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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.18.17

08/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Barcelona: "Thousands of Spaniards set out on a pilgrimage of peace Friday along the same street that was a scene of horror less than 24 hours before."

* Related news: "Spain was seized Friday with the realization that it had incubated a large-scale terrorist plot, as authorities across Europe mounted a manhunt following the deadliest attacks to strike the country in more than a decade: two vehicle assaults in Barcelona and a Catalan coastal town."

* Susan Bro: "The mother of the woman who was run down by a car during violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., said Friday that after seeing President Trump's comments equating white supremacist protesters with those demonstrating against them, she does not wish to speak with him."

* Not surprisingly, they sent a great letter: "All seventeen members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse Friday, citing President Donald Trump's comments ascribing blame to 'both sides' for violence in Charlottesville."

* Mar-a-Lago: "The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Susan G. Komen on Friday joined a growing exodus of organizations canceling plans to hold fundraising events at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, deepening the financial impact to President Trump's private business amid furor over his comments on Charlottesville."

* Related news: "Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Clinic and American Cancer Society announced they were leaving the president's Palm Beach estate."

* Those rumors were wrong: "Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he has no plans to become Donald Trump's Energy Secretary, an idea that was floated as a way to let the state's Republican governor name a successor and advance the president's stalled agenda in Congress."

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Donald Trump keeps parting ways with 'the best people'

08/18/17 04:48PM

Remember when Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, vowed to surround himself "only with the best and most serious people" if elected? It was right around the time he promised via Facebook to "hire the best people."

Whether he's kept that promise or not is a subjective matter, but given the volatility in the White House, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump doesn't believe he's hired "the best people" -- or he wouldn't have gotten rid of so many of his top aides.

Revisiting a recent item, Trump World has been in office for almost seven months, and we've seen a startling number of departures among leading officials, including:

- Reince Priebus, chief of staff

- Katie Walsh, deputy chief of staff

- Michael Flynn, national security advisor

- Sean Spicer, press secretary

- Michael Short. assistant Press Secretary

- Mike Dubke, the first communications director

- Anthony Scaramucci, the second communications director

- K.T. McFarland, deputy national security advisor

- Monica Crowley, advisor to the National Security Council

- Ezra Cohen-Watnick, director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council

- Tera Dahl, deputy chief of staff at the National Security Council

- Rich Higgins, director of strategic planning at the National Security Council

- Josh Pitcock, chief of staff to the vice president

- Sally Yates, acting U.S. attorney general

- James Comey, director of the FBI

- Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics

- Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist

- Dozens of U.S. Attorneys

This does not include the various shake-ups we've seen on Trump's outside legal team.

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, exits stage right

08/18/17 02:18PM

At his now-infamous press conference this week, Donald Trump was asked if he still has confidence in Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist. The president's perspective seemed pretty clear.

"Well, we'll see," Trump said. "Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person.... But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon."

Keep this in mind when reading today's big news out of the White House.

Steve Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist, is leaving President Donald Trump's administration, two senior White House officials told NBC News.

Bannon's departure brings to a close his rocky tenure in the West Wing in which he clashed with many of Trump's other top aides, including the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For Trump's progressive critics, there's reason to see this as a positive development. Trump's campaign adopted a more radical and nationalistic posture when Bannon joined the team, and his role as the president's chief strategist meant Bannon's brand of extremism had a high-profile advocate in the West Wing.

And if Bannon's ouster was motivated by Trump's desire to be a more mainstream president, that'd be even more encouraging. But that's almost certainly not what today's news is all about.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

The worst week of Trump's presidency keeps happening

08/18/17 01:01PM

It's been nearly 20 years since its release, but there's a scene early on in "Office Space" that keeps coming to mind. Peter Gibbons, feeling depressed, goes to see a therapist and explains his state of mind.

"So I was sitting in my cubicle today," our protagonist says, "and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."

The intrigued therapist asks, "What about today? Is today the worst day of your life?"

Without hesitation, Peter responds, "Yeah," to which the therapist replies, "Wow, that's messed up."

I was reminded of the scene this morning reading NBC News' First Read, which labeled this the worst week of Donald Trump's presidency.

For a presidency that's contained some ups and many more downs, this has been President Trump's worst week in office -- highlighted by his controversial comments about Saturday's violence in Charlottesville.

The analysis strikes me as entirely fair; this week has been truly abysmal. Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, for example, has been a debacle for the ages. As the backlash to his defense of racists continued, the president also feuded with his ostensible Republican allies, and saw his corporate allies flee White House councils, deeming Trump too toxic to be around.

An ABC News piece this morning added, "This week has arguably been the worst in his presidency and has left members of his party unsure how to pick up the pieces."

Which brings us back to "Office Space" and Peter Gibbons.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.18.17

08/18/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump's approval rating at 39%, which is awful, but higher than some other recent polling for this president. He's buoyed by support among Republicans, which now stands at 81%.

* On a related note, Julius Krein, a prominent Trump cheerleader during the campaign, has a new piece in the New York Times explaining why he's giving up: "It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can't stand by this disgraceful administration any longer."

* With only a few months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, Confederate monuments have become a key dividing line. Ralph Northam (D), a native Virginian, wants the statues moved into museums; Ed Gillespie (R), a transplant from New Jersey, wants to maintain the status quo.

* Efforts to trim Alabama's voter rolls have become so problematic that Rep. Mo Brooks (R) discovered he was listed as "inactive" when he went to vote for himself in this week's Senate primary.

* In the wake of events in Charlottesville, the Democratic National Committee hopes to take advantage of progressive activists' heightened passions and direct it into electoral politics. "In addition to calling on Republicans to denounce Trump, the next step is getting people to commit to vote," DNC chief executive Jess O'Connell told the Washington Post. "This is a galvanizing moment."

