With Town Hall Script Flipped On GOP, Will History Repeat Itself?

People react to Rep. Jason Chaffetz as he speaks during a town hall meeting at Brighton High School in Utah last week | Rick Bowmer/AP

NPR Politics

Republicans know the scene well: angry constituents flood local town halls, upset over health care and other congressional issues.

It’s that energy that exploded eight years ago, birthing the Tea Party movement and helping the GOP take back Congress in the 2010 election. But now, they’re finding themselves on the receiving end instead of the giving end.

Last week more than 1,000 people confronted House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz at his town hall in suburban Utah. In Tennessee, now-Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black also faced a frustrated crowd of people concerned over the repeal of President Obama’s health care law. And with Congress on recess next week, more contentious town halls could be on the horizon.

Democrats who lived through 2009 say the scenes are eerily familiar.

“A lot of the tactics and a lot of the energy that we’re seeing today focused at the Republican Congress in these town hall meetings is more than just reminiscent — it’s downright deja vu,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who worked for the party’s national campaign committee during the 2010 cycle.

That isn’t by accident. An organized online grassroots push called “Indivisible” has helped alert frustrated members of the public on how they can best reach and influence their own representatives through town halls. Democratic strategists say the Tea Party movement was the inspiration and blueprint.

“Let’s accept the fact that when citizens get engaged, it changes the course of history. You can disagree with the Tea Party, and I strongly do, but it’s hard to claim that those people getting engaged didn’t change the course of the American political discussion and what was possible politically,” said Ezra Levin, who’s now Indivisible’s executive director.

Levin, his wife Leah Greenberg, and other former Democratic staffers and activists put some of their thoughts and advice on how to best engage with Congress into a Google document titled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” After pushing it out on social media, the guide spread online. Weeks later, the group has a website with more than 14.4 million page views, is registered as a 501c(4), and has more than 7,200 local groups registered.

The first chapter of their guide acknowledges the Tea Party movement — through harnessing the power of local groups magnified by online grassroots organizing:

The Tea Party started as an organic movement built on small local groups of dedicated conservatives. Yes, they received some support/coordination from above, but fundamentally all the hubbub was caused by a relatively small number of conservatives working together.

Allen Boyd is a former Blue Dog Democratic congressman from Florida who lost his seat in the 2010 election. He said he and his colleagues didn’t fully grasp the anger behind the Tea Party movement at first.

“I think that we were caught off guard,” Boyd said. “We didn’t really understand what was happening and the organization behind the coordinated and well-planned out town hall meetings.”

It’s still a tough climb for Democrats in 2018. Post-2010 redistricting left them with fewer competitive House seats, and they’re also playing defense in the Senate with red-state Democrats up for re-election.

But Democrats are optimistic. These uprisings are happening early in President Trump’s term — which has been marked by a chaotic first month and historically low approval ratings. The anger eight years ago over the healthcare law didn’t fully manifest itself until the August congressional recess in 2009.

The coordination by Indivisible and other groups has some Republicans claiming this is different than the Tea Party. They say the enthusiasm is “astroturfing,” or faked grassroots support, along with paid protesters inflating the numbers.

“This is something wholly different, I think. I understand they are using some of the same methodology but it’s not the same thing,” Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., argued to NPR’s Susan Davis.

But other conservatives say that Republicans shouldn’t dismiss these events so easily, and instead should have the foresight that their Democratic counterparts lacked eight years ago.

“Democrats deluded themselves in 2009 by disregarding the early signs of fierce resistance to their agenda, and paid the price over and over again for their heedless high-handedness. Republicans shouldn’t make the same mistake,” National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote this week.

One of the key struggles Republicans have now, too, is that there is no consensus alternative health care plan if Obamacare is repealed. Lowry argues that could help diffuse some of the tension, but that some of the GOP’s impetus to try and avoid constituents won’t end well either way:

The alternative is to look the other way, avoid town halls, and hope that after the repeal passes everything calms down. This was essentially the Democratic tack in 2009, and how did that work out?

