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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Why Trump is so preoccupied with 'central casting'

02/28/17 12:11PM

Donald Trump spoke to members of the National Governors Association yesterday at the White House, and the president took a moment to thank his vice president, Mike Pence. Trump told his audience:
"[Pence] has been so wonderful to work with. He's a real talent, a real guy. And he is central casting, do we agree?  Central casting."
The phrasing stood out in part because of the frequency with which we've heard that language from Trump. It was on Inauguration Day, for example, that the new president turned to James Mattis, "This is central casting. If I was doing a movie, I pick you, general."

A month earlier, when Trump considered Mitt Romney to lead the State Department, Trump's transition officials said the president believed Romney "looks the part of a top diplomat right out of 'central casting.'" A Washington Post reporter told MSNBC in December that "central casting" is "actually a phrase he uses quite a bit behind the scenes."

Trump doesn't always use the phrase as a compliment. As a presidential candidate, for example, the Republican did a Fox News interview in which he made the case for racial profiling. Referring to airport security, Trump said, "They want you to look at a woman who's in a wheelchair that's 88 years old and barely making it and, let's say, comes out of Sweden, she's supposed to be treated the same way as a guy that looks just like the guy that just got captured, who's central casting for profiling. Everybody's supposed to be treated equally. Well, it doesn't work that way."

I've heard other politicians and other presidents use the phrase, but not quite to this extent. Trump almost seems preoccupied with "central casting," as if he were the executive producer of an elaborate show.

Because in the president's mind, he is.
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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)

Trump ignores some good advice on counter-terrorism

02/28/17 11:15AM

George W. Bush and Barack Obama disagreed on many issues, but both understood that combating terrorism by shouting "radical Islam" at every available opportunity was counter-productive. This, for deeply foolish reasons, has driven many Republicans increasingly batty.

For much of the right, the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" has taken on magical qualities: to keep Americans safe, the argument goes, one must embrace the phrase and use it constantly. As conservatives have been reminded many times, this plays directly into the strategy ISIS and al Qaeda prefer.

Donald Trump doesn't care. As a Republican candidate, Trump went so far as to argue, in all seriousness, that President Obama "should resign in disgrace" unless his rhetoric matches exactly with what the right wants to hear. As a Republican president, Trump and his aides have already used "radical Islamic terrorism" repeatedly.

In an interesting twist, however, the amateur president is getting some good advice on the matter from his new National Security Advisor. Politico reported this morning:
President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, advised him in a closed-door meeting last week to stop using a phrase that was a frequent refrain during the campaign: "radical Islamic terrorism."

But the phrase will be in the president's speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, according to a senior White House aide -- even though McMaster reviewed drafts and his staff pressed the president's chief speechwriter and senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, not to use it.
This isn't surprising, but it's nevertheless disheartening. After Michael Flynn was forced to resign, Trump brought in McMaster, a decorated and respect career officer, to advise him on matters of national security. The president, however, apparently remains more committed to dumb campaign rhetoric than his NSA's expert guidance.
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Image: File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing

Education Secretary DeVos makes the wrong case for 'school choice'

02/28/17 10:39AM

After a deeply contentious confirmation process, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began her tenure at a deficit. It was therefore important that the Republican megadonor/cabinet secretary quickly take steps to appear credible and qualified.

That's not working out well. As we discussed last week, DeVos has faced a variety of protests, and like much of the Trump administration, she believes it's best to dismiss her critics as being part of a conspiracy against her, asserting without proof that the protests are "all being sponsored and very carefully planned." Soon after, the Education Secretary conceded that she's still not sure her position or her cabinet agency should exist.

This morning, DeVos made matters much worse, issuing a statement following a White House meeting with presidents and chancellors of historically black colleges and universities. She said:
"Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) ... started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn't working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution.

"HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish."
No. No, no, no. For crying out loud, no. As a Slate piece noted, DeVos issued a statement that effectively "celebrates legal segregation on the grounds that the Jim Crow education system gave black students 'more options,' as if there was a robust competition between HBCUs and white universities for their patronage."

Looking at the statement in the most charitable way possible, DeVos' ignorance is simply astounding. The founders of historically black colleges and universities didn't look at the education landscape and see a system that "wasn't working"; they saw racist institutions that comprised a system in which students of color faced overt discrimination.

