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In Afghanistan, Trump poised to abandon...

Monday August 21st, 2017 04:40:57 PM Steve Benen
Donald Trump appears likely to do the opposite of what he said he wanted to do in Afghanistan.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.21.17

Monday August 21st, 2017 04:00:12 PM Steve Benen
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

The Secret Service confronts unique...

Monday August 21st, 2017 03:22:11 PM Steve Benen
We're left with a dynamic in which the financially strapped Secret Service is indirectly paying Trump while also protecting him and his family.

Sen. King: Trump 'Should Stop Tweeting'

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:46:01 PM
Senator Angus King, of Maine, discusses Trump latest actions regarding Charlottesville and how the President should stop tweeting.

As Trump controversies intensify,...

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:40:10 PM Steve Benen
The irony is, had the president divested as he was supposed to, the golf club probably wouldn't be facing so many cancellations.

Sen. Collins: 'Too Difficult To Say' If...

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:18:36 PM
Senator Susan Collins, R-ME, speaks out about President Trump's actions regarding Charlottesville and the future of healthcare reform.

White House aide: 'You have no idea how...

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:00:12 PM Steve Benen
White House aides keep telling us they have to talk Donald Trump out of doing "crazy" things.

One member of Trump's Evangelical...

Monday August 21st, 2017 01:20:19 PM Steve Benen
Even as others fled Donald Trump's toxicity last week, every member of his Evangelical Advisory Board stuck with him -- until now.

Dem congressman confident in party's...

Monday August 21st, 2017 12:55:43 PM
Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., joins Morning Joe to discuss why, despite July fundraising totals favoring the RNC, he is confident in the party's odds for the midterm elections.

GOP base comfortable with Trump's...

Monday August 21st, 2017 12:40:23 PM Steve Benen
Much of the American mainstream was repulsed by Trump's racially inflammatory rhetoric last week, but there's fresh evidence his GOP base approved.

Total Solar Eclipse Sweeps Ashore In Oregon In Rare March Across US

Monday August 21st, 2017 05:34:54 PM
Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses Monday as the moon blotted out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century. It promised to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with millions staking out prime viewing spots and settling into lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured. The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began racing diagonally across the continent to South Carolina, with darkness lasting only about two to three minutes in any one spot. “The show has just begun, people! What a gorgeous day! Isn’t this great, people?” Jim Todd, a director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, told a crowd of thousands at an amphitheater in Salem, Oregon, as the moon seemed to take an ever-bigger bite out of the sun and temperature soon dropped noticeably. With 200 million people within a day’s drive from the path of totality, towns and parks braced for monumental crowds. Clear skies beckoned along most of the route, to the relief of those who feared cloud cover would spoil this once-in-a-lifetime moment. “It’s like nothing else you will ever see or ever do,” said veteran eclipse-watcher Mike O’Leary of San Diego, who set up his camera along with among hundreds of other amateur astronomers gathered in Casper, Wyoming. “It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things.” Astronomers were giddy with excitement. A solar eclipse is considered one of the grandest of cosmic spectacles. NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger.” With half hour to go before totality, NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, enjoyed the moon’s “first bites out of the sun” from a plane flying over the Oregon coast and declared it “just an incredible view.” “I’m about to fight this man for a window seat,” Lightfoot said, referring to a fellow NASA scientist. The Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night for a sliver of the planet. But these sights normally are in no man’s land, like the vast Pacific or Earth’s poles. This is the first eclipse of the social media era to pass through such a heavily populated area. The moon hasn’t thrown this much shade at the U.S. since 1918, during the country’s last coast-to-coast total eclipse. In fact, the U.S. mainland hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse since 1979 — and even then, only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness. “It’s really, really, really, really awesome,” said 9-year-old Cami Smith as she watched the fully eclipsed sun from a gravel lane near her grandfather’s home at Beverly Beach, Oregon. Scientists said the total eclipse would cast a shadow that would race 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) through 14 states, entering near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 1:16 p.m. EDT, moving diagonally across the heartland over Casper, Wyoming, Carbondale, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee, and then exiting near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:47 p.m. EDT. Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois was in line to see the longest stretch of darkness: 2 minutes and 44 seconds. All of North America was on track to get at least a partial eclipse, along with Central America and the top of South America. Joe Roth, an amateur photographer, traveled south from the Chicago area to Alto Pass, Illinois, to catch his first total solar eclipse — on his 62nd birthday, no less. He said the stars aligned for him — “a Kodak moment for me to cherish and experience.” Kim Kniseley drove overnight from Roanoke, Virginia, arriving in Madisonville, Tennessee, before dawn to get a parking spot at Kefauver Park, where by sunrise dozens of folks had claimed benches and set up tents. He said he could have stayed home in Roanoke and seen a partial eclipse of 90 percent, but that would have been like “going to a rock concert and you’re standing in the parking lot.” Hoping to learn more about the sun’s composition and activity, NASA and other scientists watched and analyzed from telescopes on the ground and in orbit, the International Space Station, airplanes and scores of high-altitude balloons beaming back live video. Citizen scientists also planned to monitor animal and plant behavior as daylight turned into twilight and the temperature dropped. Thousands of people streamed into the Nashville Zoo just to watch the animals’ reaction. Scientists warned people not to look into the sun without protection, except when the sun is 100 percent covered. Otherwise, to avoid eye damage, keep the solar specs on or use pinhole projectors that can cast an image of the eclipse into a box. The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be in 2024. The next coast-to-coast one will not be until 2045.

