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Russian President Vladimir Putin talks in a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 7, 2016. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin/AP)

Putin scrambles to defend Trump's legitimacy

01/17/17 12:50PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly praised and defended Donald Trump, both before the U.S. presidential election and after, so perhaps it wasn't too surprising to hear the Russian autocrat sing the president-elect's praises once more ahead of his ally's Inauguration Day.
Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of trying to "undermine the legitimacy" of President-elect Donald Trump by spreading "fake" information.

The Russian president said America was "seeing a continuing heated political struggle, even though the elections are finished."

Addressing reporters at a news conference in Moscow, Putin said the recent inclusion of allegations against Trump in an intelligence briefing "indicates a significant level of degradation [among] political elites in the West."
Commenting specifically on the allegations raised by the unverified dossier, Putin said Trump is "someone who has been involved with beauty contests for many years and has met the most beautiful women in the world. I find it hard to believe that he rushed to some hotel to meet girls of loose morals -- although ours are undoubtedly the best in the world."

It's hard not to notice that the two men appear to be cut from the same cloth.

And just as Trump repeated Putin-esque talking points in an interview over the weekend, Putin echoed Trump's talking points today, touting the Republican's "conclusive victory," condemning "fake" allegations, and celebrating Trump's commitment towards "improving Russian-American relationships."
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.17.17

01/17/17 12:00PM

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

* Confronted with four national polls showing him with awful approval and favorability ratings, Donald Trump insisted this morning that the surveys are "rigged." Rigged by whom? And to what end? The president-elect, who loves odd conspiracy theories, didn't say.

* Also this morning, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to keep his feud with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) going with a pair of tweets.

* The number of congressional Democrats boycotting Trump's inauguration passed 40 overnight, and I believe reached 45 as of this minute.

* The New York Daily News published a piece on scalpers who bought Trump inauguration tickets, hoping to flip them for a profit, only to discover no one wants them.

* On a related note, among the entertainers who've pulled out of Trump-related inaugural festivities is a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, which had been scheduled to headline the Garden State Inaugural Gala.

* If you're keeping track of the campaign to become the next DNC chair, the Washington Post had a good rundown of where the race stands. The election is scheduled for late February at a Democratic meeting in Atlanta.

* As funny as this may sound, Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel is considering a gubernatorial campaign in California next year. Trump, it's worth noting for context, lost California by more than 30 points.
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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a Hispanic Town Hall meeting with supporters, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. allies abroad fear the consequences of a Trump presidency

01/17/17 11:22AM

In recent years, when Republicans have criticized President Obama's approach to foreign policy, they invariably complain that his priorities are backwards. America's allies, the argument goes, no longer count on us, while America's adversaries no longer fear us.

In a foreign policy speech delivered in April, none other than Donald Trump, reading from his trusted teleprompter, argued, "[O]ur friends are beginning to think they can't depend on us. We've had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies."

The entire line of attack has long been deeply ironic. Under Obama's presidency, the United States' international reputation has improved considerably over the Bush/Cheney era, and our allies' confidence in our leadership has grown. Now that Trump is poised to take power, however, anxiety and mistrust among American allies has reached levels unseen in generations. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
European leaders grappled with the jolting reality of President-elect Donald Trump's skepticism of the European Union on Monday, saying they might have to stand without the United States at their side during the Trump presidency.

The possibility of an unprecedented breach in transatlantic relations came after Trump -- who embraced anti-E.U. insurgents during his campaign and following his victory -- said in weekend remarks that the 28-nation European Union was bound for a breakup and that he was indifferent to its fate. He also said NATO's current configuration is "obsolete," even as he professed commitment to Europe's defense.
To put it mildly, the president-elect's weekend comments have rattled much of the world. As we noted yesterday, Trump sat down with two European newspapers for an interview in which he dismissed NATO as “obsolete”; criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assisting Syrian refugees (whom Trump referred to as “illegals”); said the United States “should be ready to trust” Russian President Vladimir Putin; and endorsed the further unraveling of the European Union.

The Post added that Trump's attitudes "have raised alarm bells across Europe," as America's traditional allies come to the "painful realization" that Europeans may no longer have "the full backing of their oldest, strongest partner."

