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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Trump World's defense of Jared Kushner is literally unbelievable

05/30/17 08:40AM

It's not surprising that prominent voices from the Trump administration would try to defend the latest revelations surrounding Jared Kushner. It is surprising, though, that officials would jeopardize their credibility and stature with talking points that are literally unbelievable.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly appeared on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday, and gave this assessment of Kushner's reported outreach to Russia:

"It's both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable. Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us is a good thing.... [I]t's not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government."

Kelly added on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he believes "any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they're good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do."

White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster embraced a similar tack.

McMaster, a decorated three-star Army general, was asked whether he would be concerned if an official on his National Security Council staff or elsewhere in the Trump administration sought a back-channel communications system with the Russian embassy or the Kremlin in Moscow.

"No," McMaster said. "We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. So, generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner." He continued, "No, I would not be concerned about it."

Let's take a step back, because to take administration officials' rhetoric at face value is to ignore the seriousness of the allegations and every relevant detail that's already emerged.

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If Trump's trip was a 'home run,' I'd hate to see a strike out

05/30/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump and his team were delighted with his first overseas trip as president, with White House aides telling reporters they considered it "the most successful stretch" of Trump's tenure thus far. The Republican himself boasted on Saturday that he believes he "hit a home run."

A senior administration official "implored" reporters on Air Force One to "tell the story back home about what an unprecedentedly and historically successful trip this was by an incredible leader and an amazing man."

Putting aside the Pyongyang-like tone of that creepy Trump World quote, the gushing boasts masked an uncomfortable truth: the president failed rather spectacularly in his first audition on the international stage. Consider, for example, Angela Merkel's impression, as reported by the Washington Post.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

It was the toughest review yet of Trump's trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington's closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.
The German leader did not mention Trump by name, but her comments in Munich weren't exactly subtle: she said she believes the days in which Europe could rely on others was "over to a certain extent." Merkel added, "This is what I have experienced in the last few days."

The "last few days," of course, referred to time she'd just spent with the new American president.

For a leader who chooses her words carefully, Merkel's comments sent diplomatic shockwaves throughout much of the international community for a reason: it was emblematic of a widening rift between Western allies, caused almost entirely by Donald J. Trump. Russia has spent decades hoping to drive a wedge between Germany and the United States -- an alliance that's been a central pillar of global affairs for decades -- and it now appears Trump has managed to deliver that result after just four months in office.

If Trump scored a "home run" abroad, I'd hate to see what a strike out looks like.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.26.17

05/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Egypt: "Masked gunmen killed 28 people on a bus carrying Coptic Christians, Egyptian authorities said. State TV reported the vehicle was attacked as it traveled on the road to the St. Samuel Monastery in Minya province, which is located about 140 miles south of Cairo."

* China: "Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. surveillance aircraft a couple hundred miles southeast of Hong Kong this week in a maneuver the Navy described as 'unsafe.'"

* This seems like a wildly irresponsible thing for someone in his position to say: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Friday said the terror threat is worse than most realize, saying some people would 'never leave the house' if they knew the truth."

* There should be accountability for governmental abuses of power: "Sitting on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Jan. 15, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane."

* Maybe the Texas Republican can think of something different to joke about: "Gov. Greg Abbott's visit to a shooting range to sign a bill into law got big attention when he took some target practice and made a crack about journalists. 'I'm going to carry this around in case I see any reporters,' Abbott said with a grin as he joked with journalists covering the event, after he was given his target sheet."
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Image: Hillary Clinton Delivers Commencement Address At Wellesley College

Hillary Clinton reflects on the 'assault on truth and reason'

05/26/17 04:27PM

Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College earlier today, and she made no explicit references to Donald Trump. She didn't identify any GOP officials or conservative media outlets by name. She mentioned the Republican Party once, but only to note to her audience that, years ago, she served as the president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.

But if you missed her remarks, it's also fair to say the former Secretary of State's speech wasn't exactly subtle.
Hillary Clinton returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, Friday to deliver a fiery commencement address that attacked President Donald Trump and his policies  --  but it was her implicit comparisons between Nixon's resignation and the current administration that drew the loudest cheers.

Clinton lashed out at what she described as the "unimaginable cruelty" of Trump's budget proposal and the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories and internet trolls. But when she talked about the mood on campus in 1969, the year she graduated, she got her biggest reception.

"We were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with impeachment for obstruction of justice -- after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice!" she said.
She was referring, of course, to Nixon, though the Wellesley audience seemed to pick up on the parallels to a certain other Republican.

But what struck me as especially notable was Clinton taking some time to reflect on the "assault on truth and reason."
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump visits Saudi Arabia

Trump's latest jobs boast falls apart almost immediately

05/26/17 12:41PM

Just this morning, Donald Trump turned to Twitter to announce he'd arrived in Italy for a G-7 meeting, which led him to reflect on the "very successful" foreign trip he believes he's having. "We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs," the president said.