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The awkward timing of the RNC's African-American outreach efforts

08/18/17 11:21AM

When Reince Priebus was the chair of the Republican National Committee, he'd occasionally make an effort to reach out to African-American voters. Especially after the 2012 election, Priebus was convinced his party faced demographic challenges that needed to be addressed, and so we'd see the RNC chair make visits to inner-city churches, for example, urging communities of color to keep an open mind.

It was a tough sell  Not only did Priebus have to contend with Republicans' recent history of exploiting racial animus for partisan gain, but even as the RNC conducted the outreach, Republican officials were waging a political war against the first African-American president and taking steps that directly hurt black voters, such as approving new voter-suppression measures.

But as difficult as this was for Reince Priebus, the RNC's job is even harder know. The Detroit News had this report earlier in the week:

The timing couldn't have been more awkward.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, came to Detroit on Monday to try to reach out and attract African-American voters to the GOP.

But her visit came 48 hours after a violent and deadly weekend of rioting in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

At that point, Donald Trump -- best known for using a racist conspiracy theory to rise to prominence in Republican politics -- had already condemned "both sides" for violence in Charlottesville. But the day after Ronna Romney McDaniel's outreach effort in Detroit, the president publicly defended the "very fine people" among the racist activists.

And all of this was before Trump started expressing his affection for Confederate monuments -- the "beauty" of which, he said, is irreplaceable.

I don't imagine this make the RNC's outreach efforts any easier.

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Image: Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington

Neil Gorsuch to headline an event at Trump-owned hotel

08/18/17 10:40AM

Pretty much everything about Neil Gorsuch's role on the Supreme Court is a matter of some controversy. The fact that Senate Republicans effectively stole a seat and held it for him, for example, remains outrageous.

Now that he's on the bench, Gorsuch has raised eyebrows as the far-right stalwart that GOP partisans hoped he'd be. An NPR analysis last month found that the high court's newest justice has taken the conservative position on literally 100% of the cases on which he's ruled.

But there's also his decisions away from the bench that are starting to draw scrutiny. The New York Times reports:

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump's travel ban.

Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University, questioned the justice's decision to speak at the hotel, which is at issue in lower-court cases challenging the constitutionality of payments to Mr. Trump's companies.

"At this highly divisive political moment, especially as many Trump decisions are likely soon to reach the court's docket, one just days later, a healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur," he said.

The Times spoke to a variety of experts in legal ethics, and in fairness, it's worth emphasizing that they were not unanimous in their concerns.

That said, the assessment from Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode rings true: "It's a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending. It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest."

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Some U.S. allies trust Putin more than Trump

08/18/17 10:02AM

The Pew Research Center published a new report this week on international attitudes towards Vladimir Putin, and not surprisingly, the Russian president is not a popular global figure. The report explained, "Around the world, few people trust Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. A global median of roughly one-in-four (26%) say they have confidence in the Russian leader."

This is certainly in line with expectations. For much of the world, Putin is an autocratic thug, unworthy of respect. This, however, was the part of the new Pew report that was startling:

Although confidence in Putin's handling of foreign affairs is generally low, in many countries he is more trusted than American President Donald Trump.

And that doesn't just refer to traditional Russian allies; it actually refers to traditional American allies.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump keeps finding new ways to blindside his own aides

08/18/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump didn't explicitly endorse a sitting Republican senator's primary rival yesterday, but he came awfully close. The president, apropos of nothing, said via Twitter, "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!"

Trump has already been at odds with Senate Republican leaders, and this won't help, but what I found amusing were the White House aides who told Politico how surprised they were.

Trump aides were taken aback by the tweet. Many of them are deeply skeptical about Ward's ability to defeat Flake. In 2016, Ward received 39 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful effort to unseat GOP Sen. John McCain. More recently, she came under fire for saying that McCain should step down from the Senate "as quickly as possible" after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. [...]

It is not the first time that Trump has caught his team off guard on political matters. Last week, the president announced on Twitter that he was endorsing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange in an upcoming special election, a move that directly contradicted the advice of aides who urged him to stay out of the fight, which has pitted establishment Republicans against the conservative base.

As an electoral matter, the White House aides appear to have given Trump good advice: Ward is almost certainly a weaker statewide candidate than Flake, which makes the president's praise strategically unwise, and the president probably would've been better off staying out of Alabama's Senate primary.

But the entertaining part of this is the ongoing White-House-aides-were-taken-aback series, which appears to have an endless number of episodes.

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Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy

Short on friends, Trump's White House councils start to unravel

08/18/17 08:41AM

Facing an exodus of private-sector leaders who no longer wanted to be associated with him, Donald Trump this week disbanded his American Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, both of which featured some of the nation's most prominent CEOs. It was the latest embarrassment for a president who's increasingly isolated, even from ostensible allies from corporate America.

Yesterday, the White House pulled the plug on yet another panel.

President Donald Trump has scrapped plans for an infrastructure advisory council after two similar panels dissolved this week amid backlash to Trump from corporate America.

"The President's Advisory Council on Infrastructure, which was still being formed, will not move forward," a White House official told CNBC.

Unlike the other panels that were disbanded, the infrastructure advisory council didn't really exist in any meaningful sense. While a variety of high-profile private-sector leaders were already serving on the American Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, the infrastructure council had no roster of CEOs -- it was instead run by a couple of Manhattan real estate developers, Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, whom Trump tapped in January.

The advisory panel has never met and had no firm plans in place to do any real work.

But its demise is nevertheless yet another embarrassment for the White House. A New York Times reporter added late yesterday that the infrastructure panel was disbanded because Trump was worried about its members quitting. America's Businessman in Chief has discovered he's a little too toxic for other business leaders.

Wait, it gets worse.

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