The article went on to note, "The full ramifications of a potential breakdown in transatlantic ties are so extensive, they are difficult to total.... For decades, European nations and the United States have worked tightly together on issues of war, peace and wealth."

This has been the backbone of the world order for generations, and in the United States, there's been a steady, bipartisan commitment to the Western alliance. American allies counted on this international partnership to endure.
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In this Oct. 2015 file photo, Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a town hall meeting in Auburn, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine's Paul LePage wants to give John Lewis a history lesson

01/17/17 10:45AM

Gov. Paul LePage (R) has sparked so many racially charged controversies, it's tempting to think the Maine Republican would go out of his way to avoid the subject.

Alas, as this Portland Press Herald report makes clear, LePage just can't help himself.
Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage weighed in on the president-elect's Twitter beef with a civil rights icon Tuesday, saying U.S. Rep. John Lewis should thank the president and study history.

"I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history," LePage said during his weekly appearance on the George Hale and Ric Tyler Show, on Bangor-based radio station WVOM. "It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, it was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice."
Oh, I see. It's not enough that John Lewis, an iconic leader of the civil rights movement, was nearly killed while fighting for equal treatment under the law. Paul LePage also wants Lewis to thank white Republicans for civil rights.
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Image: The dome of the U.S. Capitol building is seen past a microphone during a rehearsal for the inaugural ceremonies in Washington

Selling access, Trump's inaugural committee collects record haul

01/17/17 10:09AM

It's pretty much the opposite of "draining the swamp." A couple of weeks after Donald Trump's improbable election victory, his inaugural committee started selling "exclusive access" to the president-elect and his team "in exchange for donations of $1 million and more."

As a New York Times report makes clear, there were plenty of contributors ready to take up the offer.
All told, the group planning the inaugural festivities says it has raised more than $100 million, which would be nearly double the record for an inauguration, with much of it coming in six- and seven-figure checks from America's corporate suites.

In exchange, Mr. Trump's most prolific donors will gain access to what amounts to a parallel inauguration week, carefully planned and largely out of public sight, during which they can mingle with members of the incoming administration over intimate meals and witness Mr. Trump's ascension from the front rows.
Trump's allies generally respond to reports like these by arguing that every modern president, from both parties, has raised millions through his inaugural committee. There's quite a bit of truth to that.

But Trump did run on a platform of ending special-interest influence in Washington -- selling access to corporate donors for $1 million a pop is quite a departure from the Republican's campaign rhetoric -- and as the Times' report added, Trump's donors "are being given greater access and facing fewer limits on donations than those in other recent inaugurations."

George W. Bush and Barack Obama, for example, put caps on individual contributions. Team Trump eliminated those caps. As a result, the previous record for the most money raised by an inaugural committee was $53 million, raised by Obama in 2008 -- which Trump has roughly doubled.
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President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump gets by with a little help from his friends

01/17/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump has spoken quite a bit, before and after Election Day, about his interest in infrastructure investments, and so it hardly came as a surprise when the president-elect looked for personnel to help oversee his plans. What was surprising, however, were the specific picks Trump announced.
President-elect Donald Trump is planning to name real-estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth to head up a new council he is creating to monitor spending on his proposed $1 trillion plan to improve the nation's roads, bridges and other public works.

Mr. Trump said in an interview Friday with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors that he has asked the two New York-based developers ... to oversee the council of 15 to 20 builders and engineers. "They're pros," he said. "That's what they do. All their lives, they build. They build under-budget, ahead of schedule."
Trump, the Wall Street Journal article added, has known LeFrak and Roth "for decades."

And by all appearances, that's an important part -- if not the most important part -- of their background. The president-elect clearly likes to hire people he knows personally.

David Friedman, for example, is Trump's bankruptcy lawyer. He's also Trump's nominee to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Jason Greenblatt is the Chief Legal Officer for Trump Organization. He's also the man the president-elect recently tapped to oversee international negotiations in the incoming administration.