Secret Service Has Enough Funding To Perform Duties Through September

Monday August 21st, 2017 05:23:08 PM
The Secret Service announced Monday it has enough funding to protect President Donald Trump, his administration and 18 of Trump’s family members through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The announcement came after USA Today reported Monday that the agency has already met the cap for salary and overtime work that was supposed to last the whole year, for over 1,000 of its agents. The strain is due in part to the size of Trump’s family and how much they travel, USA Today reported. The Secret Service provides protection for 42 people under Trump, including 18 members of his family. Former President Barack Obama had 31 people under Secret Service’s protection. “The Secret Service has the funding it needs to meet all current mission requirements for the remainder of the fiscal year and compensate employees for overtime within statutory pay caps. The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017. Our agency experienced a similar situation in calendar year 2016 that resulted in legislation that allowed Secret Service employees to exceed statutory caps on pay,” Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said in a statement released Monday. He said the department is working with the Department of Homeland Security, the administration and Congress to come up with a “legislative” solution. Alles has been in talks with some lawmakers about raising the federally mandated salary and overtime compensation cap for agents from $160,000 a year to $187,000, USA Today reported. The department is also hoping to hire more agents over the next several years to remedy the federal salary and overtime cap mandate.  Alles combatted USA Today’s reporting, saying the issue is larger than the fact that Trump has a big family that likes to travel. The agency has had issues retaining staff for “nearly a decade.” “This issue is not one that can be attributed to the current Administration’s protection requirements alone, but rather has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo,” he said.

Breitbart Apologizes For Using Photo Of Soccer Star In Human Trafficking Story

Monday August 21st, 2017 04:57:19 PM
Breitbart News apologized for using a photo of soccer star Lukas Podolski on a story published Friday about a gang allegedly smuggling migrants to Spain, which had no relation or connection to Podolski. In an editor’s note appended to the story, last modified on Sunday, Breitbart London apologized to Podolski for including an image of him in the report on “a gang charging migrants 5,000 euros each to bring them across from Morocco via the Strait of Gibraltar on jet-skis.” “A previous version of this story included an image of Lukas Podolski on a jet ski. This image appeared as an illustration of a person on a jet ski. Breitbart London wishes to apologise to Mr. Podolski,” Breitbart London wrote. “There is no evidence Mr. Podolski is either a migrant gang member, nor being human trafficked. We wish Mr. Podolski well in his recently announced international retirement.” Will somebody tell Steve Bannon and the other geniuses at @BreitbartNews that the guy on the picture is German soccer star Lukas Podolski — Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) August 20, 2017 Nassim Touihri, Podolski’s manager, told a German newspaper that the situation was “a mess.” “Lukas distances himself from it and won’t let himself be exploited. Our lawyer is already involved,” Touihri said, according to The Guardian. Breitbart’s apology came days after Steve Bannon returned to the conservative news website to serve as executive chairman after his departure from President Donald Trump’s administration, where he served as chief White House strategist. It issued a similar correction days before Bannon joined Trump’s campaign in August 2016, on an article about a Trump campaign rally that was accompanied by a photograph of a crowd during a celebratory parade for the Cleveland Cavaliers. A story on Breitbart’s front page early Monday afternoon touted Trump’s endorsement of Bannon’s return to the outlet as “competition” for “fake news.”

