U.S. Politics

Mike Flynn Reportedly Called Russia’s Ambassador As Obama Expelled Diplomats

Privet? Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

New York Daily Intellegencer

On the same day that President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and imposed other sanctions in retaliation for the Kremlin’s alleged attempts to influence the presidential election, Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, spoke on the phone several times to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reports.

What’s unclear is why. Incoming Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that the call was placed to set up a post-inauguration phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But as Ignatius writes, contact between Flynn and ambassador Sergey Kislyak could constitute a violation of the Logan Act, a 1799 statute that bars citizens of the United States from attempting to influence a foreign government that is engaged in “disputes or controversies with the United States.” Not that it’s likely Flynn would be charged. There has been a grand total of one indictment under the Logan Act, and it was in 1803.

The unlikelihood of a Logan Act violation aside, Flynn’s reported phone calls will do little to dispel worry about his, and Trump’s, relationship with Russia. Flynn has been accused of cozying up to the Kremlin and once gave a paid speech at a gala thrown for state-run news network RT. After he spoke, Flynn shared a dinner table with Putin. He went on to make regular appearances on the Russian government-propaganda network, where he argued for a closer working relationship between D.C. and Moscow to destroy ISIS.

Flynn argues that he simply thinks Russia is a good ally in the fight against a common enemy. But not everyone sees it that way. As Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in November, “Some of the policy positions he’s advocated, a kind of a newfound affinity for the Russians and Kremlin, concern me a great deal.”

U.S. Politics

WATCH: CNN spent ten straight minutes tearing down Trump’s lies

THE RAW STORY

CNN host Anderson Cooper and his colleagues on Thursday night criticized President-elect Donald Trump and his spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway for spreading falsehoods.

Cooper, along with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Jim Sciutto and Acosta, brought up several of Trump’s recent controversies.

“Jim Acosta, you tried to ask a question at the press conference to president-elect Trump,” Cooper said. “He refused to take questions, saying you’re from ‘fake news.’ What did Sean Spicer say to you after that?”

“Well, he came up to me and said that what I did was crossing the line and was inappropriate,” Acosta said. “We should repeat that during that news conference when I was trying to ask that question, Spicer threatened to throw me out of the press conference if I kept persisting. But speaking of Sean Spicer, we should report that on a conference call this morning, he was asked whether Donald Trump was going to sue over these stories for libel and Sean Spicer told reporters that the president-elect would like to move on.”

Acosta said that the one thing that is worse than “fake news” is “the denial of real news.” What could be worse than that is watching Conway being “not in command of the facts.”

“But I will tell you that this has been a pattern for the Trump campaign and now the Trump transition, where they don’t like the news that’s being reported and they go after the messenger and I think that’s just going to continue,” Acosta continued.

Sciutto noted that it is extremely rare for someone like James Clapper to put out a statement calling out a president-elect for lying about what he was or was not briefed on. He noted that he, Tapper and even Carl Bernstein, who all worked their own sources in the intelligence community and were able to confirm the briefing occurred.

He said that of all of the things that Conway and Trump have said over the last few days he is the most concerned about what the president-elect did to Acosta during the press conference.

“He accused our network, our reporters of spreading fake news when in fact we were right,” Sciutto said. “It matters because this is a democracy, an open society, and we rely on our public officials, our leaders giving us an accurate presentation of the facts. An inaccurate presentation of and the president went out with the facts which was then contradicted in public by two people in the room, the director of national intelligence and the vice president.”

Watch the exchange below:

CNN Panel (Photo: Screen capture)

U.S. Politics

‘It’s Game of Thrones, the Apprentice, and Survivor all mixed into one’

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is one among dozens of high-level Trump campaign aides and former Republican administration officials who find themselves excluded from the Trump administration but who expect their fortunes to change. | Getty

POLITICO

Republicans like Chris Christie are counting on lots of turnover in the Trump administration.

