U.S. Politics

Trump touted ‘armada’ he was sending to North Korea while it was sailing in opposite direction

CREDIT: Fox Business screengrab

THINK PROGRESS

The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

The armada Trump bragged about sending to North Korea last week was actually headed in the opposite direction, according to a new report from the New York Times.

In an interview with Fox Business that aired on April 12, President Trump declared that the United States was “sending an armada” to deal with the threat posed by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s refusal to stop testing weapons.

“We are sending an armada. Very powerful,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments came on the heels of news reports that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed toward North Korea — news seemingly confirmed by a strike group spokesman.

The day before Trump’s Fox Business interview aired, Press Secretary Sean Spicer also seemed to confirm the strike group was on the way to North Korea, saying during a news conference that “a carrier group is several things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It’s prudent. But it does a lot of things. It ensures our — we have the strategic capabilities, and it gives the president options in the region.”

“But I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence,” he added. “So I think it serves multiple capabilities.”

News of the strike group’s proximity to North Korea contributed to an alarming NBC report that the U.S. military was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.”

But turns out it was all false— the strike group wasn’t en route to North Korea last week after all.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that while Trump and Spicer were touting the strike group’s new mission to North Korea, “the Carl Vinson [and] the four other warships in its strike force were at that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula.”

The White House is blaming the Defense Department for the mistake.

“White House officials said on Tuesday they were relying on guidance from the Defense Department,” the Times reports. “Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from a premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea.”

A key to unraveling the confusion, the Times reports, was a photo taken Saturday and posted online by the Navy on Monday showing the Carl Vision sailing through Indonesian islands thousands of miles away from North Korea.

CREDIT: Bradd Jaffy on Twitter

If it makes anyone feel better, the Times reports that the strike group “is now on a northerly course for the Korean Peninsula and is expected to arrive in the region sometime next week,” according to Defense Department officials.

News of the USS Carl Vinson strike group’s true location was first broken by Defense News.

Aaron Rupar

U.S. Politics

The United States Senate is a failed institution (Opinion)

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

THINK PROGRESS

It’s a malapportioned, anti-democratic embarrassment.

Let’s briefly take stock of what’s about to happen in the U.S. Senate.

A president who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 nominated Neil Gorsuch to serve a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest Court. Although a bloc of senators representing at least 53 percent of the country oppose this nominee, Gorsuch is all but certain to be confirmed — after a bit of a showdown over the Senate’s rules.

Gorsuch’s confirmation will come more than a year after President Obama — a president who won the popular vote, twice — nominated Merrick Garland to the same vacant seat on the Supreme Court. At the time, Democratic senators represented over 53 percent of the nation. Yet Garland was not confirmed because, in the bizarre kind of math that exists in the U.S. Senate, 53 percent support only earned the Democratic caucus 46 percent of the Senate’s seats.

This is hardly an unusual event in the Senate’s history. The Senate is the product of a compromise that, while it made sense at the time, rested on assumptions that haven’t been true for more than a century. It was an early bulwark for southern slaveholders and a firewall protecting Jim Crow. One of its most defining traits, the filibuster, was invented accidentally by the villain in a popular Broadway musical.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is one of the few Democrats who will not vote to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. He explained to reporters that he doesn’t want to goad Senate Republicans into eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, which they are expected to do after Gorsuch is filibustered.

“People who have been here for a long time know that we’re going down the wrong path here,” Manchin claimed. “The most unique political body in the world, the United States Senate, will be no more than a six-year term in the House.”

Manchin may be right that the Senate is the world’s most unique political body, but it is unique in the same way that Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is a unique restaurant, or that Nickelback is a unique band. The Senate is theShowgirls of legislative chambers, the Miller Clear Beer of lawmaking bodies. It’s past time someone put it to sleep.

How we got into this mess

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the document that set 13 British colonies on the path to independence, “that all men are created equal.” Eleven years later, several of the same men who signed this Declaration of Independence joined the delegates to America’s constitutional convention — where they promptly cast aside any pretense that the United States is dedicated to the notion that all people are equal.

The Founding Fathers betrayed the Declaration’s promise with a Constitution that explicitly protected the institution of slavery. But they also betrayed it with the Senate, which treats residents of small states as more worthy of representation than residents of larger states.

In fairness, there’s a good explanation for why delegates from larger states were willing to trade away their right to equal representation in the national legislature. The Articles of Confederation, which proceeded the Constitution, was less a charter for a single nation and more akin to NATO, or perhaps the European Union. As Yale law professor Akhil Amar explains, the Articles were “an alliance, a multilateral treaty of sovereign nation-states.”

Under the Articles, Congress could neither tax individuals directly, raise troops, or provide for an army — a matter of great annoyance to General George Washington. The 13 former colonies largely functioned as their own independent nations.

The Senate is a relic, wrapped in a mistake, wrapped in a toxic dose of sanctimony.

