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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Republican still has his eyes on Hillary Clinton, emails

01/10/17 10:41AM

On Nov. 9, literally the day after the election, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his pre-election plans had not changed: he would continue to pursue Hillary Clinton and her email server management. A month later, he said it again.

"We can't just simply let this go," Chaffetz told Fox News in December.

Evidently, he means it. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:
The election may be over, but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use at the State Department, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told reporters Monday.

"This was never a political targeting from the beginning. Just because there's a political election doesn't mean it goes away. So of course I'm going to continue to pursue that," Chaffetz said.
This continues to be a bad idea. Clinton, a private citizen who hasn't held public office in nearly five years, didn't actually commit any crimes and the State Department has already changed its practices. Clumsy I.T. practices from several years ago may have inexplicably become one of the nation's most important issues in the presidential campaign, and the political world's preoccupation with this may have helped put an unqualified television personality in the Oval Office, but it's difficult to make a substantive case to keep the issue alive in 2017.

Besides, shouldn't the House Oversight Committee be preparing to conduct oversight of the administration that's actually in office?
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the NRA Convention at the Kentucky Exposition Center on May 20, 2016 in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

As AG, Jeff Sessions likely to reverse recent progress on pot

01/10/17 10:10AM

As Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) confirmation hearings get underway this morning, there's no shortage of reasons to consider him one of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet nominees. The far-right Attorney General nominee's record on race, criminal justice, and other social issues issues puts him far outside the American mainstream.

But Bloomberg Politics had an interesting report yesterday on an under-appreciated aspect of Sessions' policy worldview.
Lawmakers in both parties are pressing Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions not to wipe out the booming marijuana industry in states like Colorado should he win confirmation as U.S. attorney general.

Sessions could theoretically use federal enforcement power to try to cripple what is already a $6 billion business that may soon triple after California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted in November to legalize recreational use of the drug.
As regular readers probably know, there have been some historic breakthroughs in recent years on U.S. drug policy, with voters in several states approving ballot measures to legalize recreational or medicinal marijuana use. These state-based policies have been allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.

But it didn't have to. As we've discussed, under federal law, officials could have ignored voters' will and blocked those policies from advancing. State experimentation has been allowed to flourish because President Obama and his team have a progressive approach to the issue.

Sessions doesn't.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves the stage with his wife Melania Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump. after the first Republican presidential debate, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trump can't even tell the truth about dress sales

01/10/17 09:20AM

Clothing sales in the nation's capital aren't generally the basis for national news coverage, but a president-elect who just can't stop telling self-aggrandizing falsehoods is worthy of some attention.

Early yesterday, Donald Trump talked to the New York Times about Meryl Streep's criticism, which led him to make a curious boast.
Mr. Trump said that, Ms. Streep and her allies aside, he was confident that celebrities and others would turn out in strong numbers for his inauguration.

"We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration, and there will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars," Mr. Trump said. "All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It's hard to find a great dress for this inauguration."
Obviously, the point of a boast like this is Trump's way of trying to hype himself and his inauguration. DC dress shops no longer have an inventory, the president-elect believes, because so many women are so excited about his inauguration that they've flocked to Washington, buying up formal attire and cleaning dress shops out.

Except, that's not all true. The Washington Post checked with stores in the area and found plenty of dresses on racks. The general manager of a Neiman Marcus store literally laughed when told about Trump's claim.

People magazine spoke to the owner of DC-area boutique, who said, "There's never been less demand for inaugural ballgowns in my 38 years."

Again, I honestly don't care about DC-area dress sales, but Donald Trump's propensity for saying things that aren't true -- especially claims in which he exaggerates his professed greatness -- are a real problem.