Behind closed doors, Chris Christie — unceremoniously sent packing from Donald Trump’s transition headquarters in Washington two months ago — is telegraphing a message to his confidants: I’ll be back.

The hard-charging New Jersey governor is playing the long game, betting that Trump’s senior aides and Cabinet nominees, nearly all of whom lack governing experience, will face unexpected challenges when they settle into the West Wing. Christie turned down several offers to join the Trump administration when he was denied the attorney general post, but he has told associates he expects Trump to turn people like him — seasoned lawmakers and political hands — if and when the neophytes begin to flounder.

Christie is one among dozens of high-level Trump campaign aides and former Republican administration officials who find themselves excluded from the Trump administration — for now — but who expect their fortunes to change.

These Republicans expect the stringent loyalty tests imposed by the transition team to relax over time, and many are already talking about a “second wave” of aides and staffers that is likely to replace the volatile or inexperienced loyalists Trump has tapped.

“There’s waves in everything,” said one senior transition aide. “There’s waves in campaigns. There was [Corey] Lewandowski. Then, there was Paul Manafort. Then, there was [David] Bossie, [Stephen] Bannon, and Kellyanne [Conway]. That’s how Trump operates. It’s ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Survivor’ all mixed into one.”

Many predict that Trump will govern in the haphazard way he campaigned, when he burned through three campaign managers over the course of 16 months. He has already created competing power centers in the West Wing, with incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner working essentially as equals.

With that in mind, a Christie ally said the New Jersey governor, who visited Trump Tower last week, has maintained a relationship with Trump even after his dismissal and that the two have spoken “a bunch” over the past several weeks.

“I think he’s one who feels that there will be a good amount of turnover, and so Trump will be looking for a range of different people and talents as time goes on,” said one New Jersey GOP insider.

A second senior transition aide cast doubt on on the idea that Christie would land in the Trump administration, saying strains between the governor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, the force behind Christie’s firing, would prevent his return.

In the White House, staff shakeups, even those in which aides loyal to the president are replaced with veteran government operators, are not unusual. The first year of a presidency is often defined by domestic and foreign crises that test the mettle of presidential staffers, some of whom invariably flounder. Early in his presidency, Bill Clinton replaced his first White House chief of staff, Mack McLarty, with Leon Panetta, then serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget. McLarty and Clinton had been kindergarten classmates in Arkansas, but McLarty’s dismissal in mid-1994 was the start of a trend that saw longtime Clinton allies replaced by those with deeper government experience.

“It happens in every administration. Tthere are a lot of people who turn out to be bad appointments at various levels, they wash out, and then you get a second wave coming in,” said Eric Edelman, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration.

Trump’s combustible management style is only one factor that has many predicting the trend will be exacerbated under a President trump. There’s also a deep pool of talent that has been blacklisted from the initial group of administration hires — members of the Republican foreign policy elite who signed one of a series of letters saying Trump’s presidency would put the country’s national security at risk and that they would not vote for him.

As a result, Trump transition aides have essentially banned any signatory from serving in the administration. Senior jobs at the State and Defense departments remain vacant as the search for suitable candidates continues.

Even friends of the signatories, like John Hannah — who served as a national security adviser to former vice president Dick Cheney and whom transition aides are considering for a job in the administration — have been tainted in the process, according to a source familiar with the proceedings. Other national security experts who signed the letters have even been prevented from briefing incoming administration officials, according to the same source.

But most expect the ideological litmus test to relax as the White House Office of Presidential Personnel replaces the transition team. “The idea that you would blackball people completely and not draw on these folks is unusual,” said Edelman, who signed a letter in August warning that Trump would be “the most reckless president in American history.” “It has usually relaxed because of the process of having to replace people. There’s this idea that anybody can do these jobs. Actually, the number of people who have the background, the temperament, the subject matter expertise, is narrower than you would think, and as you go higher up the pyramid, the numbers drop dramatically.”