Yet, while the United States’ first experiment in unity was more treaty than Union, early American leaders were both well-versed in European history and fearful of the warfare than inevitably results when rival nations share geographic borders. The Constitution was thus an effort to solve two problems at once: to bind the 13 states together in a manner that would keep them from warring with each other, but also to ensure that this Union had real authority over its citizens.

Understood in this context, the Great Compromise that led to the Senate makes sense. Large states like Pennsylvania and New York feared war with their neighboring states more than they feared being outvoted in the Senate. Small states had a stronger claim to equal representation when they were conceived of as independent nations and not simply a collection of individual citizens. And, in any event, the malapportioned Senate would be less dysfunctional that the loose collection of separate nations joined together under the Articles of Confederation.

Yet, whatever the logic of this compromise in 1787, a lot has changed since then. The United States has a coherent national identity. Rhode Island has little to fear from the conquering armies of nearby Massachusetts. Utah is not going to fight a war with Colorado.

And yet the Senate persists, treating each resident of Wyoming as 67 times more worthy than each resident of California, despite the fact that the circumstances that birthed the Senate no longer exist.

The slaveholder’s house

Not long after the Constitution was ratified, slaveholders discovered that they had a problem — most of the nation lived in free states. By the early 1820s, free states controlled 105 of the 187 seats in the House of Representatives — and that’s after you account for the fact that the Three-Fifths Compromisepermitted slave states to count 60 percent of their enslaved and disenfranchised population when it came time to allocate seats in the House.

If the House were the only game in town, in other words, it could conceivably have banned the slave trade — or at least taken fairly aggressive steps to hobble the South’s “peculiar institution.”

The South’s fears came to a head in 1819, when an obscure New York congressman introduced amendments to legislation admitting Missouri as a state, which would have banned any expansion of slavery within Missouri and required that all new children born into slavery be freed at age 25. Among other things, if Missouri were admitted into the Union on these terms, free states would have gained a majority in the Senate.

The response, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz writes, was “blistering.” Southern lawmakers “virtually threatened secession were the amendments approved.” Northerners united behind the amendments in the House, pushing them across the finish line to passage.

Nevertheless, the amendments were ultimately defeated in the Senate, after five northern senators crossed over to vote with a unified South. Missouri was eventually admitted to the Union as a slave state, under the terms enacted through the so-called Missouri Compromise.

The Senate, however, truly came into its own as a savior for Southern racists in the century following the Civil War.

In 1875, Reconstruction was on its last legs. Democrats, then the party most sympathetic to Southern whites, recently regained control of the House of Representatives. When Mississippi Democrats staged a violent uprising to seize control of their state, President Grant did not send troops to intervene. Within just two years, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would sell out African Americans in the South in order to secure his own election — trading the end of Reconstruction for the presidency.

Yet, even as white supremacists tightened their grip on the old Confederacy, Congress, several senators elected under Reconstruction governments had not yet completed their terms. As racist mobs marched through the state, Mississippi still had two Republican senators in 1875 — one of whom, Sen. Blanche Bruce, was a black man.

1875 was thus the last year until midway through the next century that Congress enacted a civil rights law of any kind. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited racial discrimination by “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement,” though this provision was soon struck down by the Supreme Court.

The reason why no new civil rights bill emerged from Congress until 1957 was the Senate. Though five such bills cleared the House in the 12 years following World War II alone, Senate malapportionment gave the southern senators far more influence over the legislative process than their states’ population could justify.

That, combined with another peculiarity of the Senate, was enough to halt civil rights in its tracks.

Talk less, smile more

This is an impolitic time for a liberal news site to discuss the history of the filibuster. A bloc of Democrats comprising a majority of the nation but a minority of the seats in the Senate hope to keep a very conservative judge off the Supreme Court through a filibuster. Republican leaders hope to block this maneuver by eliminating filibusters of Supreme Court nominees. Having endured under the filibuster for so many years, the United States would undoubtedly be better off if the filibuster survives just a little bit longer until the Gorsuch nomination is defeated.

Yet, while the senators hoping to filibuster Gorsuch represent a majority of the nation, this state of affairs is fairly unusual. The filibuster played a major role in Southern senators’ efforts to halt civil rights legislation. It played a similar role in a Republican minority’s efforts to shut down the only agency that can enforce much of federal labor law in 2013, and it was the centerpiece of Republican efforts to sabotage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it was even operational. The last time the Senate erupted into a nuclear showdown over the filibuster, a Republican minority tried to prevent President Obama from confirming anyone to a powerful appeals court in Washington, DC.

Far more often than not, in other words, the filibuster thwarts democracy rather than reinforcing it. It cheated African Americans out of their full status as citizens. It threatened to dismantle entire agencies, despite the fact that Congress passed no law permitting this to happen. If the filibuster rules do change this week, Democrats should lament the rise of Neil Gorsuch, but they should not weep to see one of the most anti-democratic aspects of the Senate suffer another cut.