Jesse Ferguson, a former top spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and later Hillary Clinton, said he had made some of the same arguments that the confrontational Tea Party town halls were manufactured to explain away that furor early on.

“Our dismissals turned out to be unfounded,” Ferguson said. “And so I think when I see Republicans saying now that this doesn’t mean anything, as a political strategist who wants Democrats to be successful in 2018. I hope they continue to believe that every day from now until the next election. Keep deluding yourself into thinking that that there’s nothing going on out there and do not change a thing.”

Jessica Taylor

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2017

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump defends performance, slams media in news conference
President Trump defended his job performance in a combative, hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, saying he “inherited a mess.” He said the “dishonest” media was wrong to report turmoil in his administration, calling it a “fine-tuned machine.” Over an hour and a half, he slammed news outlets for printing leaked information while calling reports of his aides’ contact with Russia “fake,” and vowed an investigation to find out how the press was getting confidential information. He also said he would sign a new executive order restricting travel from some nations to the U.S. Trump also bounced from boasting about his electoral victory to expressing pain over the often harsh criticism he has faced in the media. “The tone is such hatred,” he said. “I’m really not a bad person.”

Source: The New York Times

2. ISIS claims responsibility for attack at Pakistan shrine
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 75 people at a shrine in Pakistan on Thursday. Another 200 people were injured. The blast in the main hall of the shrine of the revered 13th-century Muslim Sufi philosopher Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was the deadliest in the country in two years. ISIS, a Sunni Muslim extremist group, said the attack targeted a gathering of Shiite Muslims, viewed by ISIS as apostates. “I saw bodies everywhere,” said witness Raja Somro. “I saw bodies of women and children.” Pakistani security forces killed dozens of suspected militants on Friday in a crackdown triggered by the attack.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

3. Tillerson makes global diplomatic debut at G-20 meeting
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Thursday in his first foreign trip since becoming Washington’s top diplomat. Tillerson, making his debut at a meeting of diplomats from the Group of 20 major world economies in Bonn, Germany, said his talk with Lavrov touched many topics but focused on the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. Russia has been supporting separatists there, and Tillerson said he urged Moscow to pull back. “As we search for new common ground,” Tillerson said, “we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine.”

Source: The Washington Post

4. Trump picks Alexander Acosta to head Labor Department
President Trump on Thursday announced that he had picked Florida law school dean R. Alexander Acosta as his new labor secretary nominee. Acosta, a former assistant attorney general for human rights and one-time member of the National Labor Relations Board, replaces Trump’s first pick for the job, lawyer and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration after facing opposition over his business record and hiring of an undocumented domestic worker. His ex-wife also filed domestic abuse charges against him decades ago, but dropped them. Trump noted that Acosta had already been confirmed for federal positions three times, and said he would “be a key part of achieving our goal of revitalizing the American economy.” If confirmed, Acosta will be the only Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet.

Source: CNN

5. Flynn reportedly told FBI he didn’t discuss sanctions with Russian ambassador
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn last month denied to FBI agents that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, contrary to what intelligence agencies learned in intercepted communications, current and former U.S. officials told The Washington Post. Lying to the FBI is a felony, so Flynn’s claims in the Jan. 24 interview could expose him to legal trouble. It would be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute him. A spokesman for Flynn, who resigned this week as President Trump’s national security adviser, and the FBI declined to comment.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Dylann Roof admirer planned attack on South Carolina synagogue
A man with white supremacist ties, Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, was arrested this week after buying a gun and ammunition from an undercover agent, and saying he planned to stage a terror attack on a South Carolina synagogue “in the spirit of Dylann Roof,” according to an FBI affidavit filed Thursday. McDowell, 29, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly buying a .40 caliber Glock pistol from an undercover agent posing as an Aryan Nations hitman. McDowell is a convicted felon, so he is not allowed to buy firearms. Over the previous month, McDowell’s Facebook account had posts about wanting to kill Jews, and praising Roof, who has been sentenced to death for murdering nine black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015.

