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E.g., 4/25/2017
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Public, GOP not on the same page on health care, Russia scandal

04/25/17 10:40AM

In recent months, Republicans have worked from the assumption that the American electorate wants GOP policymakers to take a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act. After all, the thinking goes, Republicans made their contempt for "Obamacare" a key aspect of their 2016 platform, and voters rewarded the party with great power.

But the GOP is clearly misreading its mandate. Quinnipiac's latest national poll asked respondents, "Do you think that Republicans in Congress should try to repeal and replace Obamacare again, or do you think they should move on to other issues?" The results weren't close: only 36% of the public wants GOP lawmakers to keep trying, while 60% want Republicans to move on.

Other polling is pointing in the same direction.
As President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress gear up for another attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, an ABC News/Washington Post poll finds broad public preference for keeping and improving it -- including high levels of support for some of its key components.

Just 37 percent of Americans in the national survey say Obamacare should be repealed and replaced; 61 percent say it should be kept and fixed instead. Even more broadly, the public by 79-13 percent says Trump should seek to make the current law work as well as possible, not to make it fail as soon as possible, a strategy he's suggested.
Making matters slightly worse for Republicans, 62% of Americans support nationwide minimum insurance coverage standards (which the GOP is prepared to eliminate), and 70% support mandatory protections for those with pre-existing conditions (which the GOP is also prepared to scrap).

The trend line has to be even more discouraging for the right. As recently as January, this same poll found that 46% of American supporting repealing the ACA, while 47% were against the idea. After listening to the Republicans' pitch and seeing their alternative, it's 37% to 61% -- a striking shift in a short amount of time.

As the White House renews its pressure on congressional Republicans to advance the party's woefully unpopular reform package, polling like this is likely to weigh heavily on GOP lawmakers who are on the fence. With a rough midterm cycle on tap for next year, how eager are they to do the exact opposite of what most of the American mainstream wants on an issue of critical significance?
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Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump's proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Ivanka Trump's influence reaches unprecedented heights

04/25/17 10:14AM

The Women20 summit got underway this morning in Berlin, and the guest list featured some extraordinarily accomplished individuals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting the event, appearing alongside speakers such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, among others.

It was therefore a bit jarring to see Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump's 35-year-old daughter, on hand for the event.
Ivanka Trump was in Germany on Tuesday on her first international trip as a member of her father's presidential team. In doing so, the billionaire's daughter stepped into a land that prides itself on meritocracy. [...]

While Ivanka Trump was in Berlin to promote women, the president himself was front and center during a panel discussion at the summit. The first daughter defended Donald Trump after a handful of attendees booed and groaned when she mentioned his name, saying he had encouraged "thousands" of women who worked for him.
It's worth noting that Merkel invited Ivanka Trump to participate in today's gathering.

There's been a fair amount of scrutiny in recent months over Donald Trump giving his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an almost comically expansive policy portfolio, despite Kushner having no experience in government or public service. But Ivanka Trump's role in her father's administration is quickly reaching  comparable levels, despite her own lack of relevant background.

Yesterday, for example, Ivanka Trump had a piece in the Financial Times on women in the developing world -- an important topic the president's daughter has no background in. A few hours later, Donald Trump was in the Oval Office, speaking to the International Space Station, with Ivanka Trump at his side.

She's the first presidential daughter (or son) to have an office in the West Wing. She's one of the few presidential advisers to have her own chief of staff. She's offering the president guidance on matters of national security. She's meeting with world leaders -- while the business she still owns expands its opportunities in those leaders' countries.
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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

The problem with Trump's massive corporate tax cut

04/25/17 09:20AM

With Donald Trump's presidency nearing its 100th day, the White House is, by all appearances, feeling a little antsy about its lack of accomplishments. It's one of the reasons Team Trump is scrambling this week to fund the government without a shutdown, push Republicans on health care, and unveil some vague ideas about tax policy.