“I think a year or so down the road, and everybody’s been in the government for a year, and what you did during the election campaign is going to be a lot less important,” said another former Bush administration national security official.

In selecting his Cabinet, Trump has leaned heavily so far on those with deep experience in the private sector but little or no experience in government. Six of the 14 Cabinet nominees he has announced — including his nominee for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Treasury secretary nominee and hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin, and private equity titan Wilbur Ross, nominated to lead the Department of Commerce — have no experience in government. (Trump has yet to name a nominee to run the Department of Agriculture.)

Though wildly successful in their respective industries, private-sector success has not historically correlated with success in government, adding another potential element of instability to the incoming administration. George W. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, had served a successful 12-year tenure as CEO of Alcoa before he came to Washington. But his focus on workplace safety at the expense of fiscal policy put him at loggerheads with the Bush administration, and he was cast aside after two years. Robert Rubin, on the other hand, ran the Treasury Department for Bill Clinton with great success after spending a quarter-century at Goldman Sachs.

The upshot: “Private sector success is not necessarily a guarantee of government success. The record of people transitioning from the C-suite to the Cabinet is decidedly mixed. Some of his appointments are likely to be a terrific success and some are likely to end up in ugly failure,” said one former Bush administration official, who requested anonymity because he is under consideration for positions in the Trump administration.

The average life span of a Cabinet secretary in any administration is about two years. The turnover “is going to be higher this time around, in all probability,” said Edelman.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: January 13, 2017

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. DOJ investigates FBI treatment of Clinton email case before election
The Justice Department inspector general’s office said Thursday that it was opening an investigation into FBI director James Comey’s decision to inform Congress in a letter that the agency was looking at newly found emails related to Hillary Clinton’s private server. The emails quickly proved irrelevant, but Clinton has said the move, which renewed scrutiny of her email practices days before the election, was a key factor in her narrow loss to President-elect Donald Trump. The inspector general’s office said it was launching the inquiry in response to complaints from the public and lawmakers that the FBI and the Justice Department made politically motivated decisions about the Clinton email investigation during the campaign.

Source: The New York Times

2. Obama ends ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy toward Cuban migrants
President Obama is ending the 20-year-old “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy that has let Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores stay and become legal residents, even though they arrive undocumented, a senior administration official said Thursday. The change would mean that Cuban migrants no longer receive special treatment, meaning if they arrive without visas they will have to return home or stay illegally in fear of deportation. The move comes just over two years after President Obama began a rapprochement with the communist-run Caribbean island nation.

Source: The Associated Press

3. EPA accuses Fiat Chrysler of diesel emission test cheating
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler of installing software on some of its diesel trucks to cheat on emissions tests. The software allegedly reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide during tests, hiding actual pollution levels exceeding amounts allowed under the Clean Air Act. The allegations involve some 2014 to 2016 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees. Fiat Chrysler officials denied the allegations. The company’s stock plummeted by as much as 18 percent Thursday morning. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne called the accusations “unadulterated hogwash.”

Source: The Washington Post, Bloomberg

4. Mattis, Pompeo talk tough on Russia in confirmation hearings
Two of President-elect Donald Trump’s top security team nominees, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), took strong stances against Russia during their confirmation hearings on Thursday. Mattis, Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, expressed concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to “break” NATO, and said the U.S. should maintain the “strongest possible relationship” with the treaty organization. Pompeo, nominated as head of the CIA, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that Putin has done “a really good job of creating chaos, division, instability in the American political process.” Both expressed confidence in the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the hacking of Democrats ahead of last year’s election, a notion Trump hesitated to embrace.

Source: The Washington Times, CNN

5. Obama creates three civil rights national monuments
President Obama designated three civil rights sites as national monuments on Thursday. One covers several square blocks in Birmingham, Alabama, that include the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four black girls were killed in a 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing. Another includes an Anniston, Alabama, Greyhound bus station where Freedom Riders were attacked in 1961, and the third commemorates a community built in Beaufort County, South Carolina, by freed slaves after the Civil War. Obama also expanded the California Coastal National Monument, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. He has now used his executive authority more than any other president to protect historic, cultural, and ecological sites.

