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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.19.17

01/19/17 12:00PM

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

* Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told reporters yesterday that DC-area hotels are "sold out for miles." As of last night, that did not appear to be true.

* When Donald Trump tweeted a picture of himself, ostensibly putting pen to paper to write his own inaugural address, he apparently was seated at the reception desk of one of his resorts. It's almost as if the picture had been staged and the president-elect isn't actually writing his own speech.

* As hearings get underway for Steve Mnuchin, Trump's nominee for Treasury Secretary, a group of progressive organizations have launched a television ad featuring a woman who lost her home to Mnuchin's bank.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) now claims he was offered positions in the Trump administration, but he turned them down because his wife didn't want to move to DC. Christie, of course, ran a presidential campaign last year that would've required him to move to DC had he won.

* Though Mike Pence had said Dick Cheney would be his vice presidential role model, yesterday, the incoming V.P. told NBC News' Chuck Todd yesterday, "When I think of the kind of president that I'll be serving, I've been paying special attention to then vice president George Herbert Walker Bush."

* Avenue Strategies, the new DC lobbying firm created by former Trump aides Corey Lewandowski and Barry Bennett, has opened its doors. As Bloomberg Politics' report noted, firm is also taking "the highly unusual step ... of creating a pro-Trump super PAC," which will be called the "Great American Agenda PAC."

* The seven leading candidates running to become the next DNC chair had a fairly low-key debate yesterday, hosted by the Huffington Post.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

As ACA fight intensifies, GOP hears from 'freaked out' constituents

01/19/17 11:20AM

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) tried to deliver a speech at a rally this week, but she was interrupted by Affordable Care Act proponents. The Republican lawmaker, a member of the House GOP leadership, is part of the crusade to repeal "Obamacare," so ACA proponents chanted "save our health care" during her remarks.

Two days later, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) faced a similar reaction during a town-hall event in Grand Rapids -- which attracted a full crowd, with dozens more who tried to attend but couldn't get in.

It's like 2009 all over again, only flipped: instead of conservatives showing up to demand Congress reject the Affordable Care Act, now it's progressives showing up to demand Congress protect the reform law.

Of course, congressional Republicans could avoid confrontations like these by ending their effort to take away Americans' health security, but the Washington Post reports that GOP lawmakers are more inclined to start avoiding forums where ACA supporters might bother them.
Seven years after unruly Democratic town halls helped stoke public outrage over the Affordable Care Act, Republicans now appear keen to avoid the kind of dust-ups capable of racking up millions of views on YouTube and ending up in a 2018 campaign commercial. Only a handful of GOP lawmakers have held or are planning to host in-person town hall meetings open to all comers -- the sort of large-scale events that helped feed the original Obamacare backlash in the summer of 2009.
The Post's article noted a related anecdote: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) hosted a discussion with constituents yesterday via Facebook, with lots of questions about health care. While Tillis's office "had advertised a 30-minute event, the senator ultimately appeared on camera for 11 minutes, answering eight questions read to him by a staff member."

The North Carolina Republican assured attendees that a "replace strategy" exists -- Tillis did not explain what that strategy is -- and he ignored "the follow-up questions that popped up in the comments alongside his video."

When Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) snuck out the back of an Aurora library over the weekend, steering clear of constituents who wanted to tell him not to take away their insurance, it was an opening salvo of sorts, which was no doubt noticed by his Republican colleagues.

Hiding from voters, however, isn't a sustainable solution.
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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The literary dividing line between Trump and Obama

01/19/17 10:46AM

The list of differences between Barack Obama and Donald Trump is exhausting to even think about, but yesterday, we were reminded of one dissimilarity that was especially striking.

The New York Times sat down last week with the outgoing president to focus on Obama's love of books.
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped -- in his life, convictions and outlook on the world -- by reading and writing as Barack Obama.

Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life -- from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when "these worlds that were portable" provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.

During his eight years in the White House -- in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions -- books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
The transcript of the interview is worth your time, if only to get a better sense of just how much importance the president places on the written word.

"At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else's shoes -- those two things have been invaluable to me," Obama said. "Whether they've made me a better president, I can't say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years."