Would Trump Rather Stay on Charlottesville or Pivot to Russia?

Monday August 21st, 2017 05:17:57 PM
One of the oddities of the last week-plus is that it has created what seems like a crisis for the White House which is new and perhaps a turning point. Yet the most daunting challenge facing the White House  – or the two most daunting challenges – aren’t on people’s radar at all. Or, rather they are entirely unconnected to the chain of events stemming from the incidents last weekend in Charlottesville. And the events in Charlottesville have largely pushed them off the front pages. To start, I don’t want to diminish the important of what we’ve seen over the past week. Finding out that the President is Nazi-curious is a pretty big deal. There’s a good argument it’s the most important thing happening right now. My point is that these other messes have political and legal implications which may do more damage. The lesser of these two, at least the less dramatic, is what remains to date Trump’s complete failure to move any substantive legislation as President. The failure on gutting Obamacare now seems to be permanent or at least as permanent as these things ever can be. I don’t trust it won’t come up again. Moreover, the failure of legislation doesn’t effect administration efforts to sabotage the operation of the law, which are on-going. But it now seems increasingly questionable whether Republicans can pass tax reform legislation either. They don’t have a big chunk of money they were expecting to get from Obamacare repeal. Trump is rapidly souring his relationships with congressional leaders whose help he needs to pass anything. And the calendar is now working against them. Straight cuts to marginal rates might be simple enough, if what counts as ‘reform’ is dispensed with and no one cares about blowing a hole in the deficit. But even that may prove more challenging than it seems. What it all comes down to is that it is now at least possible that Republicans could end the year with no legislative accomplishments whatsoever. That of course doesn’t even get to the big, slow-motion crisis. The White House remains bogged down in what appears to be a rapidly-moving and serious probe into whether the President and his associates conspired with the government of Russia to throw the election in his favor. That is needless to say the biggest deal imaginable. And even if that didn’t happen, there’s a more concrete obstruction probe in which the facts are much more clearly known and seemingly quite damning. Then there’s the distinct possibility that Robert Mueller will find criminal wrongdoing in the numerous cut-rate, mafia-backed and money-laundering funded projects that Trump has managed in recent years. (Statutes of limitations could end up being a real coup for Trump on that front.) What it all comes down to is that we are now in this unprecedented situation in which corporate America appears unwilling to associate with the sitting President, even a Republican sitting President, because he’s simply too toxic to touch. Things look like they’re falling apart at the White House. And all of this, as bad as it likely is, pales in comparison to the legal and political jeopardy he faces on these other two fronts. Presidents always want to ‘change the subject’ from bad news cycles, hoping new news pushes the current unfortunateness out of the headlines. But the news likely to displace Charlottesville is in many ways worse. Continual floundering on Charlottesville might be his best political option.