We'll reportedly see some kind of tax blueprint tomorrow, but in the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports on one of the president's top new priorities.
President Donald Trump has ordered White House aides to draft a tax plan that slashes the corporate tax rate to 15%, even if that means a loss of revenue, according to people familiar with the directive.

During a meeting in the Oval Office last week, Mr. Trump told staff he wants a massive tax cut to sell to the American public, these people said. He told aides it was less important to him that such a plan could add to the federal budget deficit, though that might make it difficult to sell to GOP lawmakers who are wary of such a large tax cut.
It's worth pausing to note that the idea of congressional Republicans prioritizing the deficit over tax cuts is very hard to believe. GOP interest in balanced budgets has long been a ridiculous sham, used primarily as an excuse to reject popular Democratic priorities.

But even putting that aside, the White House's proposed corporate tax cut -- lowering the rate from 35% to 15% -- is worth paying close attention to. In fact, I heard from a Republican reader last night who made two points that we're likely to hear quite a bit: (1) the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, so in the name of competitiveness, a reduction is necessary; and (2) President Obama proposed cutting the corporate tax rate, too, so there's no reason to see this as a purely partisan endeavor.

Do these points have merit? Not exactly.
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State Department retreats after promoting Trump's for-profit business

04/25/17 08:40AM

Either the State Department didn't realize it'd be unethical to use official resources to promote one of Donald Trump's for-profit business, or the State Department did realize it and the promotion happened anyway.
A glowing description of President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago -- calling it the "winter White House" -- was posted on State Department websites, bringing criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats. [...]

The text appeared on the website for Share America, a State Department platform intended to "spark discussion and debate on important topics;" the website for the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom and the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Albania.
This was, for all intents and purposes, an advertisement endorsed by the U.S. government for one of the president's business ventures. It touted, for example, the Florida resort's "style and taste."

Norm Eisen, the chief ethics lawyer in the Obama White House, highlighted the obvious problem: there are ethics rules in place to prevent the use of government resources to promote private businesses, especially those owned by the president. The State Department promoting Mar-a-Lago is at least as problematic as Kellyanne Conway encouraging Fox News viewers to purchase Ivanka Trump-branded merchandise, if not more so.

The State Department eventually removed the online content, saying in a statement, "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post."

Oh, I see. The Trump administration didn't ignore conflict-of-interest rules; we just "misperceived" the administration's misstep.
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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

To prevent a shutdown, Trump begins an embarrassing surrender

04/25/17 08:00AM

Just last week, Donald Trump's White House tried to play a little hardball. With a government-shutdown deadline looming, Team Trump sent word to Capitol Hill that the president expects any spending bill to include taxpayer money for a border wall. Since there was no chance Democrats would agree to such a demand, it meant one of two things would happen.

Either Trump would shut the federal government down on Friday at midnight, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration, or Trump would surrender, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration.

The president has apparently chosen the latter.
President Donald Trump has indicated that he's willing to back away from his demand that a government funding bill include money to build a wall on the Southern border, a move that could help clear the way for Congress to avoid a shutdown.

A senior administration official tells NBC News that the president is open to obtaining funding for the border wall in the regular appropriations process for 2018 later this year instead of insisting it be included as part of the large spending bill to keep the government's lights on past this week.
According to a Washington Post report, the president personally hosted a private meeting with some conservative media figures yesterday afternoon and told them he's prepared to delay funding for the wall "until September."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters yesterday. "The president is working hard to keep the government open." And by "working hard," Mnuchin apparently meant, "crawling away from the corner he backed himself into without any plan for success."
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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.24.17

04/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A stunning death toll in Afghanistan: "Afghanistan's defense minister and army chief stepped down Monday amid growing outrage over the deaths of more than 100 soldiers in one of the deadliest Taliban attacks of the 16-year war."

* Related news: "U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Afghanistan for a surprise visit on Monday, just hours after the resignations of his Afghan counterpart and the army chief of staff following the deadliest attack by insurgents on government forces since the war began in 2001."

