Feed aggregator

Trump: Russia investigations an attempted 'coup'

Politico -

President Donald Trump on Thursday called the FBI probe into his 2016 campaign and subsequent investigations into Russian election meddling “an attempted overthrow" of his administration.

“This was a coup,” Trump told host Sean Hannity on Fox News’ “Hannity” in his first interview since the Mueller report's release. “This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.”

Trump insisted that special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election had gone “hog wild to find something about the administration which obviously wasn't there.”

Trump repeatedly said the 448-page Mueller report, a redacted version of which was released last week, proved no collusion and obstruction. He called the special counsel's investigation a “one-sided witch-hunt” by “angry Democrats” who are “very serious Trump haters.”

“We have nothing to do with Russia except that we have been tougher on Russia than any administration in 50 years,” Trump said.

Trump also went on to say that people in his campaign had suffered greatly as a result of the Mueller probe, and that investigators had spent the last two years “ruining their lives.”

But he said the tables have turned with Justice Department inspector general's pending investigation of the FISA process in the FBI investigation of Trump campaign members, adding that some involved in the process should be "very nervous." The department has said the investigation is expected to be completed by May or June.

Trump called the FBI's campaign investigation conducted in 2016 "the greatest political scandal in the history of our country. Again, bigger than Watergate. Because it means so much this was a coup. This wasn't stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup."

“The biggest problem with the Mueller report, he didn't mention any of this.” Trump later added.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump hits top Democratic presidential contenders

Politico -

President Donald Trump on Thursday cast a critical eye over the 2020 Democratic presidential field, again questioning Joe Biden's intelligence and saying Sen. Kamala Harris has a “nasty wit” while dismissing her candidacy.

“I think we are calling [Biden] Sleepy Joe because I have known him for a while and he is a pretty sleepy guy,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News after being asked to describe the candidates succinctly.

Trump went on to say that Biden doesn’t have the energy to deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping as "that's a different level of energy and, frankly, intelligence."

Biden, the former vice president, launched his campaign for president on Thursday with a video that was heavily focused on Trump's actions and policies. Biden is leading the 2020 Democratic field according to the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that also shows Biden beating Trump by 8 points in a hypothetical race.

Trump said Sen. Bernie Sanders has a lot of energy but is “misguided” and that the Vermont senator “has had very little legislation."

"I think he talks a lot. Does he get it done?” Trump asked.

Trump called former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke a “fluke” who “is fading very, very fast. It looks like he will be a thing of the past very soon.”

Trump dismissed both Harris and South Bend (Ind.) Mayor Pete Buttigieg as posing an election threat. He said Harris “has got a little bit of a nasty wit but that might be it.”

Trump said he is “rooting” for Buttigieg but “he is not going to make it.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Are You a Citizen? It's a Legitimate Census Question

Real Clear Politics -

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in United States Dept. of Commerce v. New York, a case that will determine if the Census Bureau can reintroduce a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census. While adding a citizenship status question may seem a reasonable public policy...

Judge cites state secrets risk in dismissing warrantless wiretapping suit

Politico -

A federal judge has dismissed a long-running lawsuit over President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, ruling that allowing the case to go forward would create an unacceptable and exceptionally grave danger to the country.

“The Court cannot issue any determinative finding on the issue of whether or not Plaintiffs have standing without taking the risk that such a ruling may result in potentially devastating national security consequences,” U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White wrote in his ruling on Thursday.

The suit, filed in 2008, alleged that the snooping — eventually named the Terrorist Surveillance Program by the Bush administration — violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The effort is known to have included a massive database of telephone calls placed and received by Americans, although the full scope of the surveillance remains classified. The Bush, Obama and now Trump administrations have all invoked state-secrets claims to try to shut down the litigation.

The case has a long and circuitous history in the courts. Brought by the digital-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, the suit was dismissed in 2009 by a previous judge who said the plaintiffs lacked sufficient proof to establish that they were surveilled. The case was later reinstated by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

White previously ruled that the plaintiffs were unable to prove standing to pursue their Fourth Amendment claims without exposing state secrets. In the ruling Thursday, he said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act claims also could not proceed because there was no way to publicly discuss the way the program might have affected the plaintiffs without getting into highly classified information.

White received extensive secret briefing and evidence from Justice Department attorneys before issuing his ruling Thursday, which included a classified section that was not released.

Lawyers challenging the surveillance hoped their case would be buoyed by a ruling from the 9th Circuit in February in another long-running suit related to an undercover FBI operation focused on Southern California mosques.

But White, who was appointed by Bush, ruled that case was not of much relevance to the one over the warrantless wiretapping.

“The Ninth Circuit was not presented with the issue of what to do when, as here, the answer to the question of whether a particular plaintiff was subjected to surveillance … is the very information over which the Government seeks to assert the state secrets privilege,” the judge wrote.

