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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

White House drops the pretense on the politics of Trump's Muslim ban

03/01/17 12:56PM

In his address to Congress last night, Donald Trump declared, "We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside of America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep those out who will do us harm."

The president was, of course, referring to his controversial Muslim ban, which has already failed in the courts, and which the administration intends to replace. Ahead of Trump's speech, White House officials indicated that the new-and-improved policy would be unveiled today.

The unveiling has apparently been delayed. The Wall Street Journal reported today that the revised executive order will be signed "soon."
Mr. Trump had been scheduled to sign the new order Wednesday, multiple officials said, but the event was postponed. It was unclear why the timing was changed but one person familiar with the planning said the White House was concerned about competing with messages from Tuesday night's address to Congress.
A senior administration official told CNN said the decision to delay the new policy came late last night in response to positive reviews to Trump's speech. The report added:
Signing the executive order Wednesday, as originally indicated by the White House, would have undercut the favorable coverage. The official didn't deny the positive reception was part of the administration's calculus in pushing back the travel ban announcement.

"We want the (executive order) to have its own 'moment,'" the official said.
Politically, all of this sounds quite rational. Pundits are gushing over Trump exceeding low expectations, and releasing the new ban today would shift the coverage in a contentious way. It's Public Relations 101: if you like how the conversation is going, don't change the subject.

But let's take a moment to acknowledge the brazenness with which the White House is playing politics with national security.
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A voter fills out her ballot at a polling center on April 26, 2016 in Stamford, Conn. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Special elections continue to deliver good news for Democrats

03/01/17 12:00PM

While Donald Trump had the political world's attention last night, election results were coming in about 400 miles away that the president probably didn't like. The Connecticut Mirror reported on the results of three legislative special elections in the Nutmeg State, which at first glance may appear anodyne, but there's a context to this that matters.
In three special elections Tuesday night, Connecticut voters did nothing to shift the balance of power in the evenly split Senate or closely divided House, despite furious efforts to make one race a referendum on President Trump and another on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. [...]

With the ability of Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break tie votes in the 18-18 Senate, Connecticut remains one of just a half-dozen states with a Democratic governor and state legislature.
Connecticut was home to three special elections yesterday: a state Senate race in a "blue" district; a state Senate race in a "red" district; and a state House race in a different "blue" district. In the upper chamber, control of the state Senate was on the line -- and if Republicans have taken control in a Democratic state a month into the Trump era, it would've been an embarrassing setback for the party.

That didn't happen: Dems won where they were supposed to win, and the Republican won where he was supposed to win. But taking a closer look at the results, note that the GOP state senator, in Connecticut's most Republican-friendly district, won a modest, 10-point victory. The Connecticut Mirror report added that Democrats yesterday saw their strongest performance in this district "in decades."

This came in response to Democratic efforts to nationalize the local race. Michael Mandell, the executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party, was quoted saying, "Coming from a 35-point defeat in November, this is a clear signal that the people of that district came out with energy to work hard and organize and show they would not be in support of President Trump's agenda."

There's a lot of this going around.
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

The most outrageous of Donald Trump's bogus employment statistics

03/01/17 10:50AM

In his address to Congress last night, Donald Trump said all kinds of things that were ridiculously untrue, but for me, this one rankled the most.
"Tonight, as I outlined the next steps we must take as a country, we must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited. 94 million Americans are out of the labor force. Over 43 million people are now living in poverty."
This wasn't unexpected -- the president is desperate for Americans to believe he inherited a mess, reality be damned -- but it is breathtakingly misleading. In September, for example, we saw the U.S. poverty rate drop at the fastest rate in nearly a half-century. The facts, in other words, are pretty much the opposite of the picture Trump tried to paint in his remarks.

But it's the "94 million Americans are out of the labor force" line that gets to me. He's used this line before; he knows it's brazenly deceptive; and he keeps saying it anyway.

The truth, whether Trump likes it or not, is that the "94 million" statistic includes retirees, students, the disabled, and stay-at-home parents. He uses the figure to make it appear that the nation is facing some kind of jobs crisis, but to think there are 94 million Americans eagerly trying to find a job is plainly ridiculous.

And why does this matter, aside from the fact that the president keeps trying to mislead the public? A couple of reasons stand out.
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Desks in a classroom. (Photo by Bob O'Connor/Gallery Stock)

Ignoring the evidence, Trump pushes school voucher scheme

03/01/17 10:17AM

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ran into a little trouble yesterday, inadvertently celebrating an era of racially segregated higher education, all in the hopes of advancing her goal of "school choice" -- a Republican euphemism to describe a system of school vouchers.