A couple of days later, Trump talked to Axios' co-founders, Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, and the reporters asked the incoming president about his own appreciation for books. One asked, for example, what's on his nightstand.
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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

To reach Trump, some take their pleas to Moscow

01/19/17 10:02AM

There's some disagreement within Donald Trump's team about the proper capital of Israel, a deeply controversial topic. Not surprisingly, Palestinians are feeling quite a bit of anxiety about where the incoming U.S. administration will come down on this sensitive topic.

And so, Palestinians have begun exploring diplomatic channels to help stave off a possible crisis -- by reaching out to Moscow.

Agence France-Presse, a Paris-based intentional news service, reported last week that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help in persuading the Trump administration not to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. TPM's Josh Marshall noted yesterday that some Israeli media has reported the same thing.
According to reports in the Israeli press and publications in various Arab countries, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent his plea to President Putin via chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Erekat conveyed the message during his visit to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"I came with an urgent message from Mahmoud Abbas. We request that President Putin use all the tools at his disposal to prevent Trump from relocating the embassy, because, for us, this is crossing a red line," said Erekat.
Erekat later told reporters: "The letter asks President Putin to do what he can about the information we have that President-elect Donald Trump will move the embassy to Jerusalem, which for us is a red line and dangerous."

Clearly, the underlying dispute is wrought with controversy, and Trump will have to be cautious to prevent a combustible crisis in the Middle East.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks to reporters following a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Washington, March 15, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GOP 'unmoved' by controversies surrounding Trump's cabinet picks

01/19/17 09:20AM

Last month, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) celebrating Donald Trump for having assembled a "dream team" cabinet. It was a curious choice of words -- because one would have to be asleep to be impressed with the motley crew the president-elect has assembled.

Some of Trump's choices appear to have no idea what their job entails. Others have no relevant experience or skills. Some are burdened by damaging controversies. Others are overtly hostile towards the work done by the departments they'll soon lead. Senate Democrats set out to prove that many of Trump's nominees had no business being chosen in the first place, and by and large, the senators succeeded.

But nearly all -- if not literally all -- of Trump's choices will be confirmed anyway, because as Politico noted yesterday, the Senate Republican majority doesn't appear to care.
Donald Trump's Cabinet picks have been battered by revelations of questionable stock trades and potentially undocumented employees. They've undergone rocky confirmation hearings and faced criticism from Democrats that they're unfit to lead a major federal agency.

Consider Republicans unmoved.

From the top tiers of GOP leadership to rank-and-file committee members, Republicans are fanning out en masse to defend Trump's Cabinet selections.
Though filibusters are no longer an option for cabinet nominees, the GOP majority is fairly narrow in a 52-48 Senate. If only a handful of Republican senators balk at an unqualified choice, the Trump White House will have to scramble to find someone else.

But that handful doesn't appear to exist. Politico's piece added, "[T]here's no sign that those GOP defections are coming."

There's no great mystery here -- partisan loyalties and tribal instincts dominate in Washington to a degree unseen in generations -- but Republicans aren't actually doing anyone, including their allies, any favors.
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Team Trump shouldn't have skipped the vetting process

01/19/17 08:46AM

Ordinarily, a presidential campaign will start preparing a transition process long before Election Day -- without knowing whether they'll win or lose -- in order to be fully prepared to govern. As part of the process, campaign staffers will identify possible cabinet nominees, and begin a preliminary vetting process, all with the goal of being ready, just in case.

Donald Trump, however, told his staff not to make any such preparations -- because he was superstitious about the effects on his candidacy. After the election, Team Trump started making cabinet selections "without extensive reviews of their background and financial records," because the Republican president-elect preferred to make decisions "based on gut instinct and his chemistry with people."

When the president-elect would meet with prospective members of his cabinet and White House team, Trump's principal focus was on how they look, not their qualifications.

That was unwise.
President-elect Donald J. Trump's choice for White House budget director failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee, he admitted in a statement to the Senate Budget Committee, the sort of tax compliance issue that has derailed cabinet nominees in the past.

In a questionnaire provided to the committee, Representative Mick Mulvaney, a conservative from South Carolina and vocal proponent of fiscal restraint noted, "I have come to learn during the confirmation review process that I failed to pay FICA and federal and state unemployment taxes on a household employee for the years 2000-2004."
The New York Times' report added that Mulvaney claims that he subsequently paid "more than $15,000 in taxes and awaits the state tax bill, as well as penalties and interests."