Kellyanne Conway lamented the fact yesterday that many media professionals don't give the president-elect "the benefit of the doubt." But that's a courtesy generally extended to be people who have some credibility -- or at least those who aren't routinely caught lying about things big and small.
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Ivanka Trump smiles at her her husband, Jared Kushner (L), as her father Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump speaks to supporters and the media on May 3, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by View press/Corbis/Getty)

Trump gives key White House post to son-in-law

01/10/17 08:40AM

There's been quite a bit of attention paid in recent months to Donald Trump's adult children, who've taken on a controversial role in their father's transition team, making the president-elect's conflict-of-interest problems considerably worse.

But when it comes to post-inaugural influence, it's not just Trump's adult kids who'll need scrutiny; it's also his son-in-law.
President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who emerged as a key figure in the Republican's successful 2016 campaign, will be named senior adviser to the president, the campaign announced Monday. [...]

Kushner was an influential behind the scenes confidant to his father-in-law during last year's election and has continued to be a leading voice in Trump's transition to the White House. But a number of legal questions potentially complicate the billionaire real estate developer's role in the incoming administration.
Transition officials insist there's no controversy here, but there are three main angles to keep an eye on.

First, appointing Kushner to this post may not be entirely legal. Anti-nepotism laws have been on the books for decades, limiting a president's power to appoint his relatives to powerful governmental posts. As a Washington Post report noted, it's "not completely clear whether this law applies specifically to White House staff," and Kushner is taking steps -- including foregoing a federal salary -- to help mitigate potential legal trouble.

It's a safe bet there will be a lawsuit anyway, just as there was when then-President Clinton appointed his wife to lead a health care task force in 1993.

Second, there are the potential conflicts of interest. Kushner has said he'll step down from his real-estate company and sell many of his assets, but as the New York Times reported, "[B]ecause he plans to sell to his brother or to a family trust controlled by his mother, some ethics lawyers interviewed questioned how meaningful the divestiture would be."
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Obamacare Tax Subsidies Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The Republican 'Obamacare' repeal crusade starts to unravel

01/10/17 08:00AM

Two months ago, when Republicans enjoyed a successful Election Day, one thing seemed obvious: GOP officials would use their dominant position to repeal the Affordable Care Act the moment they had the chance. It would be the first order of business in 2017, Republican leaders vowed.

There was every reason to believe the GOP would keep this promise -- that is, until very recently. The Huffington Post published a helpful report last night of how quickly the Republican approach is unraveling.
Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process.

[A]t least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine -- well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress.
To quickly recap, the GOP strategy since the elections is built around a clumsy idea called "repeal and delay." Roughly speaking, the gambit involves Republican lawmakers using their majority status to quickly pass legislation that repeals the Affordable Care Act, while also leaving the law -- or at least most of it -- intact for years while Republicans work on their alternative.

The original GOP idea, of course, was "repeal and replace," but that fell out of favor when it dawned on Republicans that replacing an effective reform system is extremely difficult, and they had no idea how to achieve their goals.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and other party leaders want to move forward on "repeal and delay" anyway, but they're running into an arithmetic problem: too many Republicans are skeptical of their own party's plan. Ryan and McConnell just don't have the votes.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.9.17

01/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida: "The Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people in a Florida airport appeared in court Monday and was told he could face the death penalty. Esteban Santiago gave brief yes or no answers to a federal judge who sought make sure he understood the charges against him, according to The Associated Press."

* Iran: "A U.S. warship fired warning shots at Iranian boats approaching the destroyer at high speeds as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to the Pentagon."

* Pakistan probably could've found better uses for that money: "Pakistan's military claimed Monday that it had fired its first submarine-launched cruise missile. The announcement is likely to raise tensions between Pakistan's military and arch-rival India's million-man army."

* Israel: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long inserted himself into Israel's fierce newspaper wars to bolster his grip on power. But an Israeli television station reported on Sunday that the police are looking into his involvement as part of a possible corruption case that could undermine his political future."