The filibuster’s very existence is an historic accident arising from one of Aaron Burr’s final acts as vice president. As Brookings political scientist Sarah Binder recounts the history, the lame duck vice president returned to the Senate in 1805, fresh off his indictment for killing Alexander Hamilton. There, as the Senate’s presiding officer, he told the senators that their rule book was too complicated and had too many duplicative procedures. One process in particular, the “previous question motion,” Burr deemed especially worthy of removal.

And the Senate believed him. They eliminated this motion the next year.

It turned out, however, that the previous question motion was not superfluous, it was a motion that enabled senators to cut off debate on a subject when a minority wanted to keep that debate going. Thus, by eliminating the motion, Burr effectively enabled dissenters to delay a vote indefinitely by forcing the Senate to “debate” it until the majority gave up.

No one actually attempted this until 1837, when “a minority block of Whig senators prolonged debate to prevent Andrew Jackson’s allies from expunging a resolution of censure against him.” But filibusters grew increasingly common over most of the following century and in 1917, the Senate amended its rules to permit a two-thirds supermajority to end debate. This threshold was eventually lowered to 60 senators, and later to 51 senators for confirmation votes not involving Supreme Court nominees.

In any event, one of the Senate’s most distinctive features, the filibuster, is not part of some grand vision of minority rights handed down from up on high to the Founding Fathers. It is an accident, created by a lame duck vice president and a body of senators who did not understand what they were doing.

Can it be fixed?

In its inception, the Senate had two anti-democratic features. It is malapportioned, and its members were originally selected by state legislatures, not by the voters themselves. As explained above, it soon developed a third major anti-democratic feature, the filibuster.

The good news, for those of us who believe that the right to govern should flow from the will of the people, is that the Senate has gotten better over time. The Seventeenth Amendment provides for direct election of senators. The filibuster is part-way through a process that is likely to end in its demise.

Nevertheless, curing the Senate’s greatest sin against democracy — the fact that it treats a person from California as 1/67th of a person from Wyoming — will be a much heavier lift.

Although the Constitution provides two processes for amendments, these processes come with two caveats. No amendment could be made prior to 1808 curtailing the slave trade, and “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

Theoretically, there are ways around this problem. The United States could ratify two amendments to the Constitution — one permitting amendments to the Senate’s makeup and another actually changing that makeup or abolishing the Senate. Or, alternatively, a single amendment could leave the Senate in place as a malapportioned body, but reduce its authority so that it becomes an advisory body similar to the British House of Lords.

The problem with these solutions, however, is that any amendment requires the consent of three-fourths of the states, and it is unlikely that the states that benefit from malappointment will vote to reduce their own power.

So that leaves one last option, a constitutional revolution. And there is one very significant precedent for such radical change.

Under the Articles of Confederation, amendments were only permitted with the unanimous consent of the states. Nevertheless, a new Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia which, by its own terms, became effective upon “the ratification of the conventions of nine states.” The Constitution of the United States is, in this sense, unconstitutional.

We the People could once again invoke a similar process to create a more democratic union — one that is not only free of Senate malapportionment, but also free of other anti-democratic aspects of our present system such as partisan gerrymandering and the Electoral College.

I have no illusions that this will happen any time soon, but it is likely the only way that the United States can become a truly democratic republic — one where everyone’s vote counts equally, regardless of where they live.

Ian Millhiser

U.S. Politics

Trump’s Wall Is Already Collapsing

Trump’s Wall Is Already Collapsing

attribution: none

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Donald Trump spent more than a year rousing crowds with a simple promise: “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” As the campaign wore on, it got so he could ask “Who’s gonna pay for the wall?” and the audience would roar, “Mexico!”

It was fun while it lasted. But now, in the cold light of day, some facts are coming into focus: It may not exactly be a wall. It won’t be paid for by Mexico. And it may not get built.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is one of the people backing off from this promise. Non-wall options, such as electronic sensors, will have to be considered in some places, he said. You see, “the border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall.”

Not only that but where would we locate it? “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall?” Zinke asked. “We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.” The Mexicans won’t invite us to erect the structure on their side. So siting may be a problem.

That’s not all the Mexicans won’t do. President Enrique Pena Nieto has said repeatedly and unequivocally that his government will not bear the cost. Trump had the chance to out-negotiate Pena on the wall when he met with him in Mexico City last summer — but Trump chose not to even raise the payment issue.

The Mexican president was supposed to come to Washington for a White House meeting in January. But when Trump said it would be better to cancel the trip if Mexico was not willing to pay for the wall, Pena canceled the trip.

Trump said that rather than make Mexico pay for it upfront, “we’ll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico.” So we’ll send the invoice and they’ll mail a check? Well, not exactly. “There will be a payment,” he told ABC News. “It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form.”