Source: NPR, The Washington Post

6. Baltimore commits to police reforms in agreement with DOJ
Baltimore and the Justice Department signed a consent decree committing the city to police reforms intended to restore trust in local police. The agreement mandates more community oversight, new recruitment policies, more training on stops and searchers, and training on deescalating potentially volatile incidents. The city also has to put cameras in police vans. The consent decree came as a result of a Justice Department review following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury in a police van, that found a pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, and the use of unnecessary force against African-Americans.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, CNN

7. Ethics office chief called to Capitol Hill after criticizing Trump
House Republicans late Thursday summoned Walter Shaub Jr., director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, to answer questions about his public criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to distance himself from his business empire while in office. Trump said he would step aside and have his adult sons run the Trump Organization. Shaub said that was “wholly inadequate,” and that Trump would have to sell his stake and put his assets in a blind trust to avoid the appearance that he could profit from presidential decisions. In a letter, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that Shaub had “raised a bunch of eyebrows” by taking “a very aggressive stance on issues he’s never looked at.” Ethics experts took that as a veiled threat warning Shaub to back down.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Winter storms help end drought in northern California
Recent winter storms that dumped 20 inches of rain and snow have officially ended a brutal five-year drought in northern California, federal officials said Thursday. “Bye bye drought … Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” the National Weather Service’s office in Reno, Nev., tweeted. A year ago, 97 percent of the state remained in drought conditions. Now, for the first time since early 2013, less than 60 percent of the state remains in drought.

Source: USA Today

9. Trump makes a pitch for L.L.Bean as thanks for co-owner’s support
President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Linda Bean, co-owner of outdoor retailer L.L.Bean, for her support with a tweet that concluded, “Buy L.L.Bean.” The unprecedented presidential endorsement came in the face of a backlash after a report that Bean, an L.L.Bean board member, had given $30,000 to the pro-Trump Making Maine Great Again PAC, exceeding limits on individual contributions in a single year. Liberal critics called for a boycott of L.L.Bean under the hashtag #Grabyourwallet. Linda Bean accused her critics of “bullying,” and the company said her views did not reflect those of other Bean family members or the company.

Source: The Washington Post

10. Obama surprises Biden with Presidential Medal of Freedom
President Obama surprised Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday by awarding him the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. Obama called Biden “the best vice president America has ever had.” The added honor of presenting the award “with distinction” is rare. It has only been given to three others over the last three presidencies: Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and former secretary of state Colin Powell. Biden was just the third vice president to ever receive the medal. “It is, as Joe once said, a big … deal,” a straight-faced Obama joked, referring to Biden’s expletive-laden assessment of the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Biden, wiping away tears said he “had no inkling” the award was coming.

Source: USA Today

U.S. Politics

Today in Obamacare: a quick primer on 3 new Obamacare replacement plans

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

VOX

Welcome to Today in Obamacare, Vox’s regular update on the battle over the Affordable Care Act, the changes a new president and new Congress might make, and what it means for the American people. Have a story you think should be here? Send me an email at sarah@vox.com.

Let’s explore some Republican health policy plans One of the biggest shifts this week — driven largely by President-elect Donald Trump and a handful of Republican senators — is one away from “repeal and delay” and toward “repeal and replace.”

That means now is as good a time as any to contemplate what replacement might look like. I’ve already written up a lot of Republican plans here, but there are some new ones in the mix that are worth taking a look at.