Source: CBS News, The Daily Beast

7. Trump pick to replace Flynn turns down offer
Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, President Trump’s pick to replace former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, reportedly has turned down the position. Harward is a former Navy SEAL and current senior executive at aerospace company Lockheed Martin, a major defense contractor. He would have brought broad experience to the job, and allowed Trump to quickly bounce back from the setback of losing Flynn, whose resignation Trump requested following reports that Flynn failed to tell Vice President Mike Pence the full extent of his pre-inauguration conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Samsung chief arrested over presidential corruption scandal
Acting Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong was arrested early Friday on bribery charges in connection with the influence peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye. A court last month rejected prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee, but this time prosecutors presented new information and a judge said the court acknowledged “the cause and necessity of the arrest.” Prosecutors accuse Samsung of paying $38 million in bribes to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, the president’s confidante at the heart of the scandal.

Source: Reuters

9. House Republicans reveal outline for ObamaCare replacement
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and two House committee chairmen on Thursday unveiled the outline of the House Republican plan to replace ObamaCare. The plan includes tax credits for buying insurance, which would increase with a person’s age but do not change based on income, and incentives for people to open savings accounts to pay for medical expenses. The outline did not mention the cost, or how many people would gain insurance. The Affordable Care Act has extended coverage to 20 million people. The new plan also calls for sharply reducing payments to the 31 states that expanded Medicaid.

Source: The New York Times

10. Immigrants protest Trump policies
Thousands of immigrants in cities across the country stayed home from work and school on Thursday in a nationwide protest to show how important immigrants are to the economy. Many businesses also closed to show support for the protest, dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants.” No estimates were available for the number of people who participated in the strike, which was organized to protest President Trump’s immigration policies, such as stepping up deportations of undocumented immigrants, building a border wall, and temporarily halting travel from some predominantly Muslim nations. “Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today,” said Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza.

Source: The Associated Press

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s messy case that he inherited a mess

AP FACT CHECK: Trump's messy case that he inherited a mess

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)(Credit: AP)

SALON

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday made a messy case that he “inherited a mess” from former President Barack Obama. Economic stats and territorial losses of Islamic State insurgents don’t support his assertions about the problems handed to him on those fronts.

A look at some of his claims in a news conference Thursday and how they compare with the facts:

TRUMP: “To be honest I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”

THE FACTS: A mess is in the eye of the beholder. But by almost every economic measure, Barack Obama inherited a far worse situation when he became president in 2009 than he left for Trump. He had to deal with the worst downturn since the Depression.

Unemployment was spiking, the stock market crashing, the auto industry failing and millions of Americans risked losing their homes to foreclosure when Obama took the oath of office. None of those statistics is as dire for Trump.

Unemployment is 4.8 percent, compared with a peak of 10 percent during Obama’s first year as president. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was cratering until March 2009, only to rebound roughly 200 percent over the rest of Obama’s term— gains that have continued under Trump on the promise of tax and regulatory cuts.

When Trump assumed office last month, a greater percentage of the country had health insurance, incomes were rising and the country was adding jobs.

The Trump administration has noted that a smaller proportion of the population is working or looking for jobs. But even this measure began to turn around toward the end of the Obama era.

___

TRUMP: “ISIS has spread like cancer, another mess I inherited.”

THE FACTS: The Islamic State group began to lose ground before Trump took office, not just in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya. The gradual military progress achieved in Iraq during Obama’s final two years has pushed IS to the point of collapse in Mosul, its main Iraqi stronghold.

It remains a potent danger beyond its shrunken territory, encouraging adherents to stage acts of terrorism. The analogy with cancer is an echo of Obama’s last defense secretary, Ash Carter, who repeatedly cast Obama’s counter-IS campaign as an effort to reverse the extremists’ “metastasis” beyond the “parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria.