NYT: Russian Lobbyist Who Met Trump Jr. Tied to Multiple Hacking Campaigns

Monday August 21st, 2017 03:37:00 PM
Rinat Ahkmetshin, who met last year with Donald Trump, Jr. alongside other Russian operatives peddling damaging information about Hillary Clinton, has worked more than once with firms accused of hacking political and legal opponents, according to a new profile of the Russian-born lobbyist TPM wrote about in July. The New York Times associates the former Soviet operative and beltway influence-peddler with a previously unreported hacking campaign carried out on behalf of Suleiman Kerimov, a 51-year-old billionaire financier the Financial Times dubbed “the secret oligarch.” Kerimov was accused of attempting to infiltrate the computer network of a business rival, Russian parliamentarian Ashot Egiazaryan, while he was Akhmetshin’s client. When Egiazaryan’s lawyers found malware in emails, they used that malware to send traceable documents back to the senders; those documents were then opened by people using computers at one of Kerimov’s companies. Akhmetshin said he was only tangentially involved in Kerimov’s dispute with Egiazaryan, according to the Times: After an inquiry of more than 18 months, Scotland Yard investigators concluded in January 2013 that they lacked sufficient evidence to bring any charges, a spokesman said. Representatives of the lawyers targeted declined to comment. Mr. Akhmetshin has said in court papers that he was paid only by one businessman in the alliance with Mr. Kerimov, but coordinated with Mr. Kerimov’s team. Kerimov, for his part, is believed to have been a target of a high-level French money-laundering probe. A house in the south of France that was raided earlier this year in connection with the probe is said to belong to him, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Ahkmetshin has been more directly accused of hacking a second client’s business rival: International Mineral Resources, a Russian mining concern. IMR alleged in court papers that Akhmetshin, hired by its competitor Eurochem, had undertaken a public PR campaign targeting them. Over the course of that campaign, the company alleged, somebody broke into its computers, made off with gigabytes’ worth of data and sent that data to reporters and human rights groups, according to the Daily Beast. Akhmetshin hasn’t been accused of anything related to the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. At the moment, the organization that broke into the networks of multiple Democratic Party organs during the 2016 campaign goes by the designation assigned to it by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike: “Fancy Bear.” And the evidence that the network-breakers stole emails from those groups is mostly circumstantial: The emails are from the period when Fancy Bear, which the U.S. intelligence community strongly believes is associated with the Russian GRU military intelligence service, had access to those networks. As of last week, it looked very much like some of the people who coded the software used in the break-ins themselves were unaware that their code had been used to those ends.

Gingrich On Trump Getting GOP Support In Congress: Be More Disciplined

Monday August 21st, 2017 03:15:22 PM
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized President Donald Trump Monday, saying the President needs to learn to be a team player and “quit stepping on himself” if he wants to earn the support of Republicans in Congress. Gingrich, a vocal supporter of Trump, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Monday and outlined three steps the President needs to take in order to unite with legislators, the first of which “he has already taken” by hiring John Kelly as his chief of staff. “He understands Washington very well and he’s respected on both sides of the aisle. … Step number two, the President’s got to learn to think in team terms,” he said, equating the President’s White House strategy to that of his golf game. “The game he’s now in is a team sport, and I think he needs to think like a team leader and team builder, and that’s a very big change for somebody who is used to playing an individual sport.” Referencing the President’s press conference last week — in which he diverted from the talking points to blame both white supremacists and counter-protesters for the violence that broke out at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — Gingrich said Trump has to “be more disciplined” about the things he says. “The last thing he has got to do, I’m being very candid here, he has got to quit stepping on himself. He had a very good infrastructure press conference the other day, and then he stepped on it, blew it, guaranteed that it wouldn’t get covered,” he said. “And then I think generally, he could end up being a remarkably great President. But he’s got to make a couple of mid-course corrections.” Watch the clip below: Watch the latest video at

Ryan Says 'There Is No Moral Relativism' When It Comes To Neo-Nazis

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:47:38 PM
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday condemned white nationalists and declared that there were “no sides” to the violence at a rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia. “The immediate condemnations from left, right, and center affirmed that there is no confusion about right and wrong here. There are no sides,” Ryan said in a statement on Monday. “There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society.” The statement comes about a week after President Donald Trump failed to fully denounce white nationalists in the wake of a car attack at the rally that killed one counter-protester and injured at least 19 others. The President initially blamed “many sides” for the violence. “I still firmly believe this hate exists only on the fringes. But so long as it exists, we need to talk about it. We need to call it what it is. And so long as it is weaponized for fear and terror, we need to confront it and defeat it,” Ryan’s statement continued. “That is why we all need to make clear there is no moral relativism when it comes to neo-Nazis. We cannot allow the slightest ambiguity on such a fundamental question.” The statement is Ryan’s most robust response to the attack and to Trump’s comments on it. Last week, the speaker wrote that “white supremacy is repulsive” shortly after Trump’s off-the-rails press conference during which he backslid into blaming “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville. We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity. — Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 15, 2017 Ryan said in the statement that “the notion that anyone is intrinsically superior to anyone else runs completely counter to our founding principles.” He did not directly call out Trump, but said American leaders have a responsibility to promote those principles. “Those principles make America special. They by no means make us perfect. We may never fully eradicate this scourge. After all, this republic is defined by its often winding pursuit of a more perfect union,” the statement read. “But it is that chase that sets us apart. It is the notion we are always trying to be better. This goes especially for our leaders. Those of us entrusted with the privilege to serve and represent the American people have an obligation to challenge us to push beyond the passions of the moment.” Read Ryan’s full statement here.