  • Sen. Lamar Alexander might leave those with tax credits in a lurch. On the Senate floor this week, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released his three-point replacement plan — although calling this a plan is a bit of a stretch, given that it’s just four paragraphs. Alexander’s plan suggests, like other Republican replacement plans, getting rid of the law’s essential health benefits (like maternity care or prescription drugs) and giving insurers more flexibility around what they do and don’t cover. One surprising part of Alexander’s plan is that it will “eventually provide tax credits to help lower income Americans buy insurance” — suggesting those tax credits would not be available to start.
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy’s plan would allow the insurance markets to remain intact. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s (R-LA) Obamacare replacement bill continues to be one of the more interesting and surprising Republican offerings. It would allow states to automatically enroll uninsured people into low-cost health plans — a replacement for the individual mandate that would put the onus on the patient to opt out of coverage. Cassidy would also allow states that currently operate marketplaces to keep doing so, holding over a big element of the health care law. “I am almost agnostic as to what elements of Obamacare are in our plan or not,” he told me when we spoke last.
  • Rep. Phil Roe wants to give everyone the exact same health care deduction — Something notable about most Obamacare replacement plans offered by Republican congressional leadership, unlike the one from Rep. Phil Roe (R-NC), is that they maintain certain pillars of Obamacare, like tax credits to buy insurance or a mechanism to encourage people to buy coverage. They each make big changes to those policies, but at the end of the day, a recognizable version survives.

Roe’s policy, championed by the very conservative Freedom Caucus, is different. It includes no tax credits for the individual market and instead envisions giving every American, regardless of where they buy coverage, a standard deduction to offset the costs: $7,500 for individuals and $20,500 for families. Unlike Obamacare and some other Republican policies, these deductions wouldn’t get bigger for older people who typically have to spend more on insurance. They’d be the same for everybody — in that regard, it’s a huge shift from current policy.

One Democrat down, seven Democrats to go Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has expressed some openness toward working with Republicans on an Obamacare replacement plan. Earlier today, Politico reported that “Manchin has told GOP leaders that he’s ‘happy to sit down with you to see if we can find a pathway forward.’” But openness toward working with Republicans is still a far cry from actually voting with Republicans — a lesson that senators like moderate Republican Olympia Snow taught us during the original health law debate.

Kliff’s Notes: today’s top three health care reads

U.S. Politics

Turkey’s press-critical President lauds Trump for putting CNN reporter ‘in his place’

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Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said Trump put CNN reporter Jim Acosta “in his place” during Wednesday’s Trump Tower press conference. | (HANDOUT/REUTERS)

DAILY NEWS

Turkey’s media-skeptic leader has hailed Donald Trump for putting CNN’s Jim Acosta “in his place.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gained notoriety for cracking down on his country’s press core, and insinuated while speaking to reporters on Wednesday that he’d like to see Trump do the same.

“During Gezi protests and PKK terror campaigns, the unity and solidarity of Turkish nation was attacked,” Erdogan said in Turkish, referring to the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Istanbul in 2013, and a string of terror attacks allegedly carried out in recent years by a group affiliated with the country’s Kurdish minority.

“Those who carried out that game back then in Turkey have done (Trump) wrong again during the news conference yesterday,” Erdogan continued. “And Mr. Trump put the reporter of that group in his place.”

The incident in question erupted when Acosta tried to ask the President-elect a question at Wednesday’s tumultuous Trump Tower presser — Trump’s first since Election Day.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Erdogan said Trump was right in refusing to take a question from CNN, which the President-elect called “terrible.” | (JAMES KEIVOM/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

“I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” Trump hurled at the CNN reporter. “Your organization is terrible.”

Trump was upset over CNN on Tuesday reporting on a classified briefing presented to Trump by several heads of the U.S. intelligence community. The two-page briefing was based on an uncorroborated 35-page document that claims Russia has been compromising Trump ifor years by collecting damaging information on him.

Since winning the election, Trump’s relationship with the press has turned particularly hostile, with the President-elect frequently going on Twitter diatribes against individual journalists and accusing mainstream media organizations of peddling in “fake news.”

Erdogan, for his part, has jailed at least 144 journalists and shut down or seized control of some 150 media outlets since July, according to statistics from the Human Rights Watch.