___

Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

___

Find all AP Fact Checks here: http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd

Exclusive: Classified Memo Tells Intelligence Analysts to Keep Trump’s Daily Brief Short

Evan Vucci/AP

MOTHER JONES

Keep it short and free of nuance—that is the new guidance that has recently circulated to some intelligence analysts who compile materials for the President’s Daily Brief on security threats around the globe.

The classified guidance, which was reviewed by Mother Jones, suggests that President Donald Trump’s daily national security briefing contains far less information than the daily reports presented by the intelligence community to past presidents—and about a quarter of the information President Barack Obama received. The memo sent to certain analysts within the intelligence community notes that the commander in chief’s daily briefing book typically contains reports on only three topics, typically no more than one page each. According to the guidance, Trump’s PDB also includes space for a short update, presumably on matters brought up in previous briefs. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the process of producing the PDB, declined to comment on the memo. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The guidance states that analysts should only include facts that support their analyses, and it explains that topics presented in the PDB will not be covered from different perspectives in separate briefings. That means that dissenting or conflicting views might not be presented to Trump. Obama’s PDB did include dissenting information, when appropriate, according to a former top CIA official with direct knowledge of the PDB.

Presumably, the memo’s guidelines—less material, less nuance, less dissent—were developed in response to Trump’s reactions to the materials he has received. If the memo does not reflect direct instructions from Trump or his aides to the intelligence community, it is a reflection of the assumptions senior intelligence officials have developed about how best to present information to Trump.

“These issues about the overall length of the book as well as whether there are going to be conflicting interpretations—that unfortunately sounds like…bowing to the reality of a president with a short attention span and little ability to deal with ambiguities,” says Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University.

In December, Trump alarmed the national security community when he said in an interview that he did not require daily intelligence briefings, which he found monotonous and repetitive. “I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years,” he said. The following month, as he was about to assume office, he told Axios that he preferred his briefing materials to be succinct, preferably no longer than a page: “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In a recent story about turmoil within the National Security Council, the New York Times noted Trump’s preference for shorter briefing documents, reporting that “while Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps.”

In comparison to Trump’s three-page PDB, the former senior CIA official who served during the Obama administration estimates the former president’s daily brief typically ranged from 12 to 14 pages, and it contained videos, maps, charts, and interactive features. Obama tended to read it on a tablet. Historically, the document—which relays key intelligence and national security information—has averaged six to eight pages, according to David Priess, author of The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents From Kennedy to Obama.

Trump’s daily brief appears to be significantly shorter than that of other modern presidents, but Priess says the document often evolves over the course of a commander in chief’s term. “Many of these topics are new even to an experienced politician, much less somebody like the president who has not been immersed in national security or political affairs before,” he explains.

Priess notes that the PDB varies based on the personality and style of every president, and it is the intelligence community’s job to communicate the information in a way the president can easily understand. In fact, Priess jokes in his book that the PDB is so tailored to each president that if the commander in chief wants the daily brief communicated through interpretive dance, analysts have to take dance lessons. But he says the PDB is no laughing matter. “Any president who chooses not to incorporate the objective analysis as contained in the President’s Daily Brief does so at his own peril,” he explains. “Everybody else in the national security bureaucracy has a policy preference or a stake in decisions being made and getting those ideas in front of the president.”

James Jeffery, who served as deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration and who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says he doesn’t see a shortened PDB as a reason for concern, as long as Trump is open to intelligence and national security experts updating him throughout the day, if needed. “Two months ago, the big shock was he wasn’t getting these things at all, so [if] he’s actually getting them every day, that’s a step in the right direction,” Jeffrey comments.

Priess agrees the length and style of the daily brief is not necessarily cause for worry, but he points out that when a crisis hits, the president may be less prepared if he’s not getting the extensive analysis his predecessors received. “There may be more need for the backstory and the explanations during the crisis than he would have if he absorbed more assessments every day,” Priess explains. “The caveat to that, of course, is if he would simply not read anything if more assessments were put in front of him, if he would just not bother to read it at all because it did not fit his style, then it would be counterproductive anyway.”