No one on Capitol Hill seems to share Trump’s confidence. When Politico’s Jake Sherman asked Mitch McConnell whether Mexico will pay for the wall, the Senate Republican leader couldn’t suppress his mirth at the very idea. “‘Uh, no,’ he shot back, chuckling,” Politico reported.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said with solemn vagueness, “We will be working with (Trump) to finance the construction of the physical barrier, including the wall, on the southern border.” Faced with the funding disagreement with Mexico, Trump included money for the wall in his budget outline, with the funds taken from other programs.

Republican enthusiasm is not abundant. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said recently that “billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina agreed it is “probably not a smart investment.”

Democrats have promised to block any bill that includes money for the wall, which means they could force a government shutdown if Republicans attach it to the emergency spending measure that needs to be approved by April 28. Ryan said Thursday that the wall appropriation will be dropped to avert a shutdown.

But there may not be much interest in funding it afterward, either. The House Freedom Caucus is generally not fond of spending money, and Trump’s declaration of war on the group will not make its members more eager to indulge him.

Plenty of Senate Republicans are also skeptical. “If you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re going to have to show me where you’re going to get that money,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in February. “We can’t pay for it out of thin air,” said Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

There don’t seem to be many people in Washington who think the wall can be built as Trump claimed or that it would work very well. Not to mention that it sounded a lot better when Mexico was going to pay for it.

Trump fooled a lot of voters when he made that promise, and he may have even fooled himself. But at some point, you run out of fools.

By Steve Chapman (website at http://www.creators.com)

U.S. Politics

Trumpcare is back from the dead and it is even worse

House speaks Paul Ryan of Wis.  March 30, 2017. CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

THINK PROGRESS

House Republicans aren’t giving up on their failed health care bill.

Vice President Mike Pence, Budget Director Mike Mulvaney, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus met with with House Freedom Caucus Republicans on Monday night to find out what changes would be acceptable to the caucus, Politico reported. The caucus chairman, Rep. Mike Meadows (R-NC) said GOP lawmakers would see the text of a new health care bill within 24 hours. The White House also met with a few House Republicans from the more moderate Tuesday Group on Monday to see what changes they would be comfortable with.

Republican leaders failed to gather the necessary votes on their original health care bill last month because it didn’t go far enough for far-right conservatives — removing things like the provision requiring insurers to cover preexisting conditions — and went too far for moderate Republicans, who weren’t as anxious to slash Medicaid.

Last week, Republicans recommitted to repealing and replacing Obamacare. After telling reporters that Obamacare would be the law of the land for the “foreseeable future” a few days earlier, Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans would keep pushing for a repeal. The following night, President Donald Trump said making a deal on health care would be “such an easy one.”

Politico reported that sources familiar with the discussions say that groups such as Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity, which fought against the original health care bill, were willing to work with the White House. When Republicans last pushed for a vote, Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham called it an “awful bill.” Many conservatives who opposed the bill called it “Obamacare-lite.”

Meadows said a tentative deal with the House Freedom Caucus would let states waive the essential health benefits requirement (EHB) and community rating regulations. The community rating provision requires that insurance companies charge the same price to people who are the same age.

Requirements to insure people with preexisting conditions would remain, but getting rid of these provisions would allow insurers to include less services on their plans and ultimately charge the sick more, making it far less usefuloverall. A person with a chronic illness would buy a plan, but it’s very likely that that person wouldn’t be able to afford the services they need if the EHB requirement were waived. If there were no community rating provision, health plans would also be able to charge a chronically ill person a lot more than they would today.

Far-right conservatives told Politico that they will accept a bill that retains the provision keeping children on their parents’ insurance until age 26 — a popular provision — if they can get rid of these other regulations.

Keeping two of the most popular Obamacare provisions may prevent moderates from leaving the talks entirely. Moderates have been pushing for adding more money to the high-risk pools, and the tentative deal explains in more detail how $115 billion in funding would be allocated to these pools, according to The Huffington Post. But getting rid of the community rating system may make it more difficult for moderates to sign on.

It’s unclear when Republican leaders would push for another vote on this legislation, but an administration source told Politico, “This is a level of urgency I haven’t seen out of them.” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said he was optimistic that the bill could be brought up before the Easter recess.

Casey Quinlan

U.S. Politics

Even Fox News slams EPA chief’s climate denial: ‘All kinds of studies contradict you’

Screenshot of FoxNews Sunday morning graphic debunking EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s claim CO2 is not a ‘primary contributor’ to global warming

THINK PROGRESS

Even Fox News can’t believe that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, doesn’t accept the basic scientific finding that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to recent global warming.

To promote President Trump’s disastrous plan to gut the EPA and U.S. climate action, Pruitt has been pushing his dangerous beliefs on all the major networks.