Collins: 'Too Difficult To Say' Whether Trump Will Be GOP Nominee In 2020

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:46:36 PM
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on Monday said it’s too hard to tell whether President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee in the 2020 election. Collins on MSNBC said Trump “had an obligation, a moral obligation, to speak with absolute clarity from the very beginning” in his response to the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “Unfortunately he wavered back and forth,” Collins said. “I think the President failed to meet the standard that we would have expected a President to do in a time like that.” “At what point, though, given what we’ve heard from your Republican colleagues too, does that talk turn into action?” Hallie Jackson asked. “At what point, if any, do you not support, for example, his renomination?” “Well, I didn’t support the President when he was our party’s nominee. That was a very difficult position for me to take,” Collins said. “I’d never taken it before.” “So what happens — he’s already running for reelection,” Jackson pressed. “What happens next?” “Well, it’s far too early to tell now,” Collins replied. “There’s a long ways between now and that point.” “Do you think he will end up the party’s nominee in 2020?” Jackson asked. “It’s too difficult to say,” Collins said.

Gorka’s PhD Adviser: He’s A Good Trump ‘Bulldog’ But No Counterterrorism Expert

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:38:55 PM
The latest takedown of the thin credentials of Sebastian Gorka, President Donald Trump’s deputy assistant and a self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert, comes from his own dissertation adviser. “I would not call him an expert on terrorism,” Stephen Sloan, a retired professor of political science who advised Gorka on the Ph.D. dissertation he completed at Budapest’s Corvinus University and considers the White House aide a friend, told CNN in a report published Friday. TPM reported on Gorka’s lack of qualifications and name recognition among counterterrorism experts in February. The experts surveyed questioned his lack of Arabic language fluency, hardline diatribes against the threat of “radical Islam” and close ties to fringe figures like anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. “His level of expertise does not match the level where he stands in the White House,” Sloan told CNN, adding that Gorka “does a very good job being the bulldog” for the Trump White House “but as an adviser, I have some discomfort.” Gorka prominently advertises his degree, going by the name “Sebastian Gorka DrG” on Twitter and requesting that Fox News introduce him as “Dr. Sebastian Gorka” in his frequent on-camera appearances. He also has been criticized for his association with a far-right Hungarian nationalist group originally founded by a Nazi collaborator, although there’s no indication he personally holds anti-Semitic views. Even Gorka’s West Wing colleagues have cast doubt on his competence, telling reporters that he contributes little to policy development and mostly hangs around the White House waiting to do his next cable news hit. Gorka did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, and the White House press office refused the network’s questions about what Gorka does, who he advises and whether he holds the security clearance required to work on sensitive terrorism-related matters. BuzzFeed News reported in March that he had no such clearance. With the Friday departure of Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and Gorka’s former boss at Breitbart News, multiple reports indicate that Gorka’s future in the White House is uncertain.

Former Trump Spox: Slavery Is Actually Part Of America’s 'Good History'

Monday August 21st, 2017 02:28:38 PM
Former spokesperson for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Katrina Pierson, appeared on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning to defend keeping Confederate statues on display as politicians and activists call for their removal, saying Americans love their “good and bad” history. “Those monuments have been there for a very long time and suddenly Nancy Pelosi wants to actually help these anarchists and these violent protesters tear down pieces of America, American culture and American history,” she said. “Americans actually love their history, their culture, good and bad, because it helps them learn and it helps keep people educated about why America is so great to begin with.” John Hopkins University professor Wendy Osefo, the other guest, pushed back, saying people should understand the actual history behind many of the Confederate monuments, which she said were erected after 1865 as a way for the Ku Klux Klan to revolt against African Americans gaining political power. “So this is not a symbol of patriotism. This is a symbol of hatred and division. And while it is a piece of American history, it’s not necessarily the good part of American history. It’s actually nefarious,” Osefo said, saying the statues should be placed in museums, not on state grounds. “It absolutely deserves a place because bad history is still good history for this country,” Pierson said. “Slavery is good?” Osefo asked. “Considering where we are today, where we are today. Absolutely,” Pierson said. When asked to clarify what she meant, she said the statues should stay up as a history lesson to children. “During those times, during those times — think about it for a second. Where would we be today if not for that Civil War? How would our children even know… How would our children even know how special and how wonderful this country is that we can even be having this discussion today?” she said. “How special slavery is? Do you know how many people died?” Osefo said, prompting co-host Ainsley Earhardt to try to rein the two guests back in. “This country was founded on slaveowners who actually put into place — to change the laws,” Pierson said. “You’re completely out of line,” Osefo said. Watch the interview below:

WaPo: GOP Groups Have Spent $1.3 Million At Trump Properties In 2017

Monday August 21st, 2017 01:31:43 PM
The Republican National Committee, Republican Governors Association, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and at least 25 other congressional campaigns have spent a collective $1.3 million this year at Trump entities, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The most popular Trump-owned location for Republican fundraising has been the President’s new hotel in Washington, D.C., where about 300 Trump supporters paid $35,000 each to attend an RNC event in late June. Eighteen other political committees have rented out space at the D.C. hotel so far this year, including the Trump campaign, which has spent nearly $15,000 for lodging there in 2017. Other GOP lawmakers whose campaign committees have rented out space at the Washington Trump hotel include Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).

University Of Texas Removes 4 Confederate Statues Overnight

Monday August 21st, 2017 12:57:17 PM
The University of Texas at Austin removed several confederate statues overnight on Sunday following an announcement from the school’s president, Gregory Fenves. “Last week, the horrific displays of hatred at the University of Virginia and in Charlottesville shocked and saddened the nation. These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” Fenves said in a Sunday statement. Three of the statues being removed, including one of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, will be relocated to a campus exhibit. The fourth statue, which depicts former Texas Gov. James Hogg, may be relocated to another spot on the campus, Fenves said. Fenves said he made the decision to remove the statues after a discussion with students, university staff, and alumni. “The University of Texas at Austin is a public educational and research institution, first and foremost. The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus — and the connections that individuals have with them — are severely compromised by what they symbolize,” he said in the statement. “Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans. That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry.” A spokesman for the university, Gary Susswein, told the Austin American-Statesman that the statues were removed after dark with little warning due to public safety concerns.

Report: Secret Service Can't Pay Agents Because Of Trump's Travel, Large Family

Monday August 21st, 2017 05:13:19 PM
The Secret Service can’t pay hundreds of its agents to protect President Donald Trump’s large family and their frequent travel, Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today. More than 1,000 agents have already met the cap for salary and overtime that was suppose to last the agency the whole year. The Secret Service provides protection for 42 people under Trump, including 18 members of his family. Former President Barack Obama had 31 people under Secret Service’s protection, USA Today reported. It’s not just the size of the President’s family that’s causing strain on the department, Alles said, it’s also Trump’s travel and his children’s business and vacation travel that has overworked Secret Service agents. “The President has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law,” Alles told USA Today. “I can’t change that. I have no flexibility.” The director has been in talks with some lawmakers about raising the federally mandated salary and overtime compensation cap for agents from $160,000 a year to $187,000. The agency is working to hire more officers in the next few years, Alles said, with a goal of increasing the force from the 6,800 it has currently to about 7,600 in 2019 and 9,500 in 2025. The President’s frequent trips to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida reportedly cost tax payers $3 million per trip. The agency has spent $60,000 on renting golf carts this year alone in order to protect the President while he’s at Mar-a-Lago and during trips to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Read USA Today’s full reporter here.

Bannon Was Reportedly Set To Leave White House Amicably Until Last Week

Monday August 21st, 2017 01:17:32 PM
Before the events of last week, Steve Bannon had come to an agreement with White House chief of staff John Kelly in July that he would leave the White House in mid-August in a low-key, civil manner, the New York Times reported on Sunday. However, President Donald Trump’s response to the Charlottesville attack and Bannon’s phone call to the American Prospect prompted a much more abrupt departure on Friday afternoon, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed White House aides and associates to Trump and Bannon. Bannon urged Trump not to give way to his critics regarding the President’s failure to fully condemn white nationalists, clashing with Kelly, per the Times. Following Trump’s initial response, Bannon and Kelly agreed to push his departure date to early September, according to the Times. But Bannon’s impromptu interview with the American Prospect about policy toward China and North Korea irked Kelly, and Bannon was then quickly let go, the New York Times reported. Though Bannon’s time in the White House came to a rather abrupt end on Friday, his star had been fading for a while as he clashed with other members of Trump’s staff. Last week, Trump was no longer willing to side with Bannon, in part because he believed Bannon was leaking stories about White House infighting to the media, per the Times. Bannon frequently butt heads with Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The former chief strategist places some blame for his departure on Kushner. Bannon told friends that he believes Kushner asked Rupert Murdoch to urge Trump to fire Bannon, according to Vanity Fair.