The Turkish leader’s comments about the President-elect are the latest indication that the two are beginning to overcome a rocky past.

Over the summer, Erdogan demanded that Trump’s name be stripped from the Trump Towers in Istanbul after the President-elect made disparaging comments about Islam. Trump, meanwhile, appointed several advisers with sentiments blatantly critical of the Turkish leader.

But then, in the wake of Trump’s election upset, Erdogan called the demonstrations that erupted across the country “a disrespect to democracy.”

And now, the two men appear to have found common ground on another issue: the press.

Chris Sommerfeldt

U.S. Politics

17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

IMAGE: Media Matters

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.

In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.

On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.

Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.

Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:

  1. Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
  2. Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”
  3. In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”
  4. Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”
  5. CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”
  6. The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.
  7. A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.
  8. Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.
  9. Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”
  10. Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.
  11. The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.
  12. Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.
  13. After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”
  14. CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.
  15. The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)
  16. Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”
  17. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”

Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.

IMAGE: Media Matters

U.S. Politics

Vice President Biden Nails Down Exactly Why Trump Was Able To Beat Hillary Clinton

Vice President Biden Nails Down Exactly Why Trump Was Able To Beat Hillary Clinton

MSNBC Screengrab

POLITICUS USA

In an ideal world where politics is centered around issues that matter, Hillary Clinton – not Trump – would be getting sworn in next week.

It’s been over two months since Donald Trump won enough electoral votes to defeat Hillary Clinton and become president, but there is still widespread disagreement about how it could possibly happen.

Many people blame Clinton for her flaws as a candidate, even though she won nearly 3 million more popular votes than Trump.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden rejected some of these theories and nailed down exactly why Trump was able to squeak by last November.

Video:

Biden said:

Look, he lost the popular vote, but for 175,000 votes in three states, it would be a different outcome. So there’s a thousand reasons why you could attribute our candidate’s loss … It could be what happened with the FBI, it could be a whole range of things. But, you know, this is one election where I don’t think the issues really intruded. The University of Pennsylvania, the Annenberg School, they did a study showing how few minutes were devoted to any issue. Look, I’ll lay you eight to five that you go to ask any foreign person who’s not in the news media and say, “What was Hillary’s position on free college? Can you explain it? What was Hillary’s position on helping people with child care?”  Those issues never got into the game … All the outrageous things that were said and done by [Trump] sucked all the oxygen out of the air, so there was never a discussion about the economic issues. It never got there … If you get a chance to have to talk about whether or not a candidate groped somebody or whether or not the other candidate’s position is how they fund college tuition, what’s gonna get in the news is whether or not somebody groped somebody.

Biden is exactly right that there is likely a slew of reasons why Hillary Clinton came up short, at least when it came to the three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – that decided the Electoral College. But the argument repeatedly made that Clinton didn’t adequately address the economic needs of middle-class Americans is simply not true.

As the vice president noted, she had a set of concrete, detailed proposals dealing with economic issues that she repeatedly talked about. In fact, as Vox pointed out last month, jobs and the economy were the top-mentioned words in Clinton speeches during the campaign.

The problem wasn’t so much that Clinton’s message was wrong; it’s that the press didn’t cover it, thus the voters who decided the election likely knew very little about the former Secretary of State’s policy proposals – and there were plenty of them that would have made life better for the average American.

In an ideal world where politics is centered around issues that matter, and not driven by 140-character tweets or foreign meddling, Hillary Clinton – not Trump – would be getting sworn in next week.

U.S. Politics

In one night, the GOP voted to take away these 6 essential health benefits

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Barrasso CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

THINK PROGRESS

Last night while you were sleeping, the Senate debated and ultimately passed a budget resolution that provides a pathway for Republicans to strip health care coverage away from 30 million Americans without having a single Democratic vote.

As the Senate debated the resolution that provides a blueprint to repeal the Affordable Care Act, both Republicans and Democrats had the opportunity to offer a flurry of rapid-fire amendments in a process known as “vote-a-rama.” While these votes are non-binding, the exercise provides an opportunity for senators to show where their colleagues stand on a number of key issues. And the results are not pretty.