Chaffetz won’t investigate Flynn’s Russia ties, but he’s going after Clinton’s emails

Chaffetz won't investigate Flynn's Russia ties, but he’s going after Clinton’s emails

Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES

POLICY.MIC

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he won’t investigate the details that led to Mike Flynn’s resignation, saying the “situation has taken care of itself.”

Chaffetz is, however, still pursuing the investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s emails, issuing a recommendation Thursday to attorney general Jeff Sessions to prosecute a former Clinton staffer for contempt.

In the letter, Chaffetz asked Bryan Pagliano — a former Clinton technology aide who maintained Clinton’s email server — for prosecution for “failing to appear pursuant to a subpoena” to a hearing on Clinton’s emails last September.

A House panel already voted to hold Pagliano in contempt last September, but he was never arrested or prosecuted.

Pagliano was deposed by Judicial Watch, a conservative group that’s still pursuing the Clinton email case. He invoked his Fifth Amendment rights more than 125 times during the deposition, refusing to answer any questions, according to a Fox News report from the time.

Chaffetz’s refusal to investigate Flynn, as well as President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, has Democrats up in arms.

Instead of investigating Flynn’s Russian ties, he is instead probing the intelligence leaks that led to Flynn’s resignation.

And his decision to move forward on the Clinton email case is likely to exacerbate that anger.

Chaffetz, for his part, has said he would continue to investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though she lost the election.

jasoninthehouse

During Trump’s inauguration, he posted an image of himself shaking hands with Clinton on Instagram with the caption, “The investigation continues.”

Emily C. Singer

One of the only black people in Trump’s team has been fired for criticizing Trump

Shermichael Singleton, second from right in this picture from a NewsOne Now panel discussion with director Spike Lee, was reportedly fired on Wednesday over past criticisms of President Trump for which he had already apologized. CREDIT: Rodney Choice/AP Images for TV One

THINK PROGRESS

A senior adviser to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was suddenly fired Wednesday, apparently because the White House discovered he had criticized President Donald Trump.

Shermichael Singleton, 26, had worked on Carson’s own presidential bid in 2016 before joining the administration. In the closing weeks of the election, Singleton wrote an op-ed critical of Trump in which he blasted the then-nominee’s rhetoric toward black voters as “a coded message from an era in our history that should stay in the past.”

Singleton had already “answered a number of questions regarding the article and expressed remorse for the piece and support for Mr. Trump” prior to assuming his HUD position in January, the New York Times reports. But administration staff hadn’t finished his background check and “this week, Mr. Trump’s advisers turned up” the op-ed and some related tweets, according to the Times.

Singleton, who the Huffington Post notes is “one of the few black Republicansin the Trump administration,” told the Times he could not discuss the circumstances of his abrupt firing.

Security guards reportedly escorted Carson’s aide out of the HUD building Wednesday.

The decision reinforces President Trump’s long-standing image as a thin-skinned manager for whom personal loyalty is at least as important as a person’s qualifications for a job. A week earlier, Trump made a similar call in rescinding plans to appoint pardoned war criminal Elliott Abrams to a senior State Department post after the president discovered Abrams had criticized him online last year.

Singleton’s case is more likely to do damage. Carson is a neurosurgeon just beginning a job managing a large suite of housing policy programs. Trump’s team has deprived him of a trusted staffer, apparently in order to preserve the president’s ego.

Alan Pyke

WATCH: Fox News Host DEFENDS CNN Reporter, Tells Trump To Go F*ck Himself

ADDICTING INFO

Even Fox News is calling Donald Trump out for attacking the media.

After a press conference that will go down as the most embarrassing and confusing ever given in this nation’s history, Fox News host Shep Smith blasted Trump for attacking the press, specifically CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Trump often praises Fox News while bashing the other major news outlets and once again attacked the media during his first solo press conference in which he appeared to be just telling reporters what he was told to tell them.

Trump repeatedly referred to CNN as “fake news” and personally attacked Acosta while he was trying to ask questions about the Russia scandal that has engulfed the White House.

