pass both chambers. But it's at this point where things will get even more interesting.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's communications director has a secret source: Trump

07/24/17 09:20AM

The New York Times reported yesterday that when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin recently met in Germany, the American president was impressed by an argument from his Russian counterpart: "Moscow's cyberoperators are so good at covert computer-network operations that if they had dipped into the Democratic National Committee's systems, they would not have been caught."

In a rather literal sense, the White House has adopted Putin's talking points. Here, for example, was Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's new communications director, echoing the line on CNN yesterday:

"You know, somebody said to me yesterday -- I won't tell you who -- that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it. You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking."

Moments later, Scaramucci conceded his source -- the one whom he didn't want to identify just seconds earlier -- was Donald Trump himself, who'd called him a day earlier.

Even for this White House, this was exceedingly strange. As part of a defense against the Russia scandal, the president's communications director echoed Vladimir Putin's talking points, citing a secret source, who happened to be the president, who directly reminded him of Putin's talking points.

Making matters quite a bit worse, all of this was intended to undermine confidence in the findings of American intelligence agencies, which the president still chooses not to believe. Indeed, the White House's broader point seems to be that Russia's espionage operations are so skillful and clever, American intelligence professionals couldn't possibly be expected to keep up.

One might expect to hear something like this from the Kremlin, not the White House.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Donald Trump boasts he 'has the complete power to pardon'

07/24/17 08:40AM

Late last week, the Washington Post added an alarming twist to Donald Trump's intensifying Russia scandal, reporting that the president has asked White House aides "about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe." Over the weekend, Trump didn't explicitly confirm the story, but he made clear that the subject is very much on his mind.

Via Twitter, the president insisted on Saturday that "all agree" an American president "has the complete power to pardon."

Evidently, the conversations he had about the subject led to answers Trump liked.

But there's apparently still some disagreement within Trump World about the nature of these discussions. For example, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's outside legal team, told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday:

"I want to be clear on this, George. We have not and continue to not have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table."

Around the same time, however, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci appeared on Fox News, and was asked why Trump broached the subject in the first place. He replied:

"See, this is one -- again, this is one of those things about Washington and it's the convolution and the nature of the things. I'm in the Oval Office with the president last week, we're talking about that. He brought that up, he said but he doesn't have to be pardoned. There's nobody around him that has to be pardoned. He was just making the statement about the power of pardons."

So, "pardons have not been discussed," except the discussions in which Trump brought up pardons?

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Image: Trump holds a healthcare meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House in Washington

Trump presses troops for political help in lobbying Congress

07/24/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump headlined an event over the weekend, commissioning the USS Gerald Ford, which wouldn't have been especially notable, were it not for one important aspect of his remarks. As the Huffington Post noted:

Trump urged the crowd of about 6,500 people, including uniformed naval officers, to call Congress and ask lawmakers to pass the budget, in which he seeks an additional $54 billion for defense spending in 2018.

"I don't mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it," he told the crowd, before plugging another item on his agenda. "And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care."

As a Washington Post report added, Trump’s brief appeal "created a potentially awkward tableau at a commissioning event intended to be ceremonial -- a commander in chief offering political remarks, and what could even be construed as an order, to the naval officers he commands."

It's entirely possible that Trump, new to public service and the structures of government, doesn't really know anything about the unique relationship between a president and active-duty military personnel. He may not understand, for example, that when a commander in chief asks troops to do something, they're expected to do it.

Which is why we're not accustomed to American leaders trying to recruit servicemen and women into lobbying campaigns in support of the White House's priorities. There are certain norms that our presidents are supposed to honor and protect, and Donald Trump either doesn't know or doesn't care where those lines are drawn.

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