Pruitt may have thought the Murdoch-owned network that has led the way on attacking climate science for two decades would be a friendly audience. He was wrong.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace thoroughly debunked Pruitt for defending his absurd claim that CO2 is not “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Wallace will have none of it: “Mr. Pruitt, there are all kinds of studies that contradict you.” He quotes the conclusion of the world’s leading climate scientists in the U.N.’s 2013 assessment of the scientific literature that there’s a 95 to 100 percent chance “human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Pruitt hems and haws and tries to gloss over his statement. Wallace then blasts him for “sugarcoating what you said,” and reduces the question to its simplest form. “What if you are wrong?” asks Wallace.

“What if, in fact, the earth is warming, what if it is causing dramatic climate change and we as humans through carbon emissions are contributing to it? Simple question, what if you are wrong?”

Pruitt can’t admit that possibility, so he hides behind the tiny mistake Wallace makes in an otherwise outstanding grilling of Pruitt. Wallace only asks what if humans are “contributing” to climate change, rather than hitting Pruitt on his denial that humans are the “primary” contributor.

This allows Pruitt to concede CO2 makes some contribution, assert “the issue is how much we contribute to it,” and sidestep the fact that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists — over 97 percent of them — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change and thus are the primary solution.

As an important aside, the UN assessment of climate science that Fox News cited states clearly, “The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.” That is, the best estimate by scientists is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950! Every major government in the world signed off on this finding.

Still, kudos to Chris Wallace for dismantling Pruitt’s lies. What a topsy-turvy world it is where Fox News takes on the role of defender of climate science. It seems even they draw the line at certain alternative facts.

Joe Romm

U.S. Politics

The White House Wouldn’t Post Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures. So We Did.

The White House Wouldn’t Post Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures. So We Did.

THE NATIONAL MEMO

In a remarkable Friday night news dump, the Trump administration made dozens of White House staffers’ financial disclosure forms available. But they did it with an extra dose of opacity.

These are important disclosures from the people who have the president’s ear and shape national policy. They lay out all sorts of details, including information on ownership of stocks, real estate and companies, and make possible conflicts of interest public.

But the White House required a separate request for each staffer’s disclosure. And they didn’t give the names of the staffers, leaving us to guess who had filed disclosures, a kind of Transparency Bingo.

Since the White House wasn’t going to post the documents publicly, we did.

We teamed up with The New York Times and The Associated Press, requested docs for every staffer we know and put them in this public Google Drive folder.

We’re continuing to look through them. And we want your help: If you see anything that merits a closer look, comment on the thread below or fill out our Google Form.

Among the things we’ve learned already:

Steve Bannon, President Trump’s hand-picked chief strategist, earned more than $500,000 last year through businesses connected to Republican donors Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah. The companies include the conservative website Breitbart News Network; the data-crunching firm Cambridge Analytica; the conservative nonprofit Government Accountability Institute; and the entertainment production company Glittering Steel. (Per an agreement with White House ethics attorneys, Bannon is selling his stakes in Cambridge Analytica and Glittering Steel. He made somewhere between $1.3 million and $2.3 million last year, according to the filings.)

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, resigned his positions in 266 different business entities in order to comply with federal ethics rules, White House officials said Friday. He and his wife Ivanka’s financial disclosure shows the scale of their wealth, largely through the family-run Kushner Companies: real estate and investments worth as much as $741 million.

And Kushner is holding onto more than 100 real-estate assets, including a Trump-branded rental building in Jersey City, New Jersey, which was financed with millions from wealthy Chinese investors through a visa program.

As part of Kushner’s financial disclosure, Ivanka Trump, who recently took an official post in the White House, had to disclose her assets. Ivanka Trump’s branded companies, including her clothing and jewelry lines, brought in more than $5 million in 2016 and are valued at more than $50 million. Her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which opened in September, brought in income of between $1 million and $5 million. (She is putting her companies in a trust that she won’t manage while her father serves as president.)

There are other tidbits, too. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs investment banker who now serves as director of the National Economic Council, has assets worth at least $253 million, including million-dollar or more stakes in several private companies. Omarosa Manigault, the reality-TV star who took a job as a White House communications staffer, has a 33 percent stake in a trust worth between $1 million and $5 million established by her late fiancée, the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan, who died in 2012. Reed Cordish, a Trump family friend and Maryland real-estate developer who now oversees technology initiatives at the White House, reported assets of at least $197 million, including partnerships in Baltimore casinos.

So far, we’ve received less than half of the roughly 180 financial disclosures White House officials said they have processed. But the moment we get them, you will, too.

by Ariana Tobin and Derek Kravitz

U.S. Politics

What Happens To A Country Whose Leader Can’t Say ‘I’m Sorry’

What Happens To A Country Whose Leader Can’t Say ‘I’m Sorry’

 

THE NATIONAL MEMO

“I blame myself—it was my fault, and I take full responsibility for it,” Donald Trump never said, not once in his entire life.