Senate Republicans took several votes that showed they are not on your side. Last night, Republicans voted against amendments that would:

1. Protect people with pre-existing conditions

Republicans blocked an amendment that would have made it harder to take away coverage from Americans with preexisting medical conditions. 52 million people — about 1 in 4 non-elderly Americans — have preexisting conditions. These Americans are more likely to face significant health costs, and before the Affordable Care Act, were often denied coverage entirely. The amendment also would have protected coverage for people disabilities or chronic health conditions, and prevent plans from discriminating based on health. Republicans currently have no alternative plan to insure people with preexisting conditions. Only two Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins and Nevada’s Dean Heller — voted for the amendment.

2. Let young adults stay on their parents’ plan

Republicans blocked an amendment by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would have made it easier young people to stay on their parents’ health care plan until they are 26 — one of the most popular and effective provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Over 6 million young adults have gained health insurance since the law was implemented in 2010, and young Americans now report better physical and mental health. The provision is also overwhelmingly popular — 85 percent favor keeping young people on their parents’ insurance plans. Sens. Heller and Collins were the only two senators who bucked their party on this vote.

3. Maintain access to contraceptive coverage

Thanks to Obamacare, birth control is more affordable than ever. Spending on contraceptive health care has gone down by 20 percent since the Affordable Care Act took effect. An amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sought to continue this momentum. Unsurprisingly, Republicans blocked the provision 49–49. Sens. Collins and Heller both voted with Democrats.

4. Ensure Medicaid expansion stays in place

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act benefited 11 million low-income Americans in 2015 alone and has created thousands of jobs for direct care workers. An amendment by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) would have sought to continue Medicaid expansion, but it was blocked by Republicans — 48–50.

5. Protect children on Medicaid or CHIP

Republicans blocked an amendment offered by Senator Brown (D-OH) that would ensure children could keep their health coverage on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), both of which provide comprehensive health care services for children including key preventive and developmental care.

6. Protect veterans’ health care

Republicans blocked an amendment by Sen. Tester (D-MT) that would have made it harder to restrict veterans’ ability to access VA health care. While Democrats have sought to provide better funding and health care access at the VA, Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the agency altogether through privatization. A poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by many Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates.


Republicans say they want to replace Obamacare with something better. But in just one night’s votes, they indicated that they are not willing to take a stand to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions, women, children, veterans, young adults, people with disabilities, and struggling families can continue to access the affordable coverage they need going forward.

Melissa Boteach and Jeremy Slevin

Melissa Boteach is the Vice President of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), and Jeremy Slevin is the Associate Director of Advocacy for the same program. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at CAPAF.

U.S. Politics

Key Senate committee won’t probe possible Trump-Russia collusion

 

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“We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation,” Sen. Richard Burr said. | Getty

POLITICO

The development raises questions about who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate the matter.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday his panel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election would not look into possible contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Burr’s comments raise questions about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s piecemeal approach to investigating Russia’s role in the election — and who in Congress, if anyone, will investigate allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia once the president-elect takes office.

McConnell has rejected calls for a select committee with a broad mandate to investigate the issue, or an independent commission with subpoena power. The Kentucky Republican has instead ordered individual Senate committees to run their own separate investigations within the confines of their committee jurisdictions.

“We don’t have anything to do with political campaigns,” Burr said Thursday as he left a closed-door briefing with intelligence officials on Russian meddling. “We don’t have any authority to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation.”

Asked who should investigate the issue, Burr responded: “I would imagine that would probably be the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The senator downplayed the possibility of coordination between Trump’s associates and Russia, dismissing as rumor a 35-page “dossier” of unsubstantiated allegations posted online Tuesday by BuzzFeed News.