The schools "worked" just fine as institutions of higher learning. Black students simply weren't allowed to attend. As the New York Times' Farhad Manjoo put it, "To paint historically black colleges as pioneers of 'school choice' is like saying the Montgomery bus boycott was a transportation startup."
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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

New Trump claims about deadly Yemen raid appear to be untrue

02/28/17 09:38AM

Following up on a story we've been following, Donald Trump continues to face important questions about the first military raid he ordered as president, which tragically turned deadly. The fact that the Republican president is avoiding responsibility for what happened -- and doesn't appear to be telling the truth about the mission itself -- makes the questions all the more serious.

As we've discussed, the plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It's been described as a mission in which "almost everything went wrong," a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission "without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."

Owens' father, Bill, has refused to meet Trump and wants an investigation into the mission. The president was asked for his reaction in a Fox News interview that aired this morning, and Trump responded by effectively saying the mission he ordered wasn't his idea.
"Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do. And they came to see me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals.... And they lost Ryan."
Trump went on to talk about his presence at the airport when Owens' remains returned. He added, in reference to the mission, "This was something that they were looking at for a long time." The president concluded that it was "a very successful mission," which produced "tremendous amounts of information."

There are a couple of key problems with Trump's assessment. First, it's genuinely bizarre to hear a Commander in Chief, reflecting on a mission he personally authorized, try to avoid responsibility for the mission he green-lit. I realize Trump's new at this, but as a rule, presidents at least try to appear accountable.
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump's new conspiracy theory: Blame Obama for public backlash

02/28/17 08:44AM

Donald Trump is clearly aware of the public backlash his presidency has sparked, and he's eager to explain the opposition away. A few weeks ago, for example, the Republican was convinced that his critics were "professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters."

I'm still not sure what the difference is between a professional anarchist and an amateur anarchist.

Last week, Trump switched gears a bit, arguing, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"

This week, the president has moved on to a new explanation: this is all Obama's fault. USA Today reported this morning:
President Trump said that former president Barack Obama is "behind" the angry protests that have erupted at Republican town halls around the nation during an interview on the Fox News morning program Fox and Friends scheduled to air Tuesday morning.

"I think he is behind it," Trump said when asked about Obama's role in the protests. "I also think it's politics. That's the way it is.

"No, I think that President Obama is behind it," Trump said, "because his people are certainly behind it and some of the leaks, possibly come from that group, some of the leaks -- which are really very serious leaks because they're very bad in terms of national security -- but I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue."
This is, in many ways, the perfect Donald J. Trump Conspiracy Theory.
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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Trump's EPA chief already at the center of multiple controversies

02/28/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's hostility towards the Environmental Protection Agency isn't exactly subtle. The president's new budget proposes slashing the EPA's funding; the White House is moving forward with plans to dramatically scale back the agency's work; and Trump's chosen director for the EPA makes no secret of his overt hostility towards the agency's purpose.

And it's against this backdrop that the president's EPA administrator has found himself at the center of several ongoing controversies. The Associated Press reported late yesterday:
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt occasionally used private email to communicate with staff while serving as Oklahoma's attorney general, despite telling Congress that he had always used a state email account for government business.

A review of Pruitt emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request showed a 2014 exchange where the Republican emailed a member of his staff using a personal Apple email account.
As a report from a Fox affiliate in Oklahoma makes clear, Pruitt's use of private email for official business is not illegal, but that's not the core problem here. Rather, the new controversy stems from the fact that Pruitt specifically told senators during his confirmation process that he never used a private email account to conduct official business.

In fact, the Republican assured senators -- in writing and in sworn committee testimony -- that he used his official government email account exclusively when conducting public affairs.

It's a curious thing to lie about. Remind me, does the political world take an interest in public officials facing email controversies?

But making matters worse is the fact that Pruitt, who's only been on the job at the EPA for 11 days, is already facing three controversies.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.27.17

02/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

Wave of anti-Semitism: "Police were trying to identify the vandals who knocked over or damaged at least 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia as the nation grappled Monday with yet another wave of anti-Semitic incidents. Meanwhile, bomb threats forced the evacuations of Jewish Community Centers in New York and in 10 other states."

* Kansas: "Adam Purinton, the 51-year-old man accused of hurling racial slurs before opening fire on two Indian men in a Kansas bar last week, appeared calm and composed during a brief court appearance Monday."