* Russia: "The Obama administration plans to blacklist five Russians, including the government's chief public investigator who is a close aide to President Vladimir V. Putin, for human rights abuses, throwing down a gauntlet to President-elect Donald J. Trump nearly two weeks before he takes office with a promise to thaw relations with Russia."

* A step backward: "Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on Saturday signed controversial legislation that will allow workers to refuse to pay union dues, a victory for Republicans who control the state government for the first time in nearly a century."

* An important angle: "As the dust settles on Russian interference in the United States election, journalists are confronting an aspect that has received less scrutiny than the hacking itself but poses its own thorny questions: Moscow's ability to steer Western media coverage by doling out hacked documents."

* The VW scandal isn't over: "The F.B.I. has arrested a Volkswagen executive in Florida, accusing him of playing a central role in a broad conspiracy to keep United States regulators from discovering that diesel vehicles made by the company were programmed to cheat on emissions tests."
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The Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex which will be used to produce the Jeep Cherokee in Toledo, Ohio July 18, 2013.

Trump falsely takes credit for new jobs, Part VII

01/09/17 01:00PM

Donald Trump, pulling a very familiar trick, boasted this morning on Twitter that Fiat-Chrysler "just announced plans to invest $1 billion in Michigan and Ohio plants, adding 2,000 jobs." In a follow-up tweet, the president-elect thanked the company.

Trump, however, didn't have anything to do with the investment he seems eager to take credit for.
FCA, the U.S. arm of automaker Fiat-Chrysler, announced on Sunday that it would invest a total $1 billion in plants in Michigan and Ohio, which will add 2,000 new jobs in the United States.

The announcement, in what the company said was the second phase of a plan it first made public a year ago, came days after Ford decided to scrap a plan to build a facility in Mexico, instead opting to invest in a plant in Michigan. Ford's CEO cited demand, rather than the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.
If it seems as if this is becoming a daily occurrence, with Trump celebrating new jobs as if he had something to do with them, you're not far off.
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Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building, June 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

With clouds hanging overhead, GOP moves forward on Trump's cabinet

01/09/17 12:30PM

About eight years ago, when the Democratic-led Senate was moving forward on President Obama's cabinet nominees, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) laid out his standards that he expected all nominees to meet. They're surprisingly relevant now.

There were eight benchmarks in total, but at the top of the list was McConnell's insistence that senators have a chance to review the nominees' FBI background check and the Office of Government Ethics' vetting letter.

Senate Republicans, of course, are now in the majority, getting ready to advance on an incoming Republican administration's cabinet, but McConnell's standards from 2009 are no longer being applied. The New York Times reported over the weekend:
As Senate Republicans embark on a flurry of confirmation hearings this week, several of Donald J. Trump's appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees. [...]

In a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the leader of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., said on Friday that "the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me."

He said the packed schedule had put "undue pressure" on the office to rush its reviews of the nominees and he knew of no other occasion in the office's four decades when the Senate had held a confirmation hearing before the review was completed.
The Times quoted Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration, saying the Senate shouldn't vote on cabinet nominees with an incomplete vetting, while Norman Eisen, his counterpart in the Obama administration, called the current situation "totally unheard-of."

A Washington Post report added, "Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed." Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who has served as counsel to several Republican presidential candidates and Cabinet nominees in the past, told the Post the current GOP plan is "unprecedented."

I can appreciate why this may seem like a dry and procedural flap, but there's more to this than just the surface-level details.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.9.17

01/09/17 12:00PM

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

* Kellyanne Conway said this morning she's "concerned" about Meryl Streep "inciting people's worst instincts" through the movie star's platform. One wonders if Conway is familiar with how Donald Trump used his platform over the last eight years.

* On a related note, Conway pushed back against CNN's Chris Cuomo's assertion that the president-elect is "sheltering Russia." The incoming White House aide responded, "He's not sheltering Russia, and don't you say that again." (Dear Kellyanne, it's not up to incoming White House personnel to dictate what media professionals can and cannot say.)