Just as a general rule, when Trump makes claims about jobs he's created and/or saved, it's best to be skeptical. His track record in recent months has been breathtaking in its mendacity, so it's not as if the president has built up a reservoir of credibility.

But let's try to have an open mind. The Republican president has been abroad for about six days, and in that time, he believes he's managed to create and/or save "millions of jobs." If that were in any way true, it'd be a remarkable feat: in a good year, the United States will create between 2 million and 3 million new jobs over the course of 12 months.

If Trump's managed to match that in less than a week, he'd finally have something to brag about. Fortunately, the Washington Post took a closer look:
As for the number of jobs [connected to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia], thousands appears to have morphed into millions. But an analysis published by The Washington Post reported that the companies involved would not confirm any specific number of jobs saved or supported, suggesting that Trump's original estimate of "thousands" was more guesswork than reality.

A White House official said Trump was not talking just about the Saudi deals but "benefits to trade from the entire trip from Saudi Arabia to the G7." He noted that "any improvement on trade would save many jobs. Stopping even one bad trade deal can save millions. Changing the infrastructure of global trade to tilt it back toward the U.S. would save and create millions."
Well, maybe. We can certainly have a conversation about the effects trade deals can have on domestic employment, but at the risk of sounding picky, Trump hasn't signed, stopped, or changed any U.S. trade deals with anyone -- neither this week nor at any point in his brief term thus far.

What Trump World is saying, in effect, is that Trump may someday change the direction of international trade -- itself a dubious claim -- which in turn may someday improve job creation in the United States.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.26.17

05/26/17 12:00PM

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

* In a curious tweet that touted a dubious poll, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea yesterday to promote the fact that most Americans disapprove of his job performance.

* Yesterday morning, the DCCC unveiled a last-minute radio ad in Montana that asked, "If Greg Gianforte could be sentenced to jail, should he really be elected to Congress?" It didn't change the outcome, but it's interesting to see how quickly the parties can create a new ad nowadays.

* The Federal Election Commission determined this morning that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), during his 2012 campaign, "improperly accounted for loans" he received from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. It's something to keep an eye on as Cruz runs for re-election next year.

* In the race to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in Ohio next year, state Treasurer Josh Mandel is considered the top Republican contender, but GOP officials are not necessarily optimistic about his chances. Instead, some Republicans are reportedly taking a look at Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.

* In Utah, where Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has gone back and forth about retiring next year, the longtime Senate incumbent said yesterday he's convinced that Mitt Romney is not going to run for the seat.

* In New Jersey, the latest Stockton University Poll shows Kim Guadagno (R) and Phil Murphy (D) as the top contenders in their parties' respective gubernatorial primaries. The primary in the Garden State is June 6, which is a week from Tuesday.
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President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's boasts about jobs saved at Carrier start to evaporate

05/26/17 11:00AM

During the transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, Donald Trump claimed one notable achievement. The Republican, following through on a promise he made on the campaign trail, announced in late November that he'd reached an agreement with Carrier that would keep hundreds of jobs in Indiana.

It sounded great, but even at the time, the boasts came with fine print. Trump exaggerated the number of jobs saved, rewarded a company with taxpayer money that was closing a plant and shipping jobs to Mexico, and fudged the facts about how many of the saved jobs will be eliminated anyway.

The Washington Post reported this week that, six months after the president's most important economic accomplishment, Trump's victory is starting to look like a failure.
Carrier, the company President Trump pledged to keep on American soil, informed the state of Indiana this week that it will soon begin cutting 632 workers from an Indianapolis factory. The manufacturing jobs will move to Monterrey, Mexico, where the minimum wage is $3.90 per day.

That was never supposed to happen, according to Trump's campaign promises. He told Indiana residents at a rally last year there was a "100 percent chance" he would save the jobs at the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer.
The more one compares Trump's 2016 promises to 2017 reality, the worse his assurances look.
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Some U.S. health care consumers confront a 'Trump Tax'

05/26/17 10:13AM

There's been a fair amount of discussion of late about Donald Trump undermining the U.S. health care system in tangible ways with his political antics, but CNBC highlighted what appears to be the most obvious evidence to date.
North Carolina's largest Obamacare insurer wants to raise premiums by nearly 23 percent, but said most of the increase is due to the failure of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to guarantee crucial payments to insurers.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina said Thursday it would have asked the state regulators for an 8.8 percent increase if Trump and the GOP-led Congress agreed to continue funding payments to insurers for so-called cost-sharing reductions.

Instead, the insurer is requesting an average increase of 22.9 percent for Obamacare plans that now cover about 502,000 people.
There's no real ambiguity here. The private insurer in this case was prepared for a much more modest increase in premiums -- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina said its exchange is fairly stable -- but it felt the need to rate rates more, largely because of the uncertainty Donald Trump created on purpose.

In effect, these consumers are now going to be hit with a "Trump Tax" on their health care costs.
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