* Afghanistan: "At least 10 police officers and the wife of a police commander were killed in an ambush by Islamic State militants in the northern province of Zawzjan, a provincial official said on Saturday."

* North Korea: "Plans for back-channel talks in New York between government representatives from North Korea and former U.S. officials were scuttled Friday after the State Department withdrew visa approvals for Pyongyang's top envoy on U.S. relations, according to people familiar with the matter."

* This isn't surprising, but it is disheartening: "Reversing a position the Justice Department has maintained for years, the Trump administration's Civil Rights Division will state in federal court this week that the federal government no longer claims Texas legislators acted with discriminatory intent in 2011 when they passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation."

* House Republican leaders are going to have a problem: "Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told CNN on Monday that he will vote against a draft of the GOP Obamacare repeal bill that was leaked last week."
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Image: President Trump Departs White House To Honor NAVY Seal Killed in Yemen Raid

Questions surrounding Trump's Yemen raid linger

02/27/17 12:43PM

It's been about a month since Donald Trump ordered his first military raid as president, which tragically turned deadly. As we've discussed, the plan was to acquire intelligence and equipment at an al Qaeda camp in Yemen, but the mission quickly went sideways: Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens, a member of SEAL Team 6, was killed; several other Americans were injured; and by the end of the operation, multiple civilians, including children, were dead.

It's been described as a mission in which "almost everything went wrong," a dynamic made more complicated by U.S. military officials suggesting to Reuters that Trump approved the mission "without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations."

Owens' father, Bill, told the Miami Herald that he still has questions about what happened and hopes an inquiry will produce answers.
Trump administration officials have called the mission a success, saying they had seized important intelligence information. They have also criticized detractors of the raid, saying those who question its success dishonor Ryan Owens' memory. His father, however, believes just the opposite.

"Don't hide behind my son's death to prevent an investigation," said the elder Owens, pointing to Trump's sharp words directed at the mission's critics, including Sen. John McCain.

"I want an investigation.... The government owes my son an investigation," he said.
Bill Owens, himself a veteran, was on hand when his son's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base. Told before the plane landed that the president was en route, he told the chaplain, "I'm sorry, I don't want to see him." He went on to tell the Miami Herald, "I told them I didn't want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn't let me talk to him."

The White House's rhetoric about what transpired in Yemen, at least thus far, has been discouraging. Team Trump's efforts to blame the raid on the Obama administration, for example, has unraveled under scrutiny. Making matters worse, White House officials, including Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, have made multiple efforts to squelch questions about the mission, using Owens' memory in a way the fallen soldier's father doesn't appreciate.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump: 'Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated'

02/27/17 12:02PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seemed to think health care policy was easy. In remarks this morning at a White House event for governors, the Republican president indicated a different perspective.
"We're going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and get states the flexibility that they need to make the end result really, really good for them. Very complicated issue.... I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."
Everyone knew that health care policy could be complicated. Everyone. It was complicated when Democrats spent months shaping the Affordable Care Act. It was complicated when Republicans spent seven years working behind closed doors on their alternative to the ACA. It was complicated for generations as policymakers in both parties launched various efforts to extend health security to Americans for the better part of a century.

To be surprised by its complexity is to be alarmingly ignorant of the debate that's been ongoing for decades. It appears the only person in America who assumed health-care policy is simple is the one Americans elected president.

But that's not all Trump said this morning. The Republican, apparently aware that polls show the ACA's support reaching an all-time high, added, "People hate [Obamacare] but now they see that the end is coming and they say, 'Oh maybe we love it.' There's nothing to love."

I listened to this comment a few times, and I'm still not entirely sure what it means. Americans love the policy they hate? There's nothing to love about your family having health insurance?

Trump went on to say that he intends to tackle health care before tax cuts -- GOP leaders have apparently convinced the president of this, though it's not entirely true -- despite the fact that he "wishes" he could reverse the priorities.

But aside from the usual palaver -- the president doesn't care for the ACA, for reasons he generally fails to explain -- perhaps the most interesting comment was Trump's apparent boast about his own White House health care plan.

"We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think, very good," he added this morning.

If Trump knows what he's saying -- an open question, to be sure -- he may have made a little news with the comment.
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