“Russia is fake news,” Trump claimed.

“Russia — this is fake news put out by the media….The leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them. I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”

“If the information coming from the leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?” Acosta asked.

Trump responded by trashing CNN for not taking him at his word instead of verifying his claims and reporting the truth. He then praised Fox & Friends for kissing his ass like a good propaganda machine.

“When you call it fake news, you’re undermining the confidence in the news media,” Acosta shot back. Trump replied by telling Acosta that he knows when he should get good or bad stories in the news and suggested that the media should get in line and write the stories he wants them to write.

Seriously.

Trump went on to excuse his demand by saying he won the election and claimed his administration is running smoothly despite all the recent reports that say otherwise.

Well, Shep Smith was not amused and he took Trump to the woodshed for it.

First, Smith addressed Trump’s disastrous attempt to hold a big boy conference all by himself.

“It’s sort of our job to let you know when things are said that aren’t true,” Smith said in defense of the media. “This president keeps telling untrue things and he does it every single time he’s in front of a microphone … some of them aren’t really big, but they’re coming from the president.”

He then attacked the logic of Trump’s claim that Russia is “fake news.”

“He says Russia is a ruse, it’s fake news. The leaks are real, but the news is fake. So, that’s impossible. It’s very confusing,” especially when Trump says thing that are “demonstrably, unquestionably, opinion aside, 100 percent false.”

Then Smith passionately defended Acosta.

“He’s an accomplished reporter — a guy I’ve never met, but a good reporter. [Trump was] treating him like … I’m not even going to use the word. I’m not going to give Twitter the love it needs. It’s crazy what we’re watching everyday, it’s absolutely crazy. He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia, as if we’re some kind of fools for asking the question.”

“Really?” Smith continued into an epic conclusion. “Your opposition was hacked, and the Russians were responsible for it, and your people were on the phone with Russia on the same day it was happening, and we’re fools for asking the questions? No, sir, we are not fools for asking this question, and we demand to know the answer to this question. You owe this to the American people. We have a right to know, we absolutely do, and that you call us ‘fake news’ and put us down like children for asking this question is inconsequential. The people deserve that answer.”

Here’s the video via YouTube.

Donald Trump should be ashamed of himself and the media should absolutely keep doing their jobs by calling out Trump’s lies every day.

World Leaders Will Be Hoping For Clarity on U.S. Priorities at the Munich Conference

Pence prepares to swear in Mattis to be Secretary of Defense in Washington

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prepares to swear in James Mattis (L) to be Secretary of Defense in his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017.  Jonathan Ernst—REUTERS

TIME

BERLIN (AP) — Top world leaders, diplomats and defense officials are getting their first opportunity to meet with members of the Trump administration amid concerns over the new president’s commitment to NATO and posture toward Russia.

Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are leading the U.S. delegation to the Munich Security Conference opening Friday. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform for allies — and adversaries — to meet in close quarters.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Donald Tusk and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are among the group of more than 30 heads of state and government, 80 foreign and defense ministers and other officials expected to attend.

Trump set off alarm bells last month by calling NATO “obsolete,” though has subsequently told European leaders he agrees on the “fundamental importance” of the military alliance. He has emphasized the need for all members to pay a fair share for defense, an issue that NATO leaders themselves have pushed for years.

Mattis told the alliance’s 27 other defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday that Trump has “strong support for NATO” and assured Stoltenberg that “the alliance remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States.”

However, Mattis also told fellow NATO members they need to increase their military spending by year’s end or risk seeing the U.S. curtail its defense support.

Other stances — Trump’s support for Britain’s decision to leave the EU, his perceived closeness to Russia and inaugural pledge to put “America first” — also have raised “an unbelievable number of question marks,” conference organizer Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the U.S., said.

Ischinger said expectations that Pence would speak at the conference on Saturday were extremely high. Participants have told him they are seeking clarity on the administration’s stance on its relationship with Russia, NATO, the EU, free trade, human rights, the Iran nuclear agreement, relations with China and the Syria conflict.