* Syria: "The Trump administration on Monday said it was imposing sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian government agency that produces chemical weapons and ballistic missiles, blacklisting them from travel and financial transactions in the wake of a sarin attack on civilians this month."

* It's tough to blame them: "With the future of Europe in French hands, the continent's leaders have cast aside their tradition of staying out of each other's elections and weighed in with some unsolicited advice: Pick the candidate who wants to make the European Union stronger, not the one who wants to blow it up."

* He was careful not to mention his successor: "Former President Barack Obama said Monday that his post-White House work will focus heavily on encouraging young people to become politically involved during his first public event since leaving office."

* Filling the swamp: "Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to President Trump and Vice President Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration, a USA TODAY analysis shows."

* I neglected to mention this on Friday: "The Treasury Department said Friday that it would not issue any waivers to U.S. companies -- including ExxonMobil -- seeking to do oil and gas drilling with Russia in violation of current economic sanctions."
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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)

The pipeline between cable news and the Trump White House

04/24/17 04:51PM

A couple of months ago, Fox News' Heather Nauert announced her support for Ivanka Trump's branded merchandise. Between that kind of endorsement, and Nauert's role on the "Fox and Friends" program the president likes to promote, I suppose it shouldn't come as too big a surprise that Nauert has now joined Donald Trump's administration as the official spokesperson for the State Department.
"Heather's media experience and long interest in international affairs will be invaluable as she conveys the Administration's foreign policy priorities," the department said in a statement.

The "top-rated morning cable news show" Nauert anchored, as glowingly described by the State Department, is one of President Donald Trump's favorites.
In late November, Rachel had a segment about all of the people who were up for positions on Trump's team because the Republican had seen them on TV. A month later, the list was even longer, and now it's longer still. (Note, in February, Fox News' Jonathan Wachtel was named the spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.)

The Washington Post joked a few months ago, "The Trump revolution won't just be televised. It will be led by television talking heads." It's even truer now than it was then.

What's especially notable is the scope and scale of this dynamic. It's amazing that Team Trump hires those whose on-screen appearances impress the White House, but this goes well beyond who gets hired.
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Image: Donald Trump, Jens Stoltenberg

Donald Trump's ignorance keeps getting in the way

04/24/17 12:54PM

There's much to discuss in Donald Trump's stunning interview with the Associated Press, but it's worth pausing to pay special attention to the president's explanation for his criticism of NATO.
"They had a quote from me that NATO's 'obsolete.' But they didn't say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government. People don't go around asking about NATO if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO's obsolete -- not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO -- NATO is obsolete, and I said, 'And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism.'"
For now, let's put aside NATO's counter-terrorism work and instead focus on Trump's welcome concession: when he first started publicly discussing his perspective on the alliance, he didn't "know much" about NATO. After all, his focus was on New York real estate, not international affairs.

He did, however, pontificate anyway, criticizing NATO while seeking the nation's highest office.

We could, of course, focus on why a presidential candidate didn't "know much about NATO" in 2016 -- it seems like the sort of thing a would-be national leader would have firm opinions on before launching a White House bid -- but I'm just as intrigued by the idea that Trump was comfortable publicly criticizing one of the key pillars of global security in recent generations without actually knowing what he's talking about.

It's an epistemological mess: Trump is asked a question, then he answers it, then he learns something about the subject matter. At the risk of sounding picky, that's not the order in which this is supposed to go.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.24.17

04/24/17 12:00PM

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

* In France's closely watched presidential election, centrist Emmanuel Macron is headed for a runoff he's likely to win against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. It's the first time in France's history that the major parties' candidates will not be in contention for the presidency.

* Following a brief hullabaloo last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued a statement on Friday saying he believes it's "imperative" that Jon Ossoff win Georgia's congressional special election. "I applaud the energy and grassroots activism in Jon's campaign," Sanders said. "His victory would be an important step forward in fighting back against Trump's reactionary agenda."

