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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.27.16

06/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* West Virginia: "As the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management revised its death totals from last week’s widespread flooding, West Virginia residents braced for heavy rain produced by thunderstorms that could lead to more flash flooding in hard-hit counties today."

* The Brexit fallout continues: "Adding to investor concerns Monday, S&P Global Ratings lowered its credit rating on the United Kingdom to 'AA' from 'AAA' and said 'the outlook on the long-term rating is negative.'"
 
* Stay tuned: "The leaders of Germany, France and Italy have insisted that no Brexit talks of any kind can begin until Britain has formally applied to leave the European Union, which EU officials expect to happen before the end of the year."
 
* Somalia: "Gunmen stormed a hotel in Somalia's seaside capital Saturday, taking guests hostage and 'shooting at everyone they could see,' before security forces pursued the grenade-throwing assailants to the top floor and ended the hours-long assault, police and witnesses said. At least 14 people were killed."
 
* Iraq: "Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the country's military wrested full control of Fallujah from Islamic State, paving the way for an offensive to reclaim Mosul, the last major city controlled by the terror group in Iraq."
 
* Diplomacy: "The Israeli and Turkish prime ministers announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations, frozen for six years following the killing of Turkish activists who sought to break Israel's economic blockade of Gaza."
 
* Michigan: "The state's top doctor was among high-level Michigan health officials briefed about a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County nearly one year before it was publicly disclosed, state records show."
 
* Quite a scene: "Ten people were injured during a white nationalist protest and counter-protest Sunday near the steps of the California state Capitol in Sacramento, authorities said. Five to seven people were stabbed during the melee, California Highway Patrol Officer George Granada told NBC News."
Elizabeth Warren, who was then still a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

Donald Trump calls Elizabeth Warren a 'racist'

06/27/16 04:16PM

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hasn't just been active in calling out Donald Trump; she's also positioned herself as one of the nation's most prominent Democrats that Republicans just love to hate.
 
This NBC News report, for example, is a reminder that the presumptive GOP nominee is doing more than just trading rhetorical jabs with a Senate critic. One gets the impression that Trump vehemently dislikes Warren on a rather personal level.
Donald Trump told NBC News that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is "racist" and "a total fraud" after attacking him during a Hillary Clinton rally in Ohio on Monday.
 
"She made up her heritage, which I think is racist. I think she's a racist, actually because what she did was very racist," Trump said in a phone interview.
Let's pause to note two things. First, if Donald J. Trump, of all people, wants to have a debate about who is and isn't "a racist," he's making a terrible mistake. Second, the background on Trump's latest whining has to do with Warren family lore about a Cherokee ancestor.
 
Republicans don't believe Warren's family history, and have used this in recent years to make ugly, racially charged attacks.
 
Trump added in his NBC interview, "[W]e call her Pocahontas for a reason." I'm still not entirely sure what that means. Does Trump think Pocahontas falsely claimed Native American heritage? Is he somehow suggesting Pocahontas was a racist? Trying to translate his rhetoric from Trump to English can get a little tricky.
 
In case this weren't quite absurd enough, former Sen. Scott Brown (R), who lost his Senate seat to Warren before losing another Senate race in a different state two years later, headlined an RNC conference call this afternoon to -- you guessed it -- complain at length about the senator's ethnicity. Brown, for reasons that probably make sense to him, went so far as to suggest today that Warren "can take a DNA test" in order to ... well, I'm not altogether sure what the point would be.
Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell (C) speaks to members of the media after his sentencing was announced by a federal judge on Jan. 6, 2015, in Richmond, Va. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

With Supreme Court's help, Virginia's Bob McDonnell avoids prison

06/27/16 12:46PM

It's been nearly two years since a jury found former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) guilty on 11 criminal counts, including charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to obtain property to which he was not entitled. It was a stunning fall from grace for a man who was once a rising star in Republican politics, and the verdict raised the prospect of McDonnell spending many years behind bars.
 
But in an unexpected twist, that's not going to happen. NBC News' Pete Williams reported this morning from the Supreme Court:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, who was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.
 
The decision rejected the federal government's view of how broadly federal bribery laws can reach. And it spares McDonnell from having to report to prison to serve a two-year sentence.
The entirety of the ruling is online here.
 