Christie Drops Out Of Running For Job On Local Sports Talk Radio Show

Monday August 21st, 2017 01:26:07 PM
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is no longer in the running for a job on a local sports talk show, he announced in a statement Sunday. Christie auditioned for the post-gubernatorial gig as a co-host on WFAN’s morning show last month, during which he called a caller a “communist.” “After considering the other options that I have been presented with for post-gubernatorial employment, I declined their request to do additional shows,” Christie said in a statement published by “I made station executives aware that while I would be happy to continue to fill in for Boomer when asked and when available, that they should no longer consider me as a candidate interested in any job at WFAN when I leave the governorship.” The New York Daily News reported Saturday that Christie was no longer being considered for the co-host position, which Christie said was “completely incorrect” in a statement. He announced his decisions to drop out of the running for the job on Sunday, but it wasn’t clear what his “other options” may be. Christie’s second term as governor is up in January and he cannot seek reelection.

Trump Says His Prayers Are With Navy Sailors After Initial Bungled Response

Monday August 21st, 2017 10:57:43 AM
President Donald Trump on Sunday night published a tweet saying that his thoughts and prayers are with U.S. Navy sailors after he bungled his response to reporters’ shouted questions about the collision of a Navy destroyer that left sailors injured and missing. Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2017 Ten sailors are missing after a Navy destroyer, the USS John McCain, collided with an oil tanker on Sunday. When Trump arrived back in the Washington, D.C. area Sunday night, reporters shouted questions to him about the incident with the USS John McCain. It’s not clear what the President heard over the sound of Marine One. “That’s too bad,” Trump replied to the reporters, appearing unaware of the collision.

Legal Battle Brewing As Trump's HHS Prepares To Ax Free Birth Control Rule

Monday August 21st, 2017 10:01:21 AM
The Trump administration is preparing to roll back the Obama-era free birth control mandate, a move legal groups say would be unconstitutional and subject to a court challenge. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the rule will be very similar to a draft version leaked in May, which would vastly expand the number and types of businesses eligible for an exemption from Obamacare’s rule requiring all employers to provide insurance coverage of all contraceptive methods without co-pays. If enacted as drafted, it would allow not only religious groups but thousands of non-profits and for-profit businesses to leave birth control out of their employees’ insurance altogether. Lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center and other groups say such a rule would violate government process rules, gender discrimination laws, the separation of church and state. A key provision of the Affordable Care Act made more than a dozen preventative care services available free of charge for people covered by health insurance—from primary care checkups to vaccines to diabetes screenings. The only service targeted by the Trump rule change is coverage of contraception. “This raises a couple of constitutional issues, including sex discrimination, because they’re singling out care that only women need,” explained Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the ACLU. “They are not targeting other kinds of preventative care, and they’re taking away a benefit that’s otherwise guaranteed by law. Additionally, they’re targeting something, contraception, that allows women to achieve equality in society.” Amiri, who helped write the ACLU’s brief defending the birth control rule before the Supreme Court in 2014, said the rule could also be challenged as a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which dictates a separation between church and state. “This rule allows employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees,” she told TPM. “When you take a job at a church you know what you’re signing up for, but that’s very different than taking a job at a craft store or a university.”  Under current law, a very narrow set of employers—essentially, only houses of worship—are exempt from the birth control mandate. They are allowed to offer health insurance that does not cover contraception, and their employees must pay out of pocket to access it. Following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, a slightly larger group of employers became eligible for an “accommodation”—they do not have to provide birth control coverage to their employees, but their employees can still access it without copays through the insurance company. Religious non-profits and “closely held” for-profits whose owners claim they have a religious objection to contraception can apply for the accommodation—the subject of several ongoing lawsuits.  The Trump administration’s draft leaked in May would blow up this delicate balance in three major ways. For one, the Obama administration argued for years in court that the government has a compelling public health interest in fully covering contraceptives. In the new rule, the Trump administration reverses that position. “They go to great lengths to explain why there’s no compelling justification for requiring employers and universities to cover [birth control for] their employees or students,” health law specialist Timothy Jost told TPM back in June. Secondly, the new rule would allow all companies and organizations that currently use the accommodation to get the exemption instead, meaning all of their employees and their dependents would lose access to contraceptive coverage. While it’s difficult to calculate the exact impact of this change, a Kaiser survey in 2015 found that 3 percent of all non-profits in the country were requesting the accommodation, including 10 percent of all large non-profits with more than 5,000 workers. If all of those entities opted for the exemption, hundreds of thousands of women would lose access to no-cost contraception. “Under Obama administration’s regulations, we know that the women getting the accommodation are still getting their birth control without any out-of-pocket costs. But with this rule, people would have no coverage at all,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, another group preparing legal action if the rule goes into effect. “The same cost barriers that existed before the ACA would be back, and that’s really disturbing.” Third, the rule would allow employers to claim a “moral objection” to providing contraceptive coverage in their health insurance, not just a “religious objection” as the law currently allows. The draft of the rule does not define what constitutes a “moral objection.”  “This vastly expands the universe of employers who could claim an exemption,” said Adam Sonfield, the senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “And it’s not clear what procedures, if any, they would have to go through to declare that they have a religious or moral objection. There is nothing in the leaked draft, at least.”  The Department of Health and Human Services could release the new rule at any time. If it remains close to the earlier leaked draft, it will be an interim final rule.  “It’s an emergency procedure for it to go into effect immediately,” Sonfield explained.  There’s a comment period, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s happening after the fact. When the government uses this procedure, they need to justify it. I don’t know how they’re going to justify this.” Since November, fears of the Trump administration axing the birth control mandate has led to a massive spike in requests for long-lasting contraceptives like IUD that cost hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket before the Affordable Care Act, and could again become unaffordable for many women.