Jared Kushner is Trump's son-in-law. He'll also soon become a senior adviser to the president in the Trump White House.
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House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., presides over a markup session on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Investment controversies raise doubts about Trump's pick for HHS

01/17/17 08:40AM

Just on the surface, Rep. Tom Price's (R-Ga.) nomination to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services appears problematic. The far-right congressman has a radical approach to health policy; he's associated with fringe elements; and he's been a staunch critic of evidence-based policymaking.

Making matters even more unusual, by some accounts, Donald Trump's transition team has kept Price out of the loop while officials work on the incoming administration's health-care reform package, so that he'll be "inoculated" during his confirmation hearings. In other words, Trump World doesn't want Price to have to answer questions about the policies he'd implement at HHS, so Trump aides have kept him deliberately in the dark.

But below the surface, controversies like this one, as reported by CNN, keep popping up.
Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN. Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

Zimmer Biomet, one of the world's leading manufacturers of knee and hip implants, was one of two companies that would have been hit the hardest by the new CMS regulation that directly impacts the payments for such procedures, according to press reports and congressional sources.
And while that doesn't look good for Price, it looks even worse when one notes that the company's political action committee donated to the congressman's campaign after he worked on the bill that would benefit the company's finances.

The timeline paints an unflattering picture: (1) Price buys Zimmer Biomet stock; (2) Price quickly introduces legislation that would benefit Zimmer Biomet; (3) Price receives a campaign contribution from Zimmer Biomet.
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

New polls show Trump's honeymoon is over before it starts

01/17/17 08:00AM

There's a core group of Donald Trump followers who continue to hold him in high regard, but the latest national polling suggests the Republican president-elect's support does not extend much beyond this base.
Donald Trump enters office as the most unpopular of at least the last seven newly elected presidents, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds, with ratings for handling the transition that are also vastly below those of his predecessors.

Forty percent of Americans in the national survey approve of the way Trump has handled the transition, half as many as the 80 percent who approved of Barack Obama's preparations to take office. Trump also far trails George W. Bush (72 percent transition approval), Bill Clinton (81 percent) and George H.W. Bush (82 percent) on this measure.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll offers very little in the way of good news for the incoming president. Trump's favorability rating is just 40%, "by far the lowest popularity for an incoming president in polling since 1977." His unfavorability rating is an astonishing 54%.

The same poll found 61% of the country lacks confidence in Trump to make the right decisions, while 52% still believe the president-elect is unqualified for the office he's poised to take.

These results coincide with a new CNN poll, which found Trump with a 40% approval rating, "the lowest of any recent president." Most Americans say the president-elect's post-election conduct has "made them less confident in his ability to handle the presidency."

Worse, by most metrics, Americans' impressions of Trump "have worsened since November."

This morning's new polling comes on the heels of a Gallup poll that found Trump broadly unpopular in the country he's poised to lead, which itself came on the heels of a Quinnipiac poll, which showed Trump with a favorability rating of just 37%.

There is no modern precedent for a dynamic like this.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.16.17

01/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Noor Salman: "The wife of Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen was arrested by the FBI on Monday in connection with the mass shooting and charged with obstruction and giving support to a terrorist organization, officials said."

* Commutations: "Justice Department officials have completed their review of more than 16,000 clemency petitions filed by federal prisoners over the past two years and sent their last recommendations to President Obama, who is set to grant hundreds more commutations to nonviolent drug offenders during his final days in office."

* Exiting stage right: "Conservative author Monica Crowley said Monday she would not be taking a senior communications role in President-elect Donald Trump's administration amid allegations of plagiarism. Crowley, who had been chosen for senior director of strategic communications for Trump's National Security Council, announced she was bowing out to 'pursue other opportunities.'"

* One of the key stories to watch: "In excerpts from an hourlong interview published by the Journal on Friday, Trump said: 'If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody's doing some really great things?'"

* China's foreign ministry "issued a thinly veiled rebuke of Donald Trump, following a statement by the U.S. president-elect that the 'One China' policy -- which has underpinned bilateral ties for almost four decades -- was negotiable.... Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the policy was the foundation of U.S.-China ties and was nonnegotiable."