Here’s what else the president didn’t say about the rout and ruin of repeal and replace: “I was clueless about health care policy. Instead of reading my briefing books or even my own bill, I played golf. I bullshitted my way through every meeting and phone call. And when it was explained to me that this dumpster fire of a bill would break my promise that everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they are now, which was a huge applause line by the way, I threw my own voters under the bus.”

In the wake of his Waterloo, instead of manning up, Trump blamed Democrats for not voting to strip health insurance from 24 million people, not voting to cut Medicaid by $880 billion in order to cut taxes by $883 billion and not voting to obliterate the signature legislative accomplishment of the Barack Obama years.

“Look,” he complained with crocodile bafflement to the New York Times, “we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero.” Yet Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had not asked a single Democrat what it would take to get them to support a health care bill. “The good news,” Trump said, seeing the sunny side of the catastrophe he predicts is coming, is that the Democrats “now own Obamacare.” Don’t blame me—it’ll be their fault when it explodes, not mine.

Trump blamed Republicans, too. The morning of Friday, March 24, when the bill was still in play, he tweeted that if the Freedom Caucus stops his plan, they would be allowing Planned Parenthood to continue. That afternoon, amid the wreckage, Trump told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa he was just an innocent bystander. “There are years of problems, great hatred and distrust” in the Republican Party, “and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”

White House aides, bravely speaking without attribution, blamed Ryan for snookering the rookie-in-chief into tackling Obamacare before tax reform. Trump himself told Costa, “I don’t blame Paul.” He repeated it: “I don’t blame Paul.” Then again: “I don’t blame Paul at all.”

The laddie doth protest too much, methinks. By tweet time Saturday morning, clairvoyantly touting Jeanine Pirro’s Saturday night Fox News show, Trump had found a surrogate to stick the knife in Ryan without his fingerprints on it. “This is not on President Trump,” Pirro said, avowing that “no one expected a businessman,” a “complete outsider,” to understand “the complicated ins and outs of Washington.” No, it’s on Ryan, she said. Ryan must step down.

Blame precedes politics. In Western civilization’s genesis story, Adam blamed Eve for tempting him, and he blamed God for Eve. But America’s genesis story contains a noble, if apocryphal, counter-narrative: When George Washington’s father asked him who chopped down the cherry tree, the future father of his country didn’t blame someone else—he copped to it. That’s the legacy Harry Truman claimed when he put “The buck stops here” sign on his Oval Office desk.

But Trump is the consummate blame artist, a buck-passer on a sociopathic scale. He kicked off his campaign by blaming Mexico for sending us rapists and stealing our jobs. He blamed Hillary Clinton for founding the birther movement. He blamed President Obama for founding ISIS. He blamed Obama’s Labor Department for publishing a “phony” unemployment rate. He blamed 3 million illegal voters for his losing the popular vote to Clinton. He blamed the botched raid in Yemen on U.S. generals. When U.S. District Judge James Robart ruled against his Muslim travel ban, he blamed Robart for future terrorism: “If something happens, blame him and the court system.” He blamed “fake news” for treating Michael Flynn, “a wonderful man” he had fired as his national security adviser, “very, very unfairly.” He blamed Obama for wiretapping Trump Tower. He made his spokesman blame British intelligence for carrying that out. When GCHQ called that a crock, Trump played artful dodger: “All we did was quote … a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

Obamacare is imperfect but fixable. But Trump wants to bomb it, not improve it. He wants to light the fuse and then blame Democrats for exploding it. Trump could shore up the insurance exchanges that cover 10 million Americans by marketing them when enrollment opens again in November—but I bet he won’t. He could instruct government lawyers to appeal a lawsuit halting federal subsidies for co-payments and deductibles of low-income enrollees that House Republicans won last year—but I bet he won’t. On the other hand, he has the power to narrow the essential benefits Obamacare requires insurers to provide by, say, limiting prescription drug coverage and lowering the number of visits allowed for mental health treatment or physical therapy—and I bet he will.

Will Trump get away with it? He’s spent a lifetime banging his highchair and blaming the dog for his mess. No wonder he calls the free press fake news; no wonder he calls citizen activists paid protesters. You call someone who gets away with blaming others “unaccountable.” You know what the antonym of that is? Impeachable.

 

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

U.S. Politics

Bannon And Trump Have Quietly Installed An Alt-National Security Council Operating Inside The White House

Bannon And Trump Have Quietly Installed An Alt-National Security Council Operating Inside The White House

attribution: NONE

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Less than a month after much-admired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster took over from Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Trump’s alter-ego Steve Bannon appears to be more in control of U.S. foreign policy than ever.

There is little sign McMaster will be able to restore traditional U.S. foreign policy commitments to NATO and the European Union, and every indication that Bannon’s shadowy Strategic Initiatives Group, denounced by two national security experts as “dangerous hypocrisy,” is driving U.S. policy.