“The only accusations that there were contacts are in a document that the media has had for over three months and until this week nobody printed because they couldn’t find anything that fact-checked anything in the 35 pages,” Burr said. “This is speculation, and I don’t suggest that the FBI chase speculative things, and I certainly don’t include that in a committee process that I take very, very seriously.”

The unsubstantiated dossier, though, is not the only evidence of ties between Trump’s team and Moscow. Several of the president-elect’s current and former associates have links to Russia — including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who lobbied for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, and incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who was photographed in 2015 sitting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a celebration in Moscow for the Russian-funded television network RT.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister also said shortly after the November election his government had been in touch with members of the Trump campaign — though, as Sen. Lindsey Graham pointed out, there are legitimate reasons why a presidential campaign might be in contact with a foreign government.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from [Trump’s] entourage,” the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told the state-run Interfax news agency in November.

A spokeswoman for Burr, Becca Watkins, said the chairman’s remarks were intended to clarify the separate roles of his committee and federal law-enforcement agencies.

“Sen. Burr is saying that the jurisdiction for the committee is to oversee the intelligence community, and investigate the behavior of foreign intelligence services,” Watkins said. “The committee is looking into Russian active measures, not investigating American political campaigns. That would be an investigation for the FBI.”

She added: “If in the course of our investigation we discover anything that falls outside the committee’s mandate, we will refer that information to the appropriate entities — be they other congressional committees or government agencies.”

There are growing calls in Congress, though, for a wider investigation into Russia’s role in the election with a larger scope.

Sen. Mark Warner, the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said Tuesday he wanted possible contacts between Russia and the presidential campaigns to be part of the committee’s ongoing probe.

“In my view, our committee investigation should focus on three broad areas,” the Virginia senator said at a committee hearing, listing the third area as “contact between the Russian government and its agents, and associates of any campaign and candidate.”

Warner said after the intelligence briefing on Thursday that his views remain “the same as I’ve talked about.”

Meanwhile, Republicans Graham and Sen. John McCain have joined Democratic leaders in calling for a select committee to investigate the issue, though the pair backed off after McConnell made clear he wouldn’t agree to it. The majority leader’s office declined to comment, instead pointing to McConnell’s past comments on how the Senate should investigate Russia’s meddling.

For his part, McCain said Thursday he planned to speak to Burr about why he wasn’t looking into the possibility of contacts between Russia and the campaigns.

“I got to talk to him and ask him why he made the decision he made before I can comment on it,” said the Arizona senator. Asked who would investigate the matter if not the Senate Intelligence Committee, McCain responded: “Honestly, I don’t know.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), an Intelligence Committee member, said he views the panel as the best forum to conduct a successful probe of Russia’s hacking efforts, using open and closed sessions where necessary.

No matter whether alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign is ruled out of the committee’s purview, Manchin added, any thread of inquiry with “concrete” proof behind it and “tied to credible sources” will end up coming into play.

“It’ll come in no matter whether you want it or not,” Manchin said in an interview. “Hopefully [a thorough investigation] will weed out all the crap. It’ll weed out all the nonconfirmed, the rumors, and things of this sort.”

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, this week said the unsubstantiated allegations that Russia sought compromising information on Trump make it more urgent for Congress to conduct a broad investigation into the issue.

“These reports, though unverified, warrant serious investigation by a select committee in Congress or a commission of public officials and private citizens with subpoena power to investigate them — led by people of integrity like Gen. Colin Powell and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Durbin said in a statement.

Last month, McConnell said he believes the Senate Intelligence Committee “is more than capable of conducting a complete review” of Russian interference in the election.

“I have every confidence in Chairman Burr that he will review the matter in a responsible way,” he said, noting that other Senate Committees, including the Armed Services panel, would also have roles in investigating the issue.

In the House, a spokesman for Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Jack Langer, said some parts of the “dossier” published by BuzzFeed could be examined as part of the panel’s review of the intelligence community’s Russia assessment.

“We’re just beginning our work and that hasn’t been decided yet,” Langer said.