In light of the controversy, I thought Donald Trump might want to steer clear of the issue in his address to Congress last night, but the president plowed forward anyway. From the transcript:
"I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.

"Joining us tonight in the gallery is a remarkable woman, Denisha Merriweather. As a young girl, Denisha struggled in school and failed third grade twice. But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, great learning center, with the help of a tax credit, and a scholarship program. Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year, she will get her master's degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha."
While I'm delighted things have gone well for Denisha Merriweather, the fact remains that one person does not a successful policy make.

Campaigns to privatize America's system of public education remain controversial for all sorts of reasons -- not the least of which is the idea of asking taxpayers to finance religious instruction -- but what Trump chooses to ignore is the fact that "school choice" doesn't work.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's false start on immigration leaves everyone guessing

03/01/17 09:35AM

Ahead of his speech to a joint session of Congress last night, Donald Trump's to-do list was already ambitious to an unrealistic degree. The president expects swift action on health care, taxes, and infrastructure, among other priorities. Given divisions that already exist on Capitol Hill -- not just between the parties but also within the GOP itself -- it's a tall order.

Which is why it came as quite a surprise yesterday afternoon when Trump spoke to reporters off-camera and talked up the idea of adding immigration reform to his agenda. NBC News' Benjy Sarlin reported:
The president surprised many earlier in the day when he told reporters in a pre-speech meeting that he was open to providing legal status to undocumented immigrants who haven't committed serious crimes. Those individuals would not need to leave the country first. "The time is right for an immigration bill if both sides are willing to compromise," Trump told reporters.

It was an out-of-left-field move, but White House sources indicated to NBC News that the remarks were not the kind of idle comments by Trump that have roiled news cycles in the past.
This jolted much of the political world, in large part because it represented a dramatic reversal for Trump, but also because it suggested the president's speech would include ideas about immigration that no one would've predicted.

And then Trump actually spoke, and when addressing the issue, he sounded like ... Trump.
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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

Trump puts deadly Yemen mission back in the spotlight

03/01/17 08:56AM

Donald Trump's congressional address featured a deeply emotional moment, when the president honored the wife of a fallen American serviceman killed in Yemen a month earlier. The story behind the story, however, shouldn't be overlooked.
While speaking about the need to increase funding for veterans during his joint address to Congress, Trump took a moment to pay tribute to his guest, the wife of slain Navy SEAL William Owens. Owens was killed in a raid on Yemen on Jan. 25, five days into the new administration.

"We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William 'Ryan' Owens," Trump said. "Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero -- battling against terrorism and securing our nation." Trump said Owens' "legacy is etched into eternity."
The president went on to say that he'd spoken to Defense Secretary James Mattis "who reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.'"

There's no denying the emotional weight of the moment. It was powerful and basic human decency demands that our hearts go out to Owens' loved ones. I understand why so many pundits were eager to seize on this portion of the president's remarks as the most important of the evening.

There is, however, more to this story. If this were simply a matter of an American serviceman making the ultimate sacrifice on a battlefield, and then having his memory and family honored during a national address, it would be a fairly straightforward story.

But it's not.
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Image: Donald Trump Delivers Address To Joint Session Of Congress

Reality continues to dog Trump during his first address to Congress

03/01/17 08:00AM

Expectations can shape perceptions in unhelpful ways. I remember ahead of the first presidential debate last fall, the consensus throughout much of the political world was that Donald Trump practically couldn't lose: all he had to do was show up, remain clothed, repeat banal and scripted talking points, avoid incidents of physical violence, and wait for pundits to say he "exceeded expectations" and appeared "more presidential than usual."

As it turned out, the Republican failed to clear this low bar, and he ended up looking ridiculous at the debate anyway, but all of this came to mind again last night ahead of Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress. Given the president's propensity for bizarre behavior and offensive antics, the expectations couldn't have been much lower.

And with that in mind, Trump managed to stick to the bland script put in front of him and resist his most self-destructive impulses. By the time the dust settled, this alone was enough to dazzle much of the political world, which has come to expect -- and often receive -- worse than it expected.

But if we evaluate Trump as a president, instead of comparing him to himself, his national address offered more of a sugar high than political sustenance.

The root of Trump's troubles continues to be his disconnect with reality. As an electoral matter, he boasted about the "earthquake" that elevated him to the White House, failing to appreciate the fact that he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, and he entered the chamber last night as the least popular new president since the dawn of American polling.

As a matter of accuracy, Trump lied, repeatedly, about matters large and small. As a rhetorical matter, it was hard not to laugh at assertions such as, "The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us." This from the man who obsesses over crowd sizes and "Saturday Night Live" skits that hurt his feelings.

And as a substantive matter, the Republican president seemed confused about what last night's address was even supposed to accomplish.
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