McMaster, a lieutenant general with a reputation as an intellectual, was perhaps the last-gasp hope of Washington’s foreign policy professionals against the radical ambitions of the Trump administration. He was seen as a man who could speak unpopular truths to Trump and block Bannon’s improvisations while restoring a degree of continuity to U.S. foreign policy under Obama and Bush.

Losing Ground

No sooner had Flynn been fired over undisclosed meetings with a Russian diplomat, it was reported that McMaster would impose order on Flynn’s chaotic NSC, purging ideologues and removing Bannon from the National Security Council as urged by Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Given the gravity of the issues the NSC deals with, it is vital that that body not be politicized, and Bannon’s presence as a member of that body politicizes it instantly,” Mullen said.

McMaster urged Trump not to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing, along with virtually every other U.S. military leader, that the phrase only alienates friendly Muslims and increases the risk to U.S. personnel stationed in Islamic countries without providing any military or political advantages.

McMaster’s influence has been fading ever since. There would be no “purge” at NSC, an unnamed senior White House official told Foreign Policy. “Key NSC officials focused on the Middle East and other vital areas will keep their positions in the near term,” the official said. Bannon remains on the NSC’s Principals Committee, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is only a part-time participant.

Trump pointedly ignored McMaster’s advice and denounced “radical Islamic terrorism” in his address to the Congress, much to the satisfaction of deputy national security adviser Sebastian Gorka. A lightly credentialed acolyte of Bannon, Gorka seems to have more influence with Trump than McMaster, a decorated lieutenant general.

While Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden, recently expressed hope that an “axis of adults” can take control of Trump’s foreign policy, all indications are that the “axis of ideologues,” led by Bannon and Gorka, are ascendant.

What SIG does

The Strategic Initiatives Group is emerging as Bannon’s conduit for aiding the populist right in Europe. Described as a “White House think tank,” SIG is run by Chris Liddell, formerly chief financial officer at a Hollywood talent agency. The group’s mission is described as supporting Trump administration collaboration with “private forums.”

In practice, that seems to mean Liddell will assist in marketing the message of the chauvinist European right.

Last week, Gorka signaled the ascendant ideology by endorsing a white nationalist opus by Georgetown University professor Joshua Mitchell in the debut issue of a policy journal called American Affairs.

For globalists, Mitchell writes, “political justice involved material growth made possible by global management and the identity debt-points that global elites dispensed to this or that oppressed ‘identity’ group as a consequence of past infractions or of the irredeemable fault of others—typically (the imaginary category of) White People.”

“The dark Protestant machinations about human freedom and pride that drove President Bush and President Obama, respectively, make no appearance in the thinking of Trump,” Mitchell writes. “He will ask of foreign nations, simply, are they going to be allies or not; and will America be able to win with or without them?” In other words, Europeans who favor economic integration, ethnic pluralism and military deterrence of Russia are no longer regarded as U.S. allies.

“Trump has made clear that he’s at best indifferent, if not openly hostile to the modern European project, and Bannon has indicated that anti-E.U. populists have a friend in the White House,” writes American conservative James Kirchick in the German daily, FAZ.

Bannon approved of the visit of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to Trump Tower in January. He published Dutch anti-immigration leader Geert Wilders in Breitbart News. And now he seems to be targeting Angela Merkel, the pro-immigration German prime minister who has emerged as the de facto leader of Europe, if not the free world. Merkel, who faces elections this fall, certainly sees Bannon’s media strategy as a threat.

“We shouldn’t underestimate what’s happening on the internet,” Merkel said in a speech to the German parliament last week. “Opinions today are formed differently than 25 years ago. Fake pages, bots, and trolls can distort views.”

Not coincidentally, Breitbart.com is said to be opening a Berlin bureau later this year.

While Bannon often talks in apocalyptic terms about war between the Christian West and Islam, his initial moves in the National Security Council are more political than militaristic. Through SIG, Bannon seeks to midwife a more nationalist and Christian Europe, as a prelude to escalating a “clash of civilizations” war against Islam.

In this geopolitical gambit, Bannon and company are setting the course, while McMaster and the “adults” of the Washington policy elite look increasingly irrelevant.

U.S. Politics

The 78 programs Trump wants to eliminate don’t even pay for his border wall

President Trump with House Speaker Paul Ryan. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

THINK PROGRESS

Here are the things Donald Trump says the government should stop doing forever.

In his initial budget document released on Thursday, President Donald Trump called for huge reductions in government spending. Beyond simply handing some agencies and programs less money to work with, he wants to completely eliminate 78 programs — including the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Services Block Grant, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Legal Services Corporation, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Minority Business Development Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, United States Institute of Peace, and United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

All told, the money saved from the functions that Trump wants to eliminate comes to just under $23.6 billion, according to a ThinkProgress analysis.

That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s not even half of the increase in funding he wants to give to the military: $54 billion. The United States already spends more on defense than the next seven largest military budgets around the world combined.