In previous administrations, this has been the kind of legal misstep that has derailed nominees for important posts. It's exactly the sort of information a transition team would've uncovered before someone was even offered a powerful government job.

But before anyone says, "Well, this is just one guy with a 'nanny problem,'" it's worth appreciating how many similar problems Trump World is confronting right now.
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Former Gov. Rick Perry prepares to address the National Press Club's Newsmaker Luncheon on his economic plan on July 2, 2015. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Trump offered Rick Perry a job neither one of them understood

01/19/17 08:00AM

An official at the Department of Energy recently found it necessary to "carefully explain" to a Trump transition aide what the agency actually does. The official did so after the Trump staffer "aide asked a series of questions that indicated he wasn't quite sure about the department's portfolio."

As it turns out, the ignorance is widespread in Trump World, as evidenced by this New York Times article on the man the president-elect chose to lead the agency.
When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing -- that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States' nuclear arsenal.
Revelations like these aren't just scary for the public; they're also deeply embarrassing for the amateurs who'll tomorrow take over the executive branch of the world's largest superpower.

For Perry, whose confirmation hearing begins today, this is obviously cringe-worthy. Four years ago, the then-governor was determined to eliminate the Department of Energy, despite not knowing what the agency does. The DOE has a major research laboratory in Texas, but Perry, who led the state for 14 years, still never learned anything about the department's work.

If the Times' reporting is correct, the Republican then accepted a cabinet post without having any idea what his responsibilities would be.

But as bad as Perry looks, let's not overlook his future boss.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.18.17

01/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This guy refuses to succumb to cynicism: "President Obama used the final press conference of his presidency to deliver a hopeful message Wednesday to a nation nervous about the looming change of power in Washington: 'At my core, I think we're going to be okay.'"

* Mali: "A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle penetrated a camp in northern Mali on Wednesday, killing at least 60 people and wounding 115 soldiers and former fighters who are trying to stabilize the region. The attack marked a significant setback for peace efforts."

* Note the national scope of this story: "Jewish community centers across the nation are under siege as dozens received bomb threats this month -- including more than 20 reported on Wednesday alone."

* Electing a climate denier to the presidency was unwise: "Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016 — trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.... Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization."

* Western Africa: "After more than two decades in power, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh faced the prospect of a midnight military intervention by regional forces, as the man who once pledged to rule the West African nation for a billion years clung to power late Wednesday."

* Discrimination: "JPMorgan Chase said Wednesday that it had agreed to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the bank of working with mortgage brokers who discriminated against minority borrowers for years by charging them $1,000 more than white customers."

* This seems to contradict what was promised last week: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Wednesday, via his lawyer, that President Obama's commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence does not meet the conditions of his offer to be extradited to the U.S. in return for the Army leaker's release."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

In intelligence briefings, Trump prefers 'as little as possible'

01/18/17 12:50PM

One of the unexpected developments of the transition period has been Donald Trump's disinterest in daily intelligence briefings. President Obama, immediately after the election, ordered the relevant agencies to make available to the president-elect the same information that's delivered to the Oval Office, but in a bit of a surprise, Trump largely blew off the information.

Last month, Fox News' Chris Wallace noted reports that the Republican was only receiving one briefing a week, instead of seven. Trump didn't deny the accounts, but said it didn't matter because he's "like, a smart person." He added, "I get it when I need it."

A month later, with his inauguration drawing closer, Trump sat down with Axios yesterday, and referring to the intelligence he's seen, the president-elect said, "I've had a lot of briefings that are very … I don't want to say 'scary,' because I'll solve the problems." The exceedingly confident Republican added this in reference to the PDB:
Trump said he likes his briefings short, ideally one-page if it's in writing. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don't need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you."
Hmm. President Obama likes to read daily intelligence briefings and pose follow-up questions in writing. Bill Clinton had a similar approach. George W. Bush, during his two terms, changed the briefing process, preferring oral reports from intelligence professionals.

Trump, apparently, has in mind something akin to Powerpoint slides.

The point here is not to chuckle at the obviously unprepared amateur, who, in 47 hours, will be the Leader of the Free World. There's a substantive angle to this that's worth appreciating.
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