For those who might need a refresher, it's been well documented that McDonnell and his wife accepted lavish gifts from a dietary supplement executive named Jonnie Williams Sr. during the Republican governor's four-year tenure. After benefiting from Williams' generosity, McDonnell used his office to intervene on behalf of his wealthy benefactor.
 
But for the Supreme Court, the nature of this intervention wasn't as clear cut as prosecutors and jurors believed.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.27.16

06/27/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort boasted, "[T]he good thing is, we have a candidate who doesn't need to figure out what's going on in order to say what he wants to do." I'm honestly not sure what that means, and reading the transcript, the context doesn't help.
 
* The Clinton campaign has released a new ad mocking Donald Trump for his reaction to the Brexit results. The size of the ad buy is unclear, but the spot will reportedly air on national cable.
 
* On a related note, Trump was asked in Scotland about his foreign policy team. "I speak to foreign policy advisers all the time. But the advice has to come from me," Trump said, perhaps unclear about what "adviser" means. The Republican added, in reference to foreign policy advisers in general, "Honestly, most of them are no good."
 
* Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance yesterday at New York City's pride parade.
 
* Clinton headlined an event in Cincinnati today, joined on the campaign trail for the first time by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). [Update: By all accounts, the joint appearance went quite well.]

* Though the Clinton campaign's initial ad buy did not include Pennsylvania, Priorities USA, a super PAC allied with Clinton, is poised to begin "a $10.5 million advertising blitz" in the Keystone State, starting next week.
 
* Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), occasionally rumored to be in the mix for vice presidential consideration, announced on Friday that she will not attend the Republican National Convention.
 
* Speaking of the convention, Trump has said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) will not be invited to speak unless they endorse Trump's candidacy.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media following a Senate cloture vote on budget bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 17, 2013.

The 2016 question Mitch McConnell doesn't want to answer

06/27/16 11:20AM

In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, an almost ridiculous 64% of Americans  -- nearly two-thirds of the country -- said Donald Trump is not qualified to be president of the United States. That number is unheard of in modern history, and it creates a hurdle the Republican amateur will struggle to clear.
 
But before Trump can somehow try to convince the American mainstream he's capable and fully prepared to lead the free world, he'll first have to persuade the Republicans who are already supporting him.
 
On ABC's "This Week" yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in reference to Trump and the poll results, "Do you believe he's qualified?" The GOP leader responded, "Well, look, I -- I think there's no question that he's made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks. I think they're beginning to right the ship. It's a long time until November."
 
It led to a rather striking exchange.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't hear you say whether you thought he was qualified.
 
MCCONNELL: Look, I'll leave that to the American people to decide.... The American people will be able to make that decision in the fall.
In theory, this should be the easiest question in the world for a politician -- is your party's presumptive presidential nominee qualified for the Oval Office -- and yet, Mitch McConnell just couldn't bring himself to lie about this on national television. If the senator said, "No, he isn't," then McConnell would have no choice but to withdraw his endorsement. If the Majority Leader said, "Sure, I think he is," it would have been painfully obvious that McConnell didn't believe his own rhetoric. So instead, we were treated to an awkward evasion about the most basic of election tests.
 
Watching McConnell squirm was a reminder that, for all of their various troubles, this is a problem Democrats simply don't have. Hillary Clinton is running on a lifetime of public service, including experience as a former two-term senator and a former Secretary of State. No one feels the need to ask Dems whether they believe she's prepared for the job because the answer is so obvious.
A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building at sunrise is seen in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Supreme Court strikes down Texas' abortion restrictions

06/27/16 10:43AM

Three years ago, Republican officials in Texas approved some of the nation's most aggressive restrictions on reproductive rights, which had the effect of closing more than half of the state's clinics where abortions are performed. As of this morning, as NBC News' Pete Williams reported, the law is no more.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down one of the nation's toughest restrictions on abortion, a Texas law that women's groups said would have forced more than three-quarters of the state's clinics to shut down. The decision was 5-3. [...]
 
[T]he law said clinics providing abortion services must meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. And it required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is online here. Note, Justice Breyer wrote the majority ruling, and he was joined by Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg, who unexpectedly wrote a concurring opinion. Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito made up the three-member minority.
 