* Secretary of State John Kerry was back in Vietnam over the weekend, and he met a man who once tried to kill him.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Questions of illegitimacy dog Team Trump on Inauguration Week

01/16/17 12:51PM

The more Donald Trump faces questions about the legitimacy of his election, the more his allies and supporters are pushing a very specific talking point: If President Obama didn't face these questions, Trump shouldn't either.

Here, for example, was Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, on ABC yesterday:
"You didn't have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008."
Two days earlier, Fox News' Dana Perino, the Bush/Cheney White House press secretary, said "no one" argued that Barack Obama "was not a legitimate president." Over the weekend, CNN's Ben Ferguson, a conservative pundit, added he "can't imagine the fallout ... if a Republican ever implied" that Obama was an illegitimate president. Ferguson added that such talk is "unprecedented."

Do you ever get the feeling some of Donald Trump's allies occasionally forget about Donald Trump's existence? Or at a minimum, they've forgotten that his most notable contribution to the political discourse in recent years was his role championing a racist conspiracy theory about the current president?

"No one" argued that Obama "was not a legitimate president"? Well, one guy certainly did. Not only did Trump question Obama's legitimacy in the president's first term, Trump referred to Obama's re-election as "a total sham." Around the same time, Trump declared, "We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!"

In context, Trump made this argument because he thought Obama had lost the popular vote. Obama actually won the popular vote with ease -- which is itself a detail that creates a wrinkle for Republicans since Trump did not.

The result is a disconnect Republicans haven't even tried to resolve: Democrats are being asked to respect the process in order to honor an incoming president who's never respected the process. I'm honestly not sure what the GOP response would be if Democrats responded, "We promise to respect the system and the office every bit as much as Donald J. Trump did."
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.16.17

01/16/17 12:00PM

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

* The number of congressional Democrats who have publicly announced they will not attend Donald Trump's inauguration continues to grow. As of yesterday, it looks like the total is up to 27 -- a number that grew sharply following the president-elect's tweets about Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

* Though there were reports that Trump had planned a visit to the National African American Museum yesterday, those plans were scrapped due to "scheduling issues."

* Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, boasted yesterday that Trump "won in an electoral landslide." In case he's forgotten, let's note that repeating a lie doesn't make it true.

* Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are challenging Gov. Roy Cooper's (D) Medicaid expansion in federal courts, even though it's a state law that appears to block the policy. Why go this route? Because Republicans fear a Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court.

* Just when it seemed no other candidates would run for chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jehmu Greene joined the crowded field late last week. Greene, who has been a paid Fox News analyst, resigned from the network last week in order to seek the DNC leadership post.

* Jennifer Holliday and Andrea Bocelli both canceled their scheduled appearances at Trump's inauguration over the weekend.
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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

If Trump isn't Putin's puppet, why does he act like he is?

01/16/17 11:20AM

Writing in Slate the other day, William Saletan expressed skepticism about some of the more provocative questions about Donald Trump and his relationship with Moscow. Saletan doesn't believe the Republican "colluded" with Russia, for example, and is unmoved by the unverified dossier released last week.

But this incredulity left Saletan with a dilemma: if we reject the worst of the possible explanations for Trump's behavior, what are we left with?
How do we explain the overtly pro-Russian behavior of Trump and his surrogates? If they're not Russian puppets, why do they work so hard to defend Putin and Russia against American investigators and reporters? Why do they divert blame to other countries and victims of the hack? Why, instead of targeting the Russian intelligence agencies that infiltrated us, do they attack the American intelligence agencies that exposed the Russians?
Slate published this on Friday, and the questions have only grown more serious since.

Yesterday, for example, Trump sat down with two European newspapers for an interview in which he dismissed NATO as "obsolete"; criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assisting Syrian refugees (whom Trump referred to as "illegals"); said the United States "should be ready to trust" Russian President Vladimir Putin; and endorsed the further unraveling of the European Union.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the Kremlin had literally written a script and handed it to Trump to read during the interview, it would've sounded exactly like this.

For eight years, Republicans have accused President Obama of encouraging U.S. enemies and discouraging U.S. allies. America's longtime friends, GOP politicians have said, are no longer sure they can count on support from the United States as a result of Obama's foreign policy. The bizarre argument has always been wrong, but ironically, it's poised to become true in the Republican administration that takes power on Friday.
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