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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.21.18

06/21/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* All is not well with House Republicans: "The House on Thursday voted down a conservative immigration bill, and House GOP leaders announced that a vote on a Republican compromise measure would be postponed until Friday."

* At least this went well for them: "A deeply polarizing farm bill passed the House on party lines Thursday, a month after the legislation went down to stunning defeat after getting ensnared in the toxic politics of immigration."

* This wasn't the usual 5-4 ruling: "Internet retailers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday."

* This will be a company worth watching: "Renowned surgeon and best-selling author Atul Gawande will lead a new company aimed at reducing health-care costs, a joint venture by Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that has attracted widespread attention and hope that it could disrupt the American health-care system."

* Andrea Hall's unfortunate timing: "A key U.S. official involved in denuclearization talks with North Korea is leaving the White House just as the Trump administration prepares to engage in high-stakes negotiations with the isolated regime, the official confirmed to The Washington Post."

* Remember, Trump thinks he's improved our international standing: "'What's going on in the United States is wrong. I can't imagine what families living through this are enduring,' [Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] said to reporters on Wednesday morning. 'This is not the way we do things in Canada.'"

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Melania Trump's visit to Texas raises the wrong kind of questions

06/21/18 04:44PM

Melania Trump has maintained a very low public profile of late, which made it all the more noteworthy when she took a surprise visit to Texas this morning. NBC News reported:

First lady Melania Trump arrived in McAllen, Texas on Thursday in an unannounced trip to the border area amid the administration's crisis over the separation of families, first visiting a facility currently housing about 60 children, most of them teenagers.

Before embarking on a tour of Upbring New Hope Children's Shelter, a part of Lutheran Social Services that receives Department of Health and Human Services grants, Mrs. Trump participated in a question and answer session with shelter workers while sitting in front of walls papered with colorful children's art.

In terms of the White House's message, there was something of a conflict: while the president adopted a hardline posture on immigration from the Cabinet Room this morning, the president's wife was near the border, signaling a far less aggressive line.

But if Melania Trump's trip was intended to send a message of compassion, there's reason to believe things didn't quite go as planned. CNBC reported:

First Lady Melania Trump wore a jacket emblazoned with the phrase "I REALLY DON'T CARE. DO U?" as she departed the White House Thursday morning to visit a shelter in Texas housing migrant children who had been separated from their parents.

The jacket caused a stir Thursday afternoon when the Daily Mail first reported on the green canvas military-style coat. The phrase about not caring covered the entire back side of the jacket, which came from the mid-market label Zara.

The first lady's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, later told reporters, "It's a jacket. There was no hidden message."

Right, but no one suggested the message was "hidden." On the contrary, observers noted the literal text -- in a large font -- on the first lady's back.

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Trump's 'reverse Midas touch' extends to attitudes on immigration

06/21/18 12:41PM

It was last fall when Vox's Matt Yglesias first described Donald Trump's effects on public opinion as a "reverse Midas touch." It's a straightforward idea: when the president criticizes something, it tends to become more popular.

For example, Trump clearly has a few concerns about immigration. How's that affecting Americans' attitudes on the subject? Consider the results of the new Gallup poll.

A record-high 75% of Americans, including majorities of all party groups, think immigration is a good thing for the U.S. -- up slightly from 71% last year. Just 19% of the public considers immigration a bad thing. [...]

Given attempts by the Trump administration to cut back on legal immigration, Gallup tested an alternative wording to this question for the first time this year -- asking half of the respondents about "legal immigration," whereas the trend question does not specify a particular type of immigration. Americans are more likely to support legal immigration, with 84% describing it as a good thing, nine percentage points higher than the reading for "immigration."

This is consistent with two national polls released this week showing Trump's family-separation policy to be one of the least popular governmental measures in recent history. It's also in line with public support for DACA protections for Dreamers going up shortly after Trump rescinded the DACA policy.

But the thesis goes well beyond the president and immigration.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.21.18

06/21/18 12:00PM

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

* In CNN's new national poll, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 42%. That eight-point advantage is up from a three-point lead Dems had in the same poll last month.

* In West Virginia, a Monmouth University poll found Sen. Joe Manchin (D), a top GOP target this year, leading state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), 49% to 42% in a head-to-head match-up.

* In West Virginia's 3rd congressional district, the same poll found Richard Ojeda (D) narrowly leading Carol Miller (R), 43% to 41%, which wouldn't be especially notable were it not for the fact that Donald Trump won this same district by literally 50 points two years ago.

* In North Dakota's U.S. Senate race, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) yesterday defended the Trump administration's policy of keeping immigrant children in chain-link pens, arguing, "Chain link fences are around playgrounds all over America, all over North Dakota. And chain link fences allow line-of-sight visual connectivity with children and families.... You know, there's nothing inhumane about a chain link fence. If it is, then every ballpark in America is inhumane."

* Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has reportedly approved "a plan to pour at least $80 million" into the 2018 election cycle, with the hopes of helping elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. House.

* That will be excellent news to officials at the DNC, who find themselves in a difficult financial spot. The Washington Post  reported today, "The Republican National Committee entered the summer with nearly twice the fundraising power of its Democratic counterpart."

* Voters in Michigan will have an opportunity to vote this year on an anti-gerrymandering measure.

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A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

The price tag for Trump's trade war is coming into focus

06/21/18 11:28AM

This past weekend, the Des Moines Register ran a striking headline on its front page: "China tariffs on U.S. soybeans could cost Iowa farmers up to $624 million." There have been a series of related headlines in much of the country as businesses start to feel the real-world effects of Donald Trump's policy on tariffs.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank went to yesterday's Senate Finance Committee hearing with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who heard from the panel's Republican members about the consequences of the president's so-called "trade war."

"Corn, wheat, beef and pork are all suffering market price declines ... due to current trade policies," complained Sen. John Thune (S.D.). "With every passing day, the United States loses market share to other countries." Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) said "we watched the soybean market start to collapse" because of trade-war concerns.

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) warned about steel and auto producers in Ohio, "hit harder than any other state by the Canadian retaliatory tariffs." From Pennsylvania, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey cautioned that Kraft-Heinz may move its ketchup production to Canada to avoid retaliatory tariffs.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) put in a plea over Coca-Cola's rising aluminum can costs. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah warned that contracts have dried up for a steel fabricator in his state because of the tariffs, and "multibillion-dollar investments for new manufacturing plants that employ thousands of workers are also being put at risk."

While it's striking enough to see some prominent Trump allies on Capitol Hill complain about the adverse effects of Trump's agenda, it's just as amazing to consider the administration's response.

Because at least for now, the president and his team are basically just asking everyone to trust them -- as if this will all work out in the end.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump is under the false impression he 'actually beat Obamacare'

06/21/18 10:59AM

A few hours before his campaign rally last night, Donald Trump hosted a roundtable in Duluth, Minnesota, on "protecting American workers." Much of the event was forgettable, though the president did make an interesting claim about his approach to health care. From the official transcript:

"So we've done a real job and we just got association healthcare approved which is going to be incredible. You associate as companies, as people. And you're going to get great healthcare — highly competitive -- at a much lower price than you've been paying. It's all kicking in right now. We actually beat Obamacare."

What Trump referred to is a newly finalized rule on something called "Association Health Plans" (AHPs), which he's talked about with varying degrees of coherence for quite a while.

It's worth revisiting the issue, because the real-world impact of the policy is likely to be pretty significant.

AHPs have actually been around for decades. The original idea was that small businesses and trade associations would pool their resources and offer cheap, thin coverage. The Affordable Care Act raised these plans' standards, requiring them to cover the same essential benefits as other plans, and imposed strict new safeguards to make sure the plans weren't ripping people off.

This, naturally, made AHPs more expensive, but it also meant better and more comprehensive coverage for many American consumers and their families.

What the Trump administration has done is roll back the clock.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addresses criticism of his travel practices before delivering a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance." at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Interior's Zinke confronts a new Halliburton-related controversy

06/21/18 10:27AM

Ryan Zinke didn't need another controversy, but Donald Trump's Interior secretary appears to have found himself in the middle of a new one anyway. Politico  reported this week:

A foundation established by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and headed by his wife is playing a key role in a real-estate deal backed by the chairman of Halliburton, the oil-services giant that stands to benefit from any of the Interior Department's decisions to open public lands for oil exploration or change standards for drilling.

A group funded by David Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, is planning a large commercial development on a former industrial site near the center of the Zinkes' hometown of Whitefish, a resort area that has grown increasingly popular with wealthy tourists. The development would include a hotel and retail shops. There also would be a microbrewery -- a business first proposed in 2012 by Ryan Zinke and for which he lobbied town officials for half a decade.

The Politico piece, which is worth reading in its entirety to appreciate all the details, went on to note that the Zinkes would benefit from the real-estate deal in a variety of ways, including the fact that they own land on the other side of the future development, and "if the new hotel, retail stores and microbrewery go through, real estate agents say, the Zinke-owned land next door would stand to increase substantially in value."

So to recap, the cabinet secretary's wife runs a foundation; the foundation is backing a project launched by the chairman of Halliburton; the cabinet secretary stands to benefit personally from the project; and Halliburton stands to benefit from decisions made by the cabinet secretary.