While Justice Scalia's death has had a significant impact on a variety of key cases this term, the Texas case doesn't appear to be one of them: facing a five-member majority, the state restrictions were doomed either way.
 
The legal dispute has been described as "the most momentous abortion case in a quarter century" for good reason.
George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative American newspaper columnist, journalist, and author.

Leading Republican pundit says goodbye to his party

06/27/16 10:00AM

In mid-January, before any of the Republican presidential nominating contests, columnist George Will speculated about the consequences of a Donald Trump nomination. "[In 1964] I cast my vote for Barry Goldwater who valued that classic, creative defeat of his because he took the Republican Party and said, 'Henceforth it will be a conservative party,'" Will said at the time. "Those of us who feel that way are not about to sit idly and ... let it disappear in 2016."
 
Five months later, Trump is the GOP's presumptive nominee, and Will, one of the most recognized Republican pundits in the nation, has officially walked away from his party.
Conservative columnist George Will says he's changed his party affiliation, and during a speech urged Republicans not to vote for presumptive party nominee Donald Trump.
 
"This is not my party," Will reportedly said Friday during a luncheon held by the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian organization.
Will, who added that House Speaker Paul Ryan's endorsement of Trump pushed him over the edge, has changed his Maryland voter registration to "unaffiliated."
 
Asked to comment on the news during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Will elaborated on his unexpected decision. This was the exchange between Will and host Chris Wallace:
The White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Bush/Cheney Treasury Secretary: Vote Clinton

06/27/16 09:20AM

During his trip to Scotland, reporters asked Donald Trump to respond to former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's endorsement of Hillary Clinton. "Don't know anything about him," the Republican candidate responded.
 
As BuzzFeed noted, we know that's not true. During the economic crash in late 2008 ,Trump singled out Paulson for praise. "I would give him an A," Trump told CNN, lauding the Treasury Secretary's response to the crisis. Trump added at the time, "[T]he fact is, [Paulson] came into a mess. He didn't create the mess. And he is helping us get out of the mess."
 
The admiration is clearly not mutual. Paulson wrote a piece for the Washington Post, published over the weekend, in which the veteran of the Bush/Cheney administration wrote, "Enough is enough. It's time to put country before party and say it together: Never Trump."
 
The piece reads like a stinging indictment, trashing Trump's business acumen, dishonesty, divisiveness, and temperament.
Simply put, a Trump presidency is unthinkable.
 
As a Republican looking ahead to November, there are many strong conservative leaders in statehouses across the United States and in Congress, whose candidacies I am actively supporting. They have a big job to do to reinvent and revitalize the Republican Party. They can do so by responding to the fears and frustrations of the American people and uniting them behind some common aspirations, while staying constant to the principles that have made our country great.
 
When it comes to the presidency, I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will not cast a write-in vote. I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton, with the hope that she can bring Americans together to do the things necessary to strengthen our economy, our environment and our place in the world. To my Republican friends: I know I'm not alone.
As striking as this is, let's not forget the degree to which Paulson's announcement is correct: he isn't alone. A separate Washington Post piece added:
Hillary Clinton Campaigns on June 22, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty)

Latest polls offer more bad news for Republicans

06/27/16 08:40AM

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, host Chuck Todd asked Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, if he's prepared to acknowledge the fact that the Republican is trailing in the polls. "No," Manafort replied. The GOP operative added, "[W]e're confident that we are not behind the Clinton campaign."
 
The evidence to the contrary is hard to miss. Yesterday morning, two major national polls were released. First up, is the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:
Democrat Hillary Clinton holds a five-point advantage over Republican Donald Trump after becoming her party's presumptive presidential nominee, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
 
Forty-six percent of registered voters back Clinton, versus 41 percent who support Trump - slightly up from Clinton's three-point lead in May, 46 percent to 43 percent.
Which came out around the same time as the new Washington Post/ABC News poll:
Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail from Scotland this week contending with sweeping unease about his candidacy as a large majority of Americans register their disapproval and see the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee as discriminatory and unqualified, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. [...]
 
[I]n a head-to-head general election matchup, Clinton leads Trump 51 percent to 39 percent among registered voters nationwide, the poll found. This is Clinton's largest lead in Post-ABC polling since last fall.
Obviously, there's quite a bit of difference between a 12-point deficit and a 5-point deficit, and Republicans are eager to point to the latter. Trump himself, using his trademark eloquence, dismissed the Washington Post/ABC News survey, saying, "Other polls good!"
 