“We’re all hoping the American vice president will give a statement on … all of these questions that we in the past weeks have wondered: ‘What does America under Trump really want?'” he said.

Merkel, whose views on many of the main issues differ significantly from those expressed by Trump, plans to address the conference on Saturday.

Others expected to be on hand include Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

On the sidelines, representatives from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France are supposed to hold a meeting of the so-called “Normandy group” to talk about the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters he plans to emphasize the “gravity and urgency” of North Korea’s nuclear program at the meeting. The allegation from the U.S. this week that Russia violated an arms control treaty with the deployment of a cruise missile also seems certain to be on the agenda.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, an outspoken critic of Trump’s Russia policies, is among more than a dozen American representatives expected to attend as part of a U.S. congressional delegation.

Rep. Elijah Cummings says Trump’s account of canceled meeting was a Complete Fabrication

elijah-cummings-4_3.jpg

Rep. Elijah Cummings

DAILY KOS 

Dated 2-16-2017

Cummings: Trump made up cancelled meeting

BY MARK HENSCH

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says President Trump invented a story about him cancelling a scheduled meeting between them.

“I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” he said in a statement Thursday, according to NBC News.

Trump recounted a planned huddle with Cummings that ultimately fell through during a press conference earlier Thursday.

“I was all set to have that meeting,” he said at the White House. “We called him and called him. I spoke to him on the phone and he wanted it.”

“[Cummings] was all excited and then he said, ‘Oh, I can’t move it,’” Trump recounted. “‘It might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.’

“He was probably told by Schumer – or some other lightweight – ‘don’t meet with Trump, it’s bad politics.’ That’s part of the problem in this country.”

Cummings disputed Trump’s account later Thursday, insisting he remains eager to discuss “the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs” with the president.

Full Transcript and Video: Trump News Conference

TRUMP: Let’s go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it’s great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it’s great. I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings and he was all excited. And then he said, well, I can’t move, it might be bad for me politically. I can’t have that meeting.

I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy.

QUESTION: I hear he wanted that meeting with you as well.

TRUMP: He wanted it, but we called, called, called and can’t make a meeting with him. Every day I walk and say I would like to meet with him because I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight. He was probably told — he was probably told “don’t meet with Trump. It’s bad politics.”

And that’s part of the problem in this country. OK, one more.

Here’s Rep. Elijah Cummings complete response to Trump’s fabrication on his office’s website (emphasis from original) .

February 16, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Feb. 16, 2017)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s press conference:

“I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today.  Of course, Senator Schumer never told me to skip a meeting with the President.

“I was actually looking forward to meeting with the President about the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs.  What I have been doing for the past several weeks is working closely with my partner on these efforts, Senator Bernie Sanders.  My goal was to finalize our proposal to allow HHS to negotiate lower drug prices so I could present it to the President.  The President has said many times that he supports this proposal, so I wanted to have our bill ready to get his support.

“I also sincerely have no idea why the President made this claim in response to an unrelated question about the Congressional Black Caucus.  I am sure members of the CBC can answer these questions for themselves.

“The skyrocketing price of prescription drugs is an issue that affects every American family—not just people of color—and I hope the President will make good on his promise to finally allow HHS to negotiate lower drug prices on behalf of American families.  I look forward to meeting with him on this issue and others.”

After being elected President, Donald Trump warned that the pharmaceutical industry is “getting away with murder.”

He has said that Americans could save hundreds of billions of dollars if Medicare were allowed to negotiate prices directly with drug companies.  “We don’t do it,” he said.  “Why?  Because of the drug companies.”

He also said:  “We need new bidding procedures for the drug industry.”  He added:  “Pharma has a lot of lobbyists and power.  There is very little bidding on drugs.”

The most chilling aspect of this is Donald Trump may even beleive his own nonsense.

That would make him delusional.  There is one slightly more palatable explanation: Trump thinks Americans aren’t smart enough to figure out he’s lying.

Lefty Coaster