WaPo: White House To Disband Federal Climate Change Advisory Panel

Sunday August 20th, 2017 06:47:08 PM
President Donald Trump’s administration decided to disband a federal advisory committee on climate change, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acting administrator Ben Friedman  on Friday informed the chair of the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment that the NOAA will not renew the panel’s charter, which expires Sunday, according to the Washington Post. The committee is the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, according to the Washington Post, and “was established to help translate findings from the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance.” Richard Moss, the panel’s chair, warned against disbanding the committee. “It doesn’t seem to be the best course of action,” he told the Washington Post. “We’re going to be running huge risks here and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects.”

Bannon: GOPers Will Be 'One Big Happy Family' If They Line Up Behind Trump

Sunday August 20th, 2017 04:17:57 PM
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Saturday said the Republican Party will “be one big happy family” if elected Republicans fall in line behind President Donald Trump. “If the Republican Party on Capitol Hill gets behind the president on his plans and not theirs, it will all be sweetness and light, be one big happy family,” Bannon said in an interview with the Washington Post. Bannon said he did not expect that rosy vision to come to pass at any point soon, though: “No administration in history has been so divided among itself about the direction about where it should go.” David Bossie, the president of Citizens United and Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, on Sunday predicted that Bannon would “be a very loyal soldier to the President as it relates to his agenda from the outside.”

Former Trump Aide Says Bannon's WH Departure Was 'Not Personal To Him'

Sunday August 20th, 2017 02:58:23 PM
President Donald Trump’s former deputy campaign manager David Bossie on Sunday said ousted chief White House strategist Steve Bannon did not see his departure from the White House as a “personal” matter. “I do believe that Steve Bannon is going to be a very loyal soldier to the President as it relates to his agenda from the outside,” Bossie, who runs Citizens United, said on “Fox News Sunday.” He predicted that Bannon will be “a very important voice for the President as it relates to leaning into Congress,” which Bossie called “one of the biggest challenges the President’s had.” Asked who pushed for Bannon’s ouster, Bossie said, “There are a host and there has been, and we’ve all read about and seen about the different factions within the White House staff.” He said such divisions exist in “every presidency.” “There’s no difference here,” Bossie said. “The one thing I’ve learned from Steve in the last couple of days is, in his opinion, for the future, this is not personal to him.”

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