But therein lies the point: the other polls aren't good. Literally every national poll conducted over the last month has shown Clinton ahead, and polling averages give her an advantage of about seven points. The fact that the Republican candidate and his team are eagerly touting the NBC results as good news tells us something important: for Team Trump, a poll showing him losing by five percentage points is what passes for great news right now.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016. (Photo by  Carlo Allegri/Reuters )

As Brexit crisis intensifies, Trump celebrates his 'great timing'

06/27/16 08:00AM

On Friday, as the world learned of the United Kingdom's "Brexit" results, Donald Trump held a truly bizarre press conference in Scotland, where he spoke in great depth about the golf resort he's eager to promote. Eventually asked to comment on the more relevant subject, the Republican presidential hopeful said the crisis "could turn out to be positive" -- for his profit margins.
 
Later, NBC's Katy Tur had this exchange with Trump at the 18th hole.
TUR: The global markets are down and people are worried.
 
TRUMP: My timing was great because I was here, right at the epicenter of the crisis.
Given what Tur said, Trump's response was effectively gibberish. The fact that Brexit is causing global financial unrest is unrelated to Trump's sense of "timing." And Trump's trip to Scotland was itself unrelated to Brexit. And being physically located in Scotland as part of a promotional event is unrelated to being "at the epicenter" of a crisis.
 
And yet, as the weekend progressed, Trump's message became increasingly incoherent. The GOP candidate, for example, said the result of the Brexit vote proved that Hillary Clinton made a "bad judgement [sic] call" -- as if Clinton being correct on the substance is less important than her powers of prognostication. He added that he made the "correct call" -- as if Trump being wrong on the substance is less important than his powers of prognostication.
 
The Republican presidential hopeful has also insisted, over and over again, on putting the word "BREXIT" in all-caps, as if Trump believes it's an acronym. (If some reporter who travels with Trump would ask him what he thinks "Brexit" stands for, I'd certainly appreciate it.)
 
Perhaps best of all, Trump boasted late Friday, "What has happened in the UK in the last 12 hours is exactly what will happen in November" if he wins the presidential election. That may be true, but isn't that a message better suited for Trump's critics? Why would he brag, on purpose, about causing economic and financial unrest around the world?
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for service at First Presbyterian Church in Muscatine, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

This Week in God, 6.25.16

06/25/16 08:26AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected development in the 2016 presidential race: one of the cycle's most secular candidates keeps questioning other candidates' religious beliefs.
 
As we discussed a few days ago, Donald Trump spoke to a group of far-right evangelical Christian leaders on Tuesday, where he expressed his doubts about Hillary Clinton's faith, insisting Americans "don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion." He added, "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no – there's nothing out there. There's like nothing out there."
 
The criticism was substantively bizarre -- Clinton has spoken many times about being a Methodist -- but just as important, NBC News reported, "[A]ttacking other people's faith appears to be a favorite move in Trump's playbook."
The pattern looks to have begun with President Obama.... Since running for president, Trump has also raised similar faith-based concerns about his fellow Republicans.
 
In October, retired neurosurgeon and devout Seventh-day Adventist Ben Carson was the target: "I'm Presbyterian. Boy, that's down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness," Trump told voters in Florida. "I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don't know about. I just don't know about."
 
In January, lifelong Southern Baptist and son of a pastor Ted Cruz was in the crosshairs: "Just remember this," Trump said, "in all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?"
Ben Carson, apparently trying to mount some kind of defense of his ally, said this week that Trump went after Carson's faith because "he didn't know what to do and he was getting kind of desperate."
 
But that's not much of an explanation. Presidential candidates aren't supposed to use religion as a campaign weapon whenever they're worried about losing. This is especially true of secular candidates who don't appear to have any real understanding of, or interest in, matters of faith.
 
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. explained this week, "Absent anything substantive to say about his belief system, Trump lashes out at others. And lacking an affirmative vision, he plays on fears and tells evangelicals, as he did Tuesday, that our nation's leaders are 'selling Christianity down the tubes.' Well. If religion is being sold out, it's Trump who is orchestrating the deal."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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