* In Montana's congressional special election, Greg Gianforte (R) is basing much of his message on the idea that "federal bureaucrats" may soon try to take people's guns if his Democratic opponent has his way.

* The new plan Republican leaders are pushing on their members is to de-nationalize next year's congressional elections. "Every member should be focusing on local issues -- it's not a cliche," Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, told National Journal.

* On a related note, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was asked yesterday whether he'd welcome campaign help in his district from Donald Trump. Issa was noticeably reluctant to answer the question.

* And speaking of California, is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) running for re-election next year? She hasn't officially announced her intentions, and the incumbent said last week she's "waiting for some family health issues to be resolved" before announcing her election plans.
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Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., leaves a closed-door GOP caucus luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 14, 2014.

Senate investigation into Russia scandal faces GOP resistance

04/24/17 11:30AM

Nearly a month ago, the top two officials on the Senate Intelligence Committee held a press conference to discuss their probe of the Russia scandal, and one could almost hear the sigh of relief from the political world. Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Va.), acting very much like grown-ups, said their investigation was on track, and operating in a cooperative, methodical, and bipartisan way.

The point wasn't subtle: while Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) bizarre antics had derailed the House Intelligence Committee's efforts, Burr and Warner wanted to reassure the public that we could have confidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee's work.

So much for that idea. Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reports today that the Senate's probe has not only failed to make progress, but it's also "increasingly stymied by partisan divisions that are jeopardizing the future of the inquiry."
The committee has yet to issue a single subpoena for documents or interview any key witnesses who are central to the probe, the sources said. It also hasn't requested potentially crucial evidence -- such as the emails, memos and phone records of the Trump campaign -- in part because the panel's chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has so far failed to respond to requests from the panel's Democrats to sign letters doing so, the sources said.

"The wheels seem to be turning more slowly than the importance of the inquiry would indicate," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Watergate prosecutor, one of a number of veteran Washington investigators who have begun to question the lack of movement in the probe.
Democrats on the panel are "privately complaining" that the investigation is underfunded and understaffed, and it appears that those concerns are becoming less private.

Making matters worse, Burr has strictly limited committee members' access to materials. The North Carolina Republican has also not yet signed letters to key members of Team Trump, seeking documents related to the probe.
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The 'Never-Mind-What-Trump-Said' foreign policy endures

04/24/17 11:00AM

In his second week as president, Donald Trump spoke to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull via phone, and the call should've been one of the easier moments of the Republican's initial attempts at international diplomacy.

It was, however, a disaster. Trump, when he wasn't bragging to the Australian about his imagined electoral-college landslide, thought it'd be a good idea to lash out at Turnbull over a refugee agreement. The call was supposed to last an hour, but Trump abruptly hung up after 25 minutes.

The American president soon turned to Twitter to declare, "Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!"

In reality, Trump didn't really know anything about the agreement, and as the New York Times reported over the weekend, "this dumb deal" has now been reaffirmed by Trump's administration.
Vice President Mike Pence assured Australian leaders on Saturday that the United States was committed to the countries' "strong and historic alliance," and he reaffirmed that the Trump administration would honor a refugee deal that President Trump disparaged in a January phone call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. [...]

On Saturday, Mr. Pence confirmed that the deal was still on. "Whatever reservations the president may have about the details of agreements reached by the prior administration, we'll honor this agreement, out of respect for that enormously important alliance," he said at a joint news conference with Mr. Turnbull in Sydney.
It's quite sad to see this play out in real time. Trump, confused and intemperate, insulted one of the United States' closest allies for no reason, and suggested he might tear up a bilateral agreement. It fell to Mike Pence to travel abroad and quietly tell our allies not to pay too much attention to the nonsense coming from the Oval Office.

Two months ago, I described the 'Never-Mind-What-Trump-Said' foreign policy, and it's discouraging to note the degree to which it endures.
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