* In Ohio, state Republican activists elected Trump's choice to serve as state party chair, rejecting Gov. John Kasich's (R) preferred candidate.

* Speaking of replacements, BuzzFeed reports that Charlie Brotman, who "has been the announcer for every presidential Inauguration parade since President Dwight Eisenhower," has been replaced with a former Trump campaign volunteer. "I was demoralized, absolutely demoralized," Brotman told BuzzFeed over the weekend. He added, "I've been doing this for 60 years and for somebody to take over the announcing duties from me, I was devastated."

* Monica Crowley, a far-right media personality who'll soon join Trump's national security team, appears to be caught up in a new plagiarism controversy. It's not the first time Crowley has confronted allegations about presenting others' work as her own.

* Trump may have vowed to weaken the influence of lobbyists in Washington, but "a growing number" of close Trump allies, including Stuart Jolly, Corey Lewandowski, and Jim Murphy "are rushing straight to K Street to cash in." Politico's report added that Paul Manafort is also "flirting with a lobbying comeback."
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Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump, takes questions from the media at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty)

Conway: Look at Trump's heart, not 'what's come out of his mouth'

01/09/17 11:30AM

Kellyanne Conway, who'll soon become a senior advisor to the president in Donald Trump's White House, came up with a brand new defense for her boss' aversion to the truth: Americans should be prepare to look past "what's come out of his mouth."

The Huffington Post highlighted Conway's appearance on CNN this morning, where Chris Cuomo pressed her on Trump lying about his mockery of journalist Serge Kovaleski and the reporter's physical disability. It led to an amazing exchange:
...Cuomo called out Trump for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter during a 2015 rally. But Conway insisted that's not what he was doing. "That is not what he did and he has said that 1,000 times," she said Monday morning. "Why can't you give him the benefit of the doubt?"

Cuomo shot back, "He can say it a million times but look at the video... he's making a disgusting gesture on video."

"Why is everything taken at face value?" she asked. "You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he's telling you what was in his heart, you always want to go with what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."
It's a remarkable approach to defending the indefensible, and it's hard to imagine Conway seriously believing her own rhetoric. It's the closest I've ever seen a political figure come to literally asking, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

As a rule, "the benefit of the doubt" is earned, not given. In this case, we have the video of Trump, who has a track record of jaw-dropping dishonesty, mocking a disabled reporter. For the president-elect and his team to say that didn't happen, when we can all plainly see the evidence, is genuinely bizarre.

But it's every bit as amazing to see Conway suggest we should all look past the words that come out of Trump's mouth -- because it's "his heart" that matters.
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Meryl Streep accepts the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards

Feuding with Meryl Streep, Trump can't avoid obvious falsehoods

01/09/17 11:00AM

At the Golden Globes ceremony last night, Meryl Streep used part of her time in the spotlight to denounce Donald Trump, focusing specifically on the Republican's mockery of journalist Serge Kovaleski and the reporter's physical disability during the campaign.
"It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I can't get it out of my head, because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life," Streep said. "And this instinct, to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

"Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose," she added. "We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage."
The president-elect spoke to the New York Times overnight, telling the paper he didn't see Streep's remarks, but he denies the underlying allegation. "I was never mocking anyone," Trump said. "I was calling into question a reporter who had gotten nervous because he had changed his story.... People keep saying I intended to mock the reporter's disability, as if Meryl Streep and others could read my mind, and I did no such thing."

Trump made the same points via Twitter this morning, dismissing Streep as "overrated," and again saying he would "never" mock someone with disabilities. The president-elect added he simply called out Serge Kovaleski for having "totally changed" a story he wrote.

The back and forth has sparked quite a bit of chatter this morning, much of it focused on progressive attitudes among wealthy celebrities in the entertainment industry. (It's an odd thing for Republicans to complain about: they just elected a billionaire game-show host.)

And while the larger societal conversation is interesting, the root problem remains the same: Trump's lying.
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