The sum is also dwarfed by the size of the tax cut that Trump has proposed enacting, which would cost the government $341 billion in the first year and $6.1 trillion over a decade. Under that plan, the poorest families would get just $110 in annual tax relief, while the richest 0.1 percent of Americans would get more than $1 million in one year.

The amount of money saved by eliminating these government programs wouldn’t even be enough to pay for the construction of Trump’s border wall, the price for which has been put at $25 billion.

CREDIT: Adam Peck/ThinkProgress

Several of the programs Trump wants to cancel have very small price tags and very large impacts. Trump’s decision not to spare even these high-efficiency connections between the government and its people is impossible to justify in budget terms, given their low costs. Instead, these cuts seem to represent a philosophical choice to derail things the president doesn’t believe in doing — even if they help people.

One HUD program tagged for execution generates massive private investment in housing construction, at the cost of just $35 million per year. The Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing program generates more than $20 in private investment in low-income housing for every dollar taxpayers spend. That radically efficient system lured almost $6 billion in low-income housing development spending from private sources since 2010, according to the nonprofit network Enterprise.

By contrast, Trump is forcing taxpayers to spend an estimated $3 million every time he travels to his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida. He could cancel a dozen of his tropical weekends and save more money than he does by eliminating the HUD program — and without savaging the already rocky state of affordable housing investment nationwide.

Other examples from Trump’s proposed budget cuts make even less fiscal sense. He would eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation even though the self-sustaining business development organization actually returns money to the treasury every year. The Interagency Council on Homelessness would be dissolved — saving just $4 million a year in exchange for making it harder to coordinate policies and reach consensus in the fight to end homelessness — as would the $11 million federal organization that investigates chemical accidents like the deadly West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion.

Alan Pyke

U.S. Politics

Spicer uses strikingly passive language to describe Trump’s oversight of troop deployment to Syria

This frame grab from a video provided by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), shows fighters from the SDF opening fire on an Islamic State group’s position, in Raqqa’s eastern countryside on March 6 | CREDIT: Syria Democratic Forces, via AP

THINK PROGRESS

“The president was made aware of that.”

During his news conference on Thursday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked “how involved” President Trump was in the decision to deploy roughly 400 heavily armed marines to Syria.

The passive language Spicer used to describe Trump’s role may reflect the new latitude military commanders have to conduct operations without the commander in chief’s direct knowledge.

“Obviously the president was made aware of that,” Spicer said. “This is something that was done in consultation. He understands the regional issues that need to be addressed there.”

Spicer’s comment comes on the heels of reports that Trump won’t micromanage military operations in the way President Obama did.

Earlier this month, the Daily Beast, citing multiple officials, reported that “[t]he White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL [named Ryan Owens].”

Trump “has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama,” the Daily Beast added.

Mattis required a congressional waiver to become defense secretary because he hadn’t been retired from active military service for more than seven years. Prior to Mattis, there was only one precedent for such a waiver being issued. Civilian control of the military is enshrined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president “shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Trump’s move to give generals more decision-making power chips away at that tradition.

The January 29 raid in Yemen, which was approved by Trump over dinner with his advisers, resulted in the deaths of at least 25 civilians, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Days after it happened, Reuters reported that unnamed U.S. military officials told them Trump signed off on his first military action “without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.”

Trump won’t accept responsibility for deadly SEAL raid he approved over dinner, blames Obama

“Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here.”thinkprogress.org
Late last month, Trump appeared to try and shift responsibility for the Yemen raid to his generals, saying during a Fox & Friends interview that “this was a mission that was started before I got here.”

“This was something that was, you know, [the generals] wanted to do,” Trump said. “And they lost Ryan.”

Spicer’s language on Thursday suggests Trump will be able to use the same excuse if anything goes awry in Syria, where the newly deployed marines, armed with artillery guns, are “working with local partners in Syria — the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition” to rout ISIS from the city of Raqqa, Reuters reports.

According to Al Jazeera, the deployment, which is temporary, “could be an indication that the White House is leaning towards giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The US is also preparing to send up to 1,000 troops to Kuwait.

Trump appears determined to go after both al Qaeda and ISIS despite sending conflicting signals about his desire to get involved in Middle East conflicts during the campaign.

In September 2015, Trump asked “Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants. I would talk to them, get along with them.”

But two months later, Trump said of ISIS, “I would bomb the shit out of ‘em.”

“They have certain areas of oil that they took away,” Trump said. “I would just bomb those suckers… there would be nothing left.”

While Trump and his generals are targeting al Qaeda and not ISIS in Yemen, Foreign Policy reports that the numbers of bombs the Trump administration dropped in that civil war-ravaged country over a single week “eclipsed the annual bombing total for any year during Obama’s presidency.”

“Under the previous administration, approval for strikes came only after often slow-moving policy discussions, with senior officials required to sign off on any action, while the Trump administration has proven much quicker at greenlighting attacks,” Foreign Policy adds.

Aaron Rupar