Politico talked to Marilyn Glynn, who led the Office of Government Ethics in the Bush/Cheney era, who said all of this appears inappropriate and should prompt Zinke to recuse himself from Halliburton-related policy decisions.

Glynn added, "In a previous administration, whether Bush or Obama, you'd never run across something like this.... Nobody would be engaging in business deals" with executives whose companies they regulate.

Of course, if Zinke's record were otherwise spotless, and there were no other concerns about his record on ethics, it might be easier to overlook these revelations.

But then we're reminded of his actual record.

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Image: President Trump Participates In The U.S. Coast Guard Change of Command Ceremony

Confused about his brand of populism, Trump wants to be 'the elite'

06/21/18 09:31AM

Most of Donald Trump's remarks at a campaign rally in Minnesota last night were predictable -- the president shared his usual grievances -- but towards the end of his speech, the Republican shared a thought I haven't heard him make before.

"You ever notice they always call the other side 'the elite.' The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I'm smarter than they are. I'm richer than they are. I became president and they didn't."

For a quite a while, prominent voices in Trump World considered "the elite" to be their rivals, and perhaps even their enemies. Shortly after the 2016 election, for example, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's third campaign manager, insisted that her boss' success represented a rejection of the "elites." In fact, she said her own Republican Party was "veering dangerously close to being the party of the elites" until Trump campaign came along.

Soon after, in the Time cover story naming Trump "Person of the Year," Conway argued, "You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness -- the us vs. the elite."

In this sense, the "elite" doesn't describe wealth or status; it describes attitude. The "elite" care about niceties such as science, diversity, and the rule of law. Trump and his acolytes thumb their nose at the "elite" and their pointless principles.

It's why, we're told, a billionaire television personality, who lives in a gold penthouse, who cuts taxes on the rich, and who fights to protect Wall Street, can be a "populist," while his critics are the "elite."

Except as of last night, Trump isn't satisfied with this dynamic -- because he wants to be the elite, too.

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Why Jeff Flake may start blocking Trump's judicial nominees

06/21/18 08:41AM

It was a small political story that initially went by with minimal attention. The Senate Judiciary Committee was poised to advance one of Donald Trump's judicial nominees, Georgia's Britt Grant, to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) halted the move before the vote.

It wasn't altogether clear why. "Oh, it's just something I'm working out," Flake told  Roll Call earlier this week.

And what, pray tell, was the Arizona Republican working out? Apparently, Flake is starting to come to terms with just how much leverage he has in the chamber. CNN reported yesterday:

Sen. Jeff Flake is warning that he may block votes on the nominations of all of President Donald Trump's pending appellate court nominees unless he gets favorable action on two issues unrelated to the judiciary.

According to one source, Flake wants to spur discussions on travel restrictions to Cuba as well as issues related to tariffs.

"We're discussing it," the Arizona Republican said in a brief interview with CNN as he came out of an immigration negotiation.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) confirmed to the network that he wouldn't schedule votes on the White House's judicial nominees until Flake lifts his hold.

It's a bold move for the Arizonan -- and it's also overdue.

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Mick Mulvaney

Trump administration puts the Education Department in its sights

06/21/18 08:00AM

Nearly every modern president has taken on government "reorganization" initiatives, exploring ways to streamline the federal bureaucracy and eliminate unnecessary overlap between agencies. At face value, these are worthwhile goals.

But as is often the case, when Donald Trump's team takes on a task, there's reason for some skepticism.

Mick Mulvaney, who is, among other things, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been working on a broad plan to reorganize much of the federal bureaucracy, which will reportedly include "consolidation" of safety-net programs. But as Politico  noted, the most ambitious aspect of the blueprint appears to be the proposed merging of two cabinet agencies.

The Trump administration plans to advocate a merger of the Education and Labor departments as part of a sweeping government overhaul, according to two individuals familiar with the proposal who declined to be named because it's not yet public. [...]

The plan, if undertaken by the administration, would pose a heavy political and legislative lift. Past attempts to eliminate the Education Department haven't proven popular in Congress.

As if this White House didn't have enough on its plate, Team Trump is picking a new fight, laying out a plan to combine two agencies that have very little to do with one another.

As the Washington Post's report explained, the Education Department oversees "federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges," while the Labor Department has "a broad portfolio that includes programs to train workers, enforcement of minimum-wage laws, the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- which produces economic data -- and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration."

If we're being generous, we could note that the Labor Department may tackle some job-training initiatives that the Education Department could oversee, but to think that the two cabinet agencies should merge into one big, new entity is a stretch.

It's also wildly unrealistic: there's no way lawmakers will want to tackle such an endeavor this year, especially with so little time remaining before the midterm elections, and in the next Congress, the plan's odds of success will almost certainly be worse.

So why bother?

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