“The Court finds that because a fair and full adjudication of the Plaintiffs’ claims and the Defendants’ defenses would require potentially harmful disclosures of national security information that are protected by the state secrets privilege, the Court must exclude such evidence from the case,” White added. “The Court finds that it has reached the threshold at which it can go no further.”

EFF’s executive director, Cindy Cohn, vowed to appeal.

“We are disappointed that the case was dismissed on the basis of the government’s state secrecy arguments,” Cohn said in a statement. “The American people deserve to know whether mass surveillance is legal and constitutional. Instead of proceeding to the legal merits of the government’s programs, the Court deferred to the government’s state secrecy arguments. We look forward to seeking review in the Ninth Circuit.”

Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump’s Biden insults fueled by belief he can win

Politico -

Hours after Joe Biden posted an online video announcing his 2020 White House bid, President Donald Trump responded on Twitter. “Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe,” Trump taunted the former vice president on Thursday. “I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign.”

Trump’s insults were actually masking respect — and genuine concern about Biden’s potential to win, Trump advisers say.

As early as last fall, Trump was talking privately with aides about the threat Biden posed: “How are we gonna beat Biden?” he would ask. When reassured that the moderate Biden would never defeat several of his more liberal rivals, Trump has pushed back: “But what if he does?”

The conversations, relayed by a Republican strategist with direct knowledge of the interactions, reflect the president’s assessment that Biden poses the biggest threat to his re-election, uniquely capable of competing with him in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that carried him to victory in 2016.

That may also be because, of the 20 Democrats running for president, none has quite as much in common with Trump as Joe Biden.

The two share some defining traits. Trump is 72, and Biden is 76. They are generational peers who have appealed to voters with a raw, unscripted approach to politics. Both have a proven ability to win over blue-collar voters without a college education — Americans who were once solid Democrats but who have increasingly migrated to the GOP.

They share some weaknesses, too. Both are famous for talking far more often and for much longer than their aides would like. Both are prone to remarks that induce cringes even among their supporters.

Biden’s official entry into the race capped two years of mudslinging between him and the president. The two senior citizens have even engaged in verbal fisticuffs, with Biden telling a crowd at the University of Miami in March 2018 that he would have “beat the hell out of Trump” if they were in high school, given the president’s crude remarks about women.

Trump responded that the former vice president “would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”

Biden has been on the president’s political radar for several months. Trump has long known that the former vice president, who considered a bid in 2016, was likely to run in 2020.

As long ago as March 2018, Trump was crowd-testing nicknames for Biden, asking audiences whether they preferred “Crazy Joe,” “Sleepy Joe,” or “One Percent Joe” — a reference, Trump said, to the percentage of primary votes Biden had captured during his failed presidential bids.

“I think he ran three times and he never had more than one percent, so we call him One Percent Joe,” Trump said at a Nevada rally in October 2018. “And then remember what happened? Obama came along and took him off the trash heap and made him vice president. But he never had more than one percent.”

Trump’s mockery of Biden belies a belief that the former vice president is a true political threat, according to a Republican strategist close to the Trump campaign. “The candidates he doesn’t talk about, it’s a signal that he doesn’t take them seriously,” this person said.

Indeed, while the news media have recently focused on the Democratic 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg, Trump has ignored the young mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“We have had a number of conversations about potential challengers, and Biden has been at the top of the list because of his polling numbers,” said a Republican lawmaker who talks frequently with the president. “He is seen as one of the most difficult potential challengers because of his appeal to independents and his likable style.”

A former White House aide downplayed that notion, saying that while Trump was once almost single-mindedly focused on Biden, his thinking about the 2020 field might have changed, given the entry of 19 other contenders into the fold.

But the back-and-forth between Trump and Biden continued on Thursday when Biden announced his candidacy in a video that took direct aim at the president’s character and judgment, denouncing Trump’s initial refusal to condemn white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 as a “threat to our nation was unlike any I’d ever seen in my lifetime.”

Trump hit back before 9 a.m. with his “Sleepy Joe” retort. He added a warning to Biden that the Democratic primary would “be nasty — you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!”

Inside the Trump campaign, the president’s political team is counting on an increasingly liberal Democratic Party pulling Biden, a lifelong moderate, to the left during what political observers anticipate will be a bruising primary fight.

Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at the age of 29, has appeared to acknowledge that drift of the party, telling a crowd in Delaware last month that he has the “most progressive record of anybody” running for the White House.

Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign, said: “It doesn’t matter who comes out of the Democrat convention next year, because whoever it is will be beat up, broke, without a national operation, with a DNC that’s in debt, and saddled with all of the socialist policies they will have adopted in order to win the nomination. Like the rest of them, Biden will have to embrace all of the socialist policies in order to be successful in the leftist field.”

Republican operatives unaligned with the Trump campaign echoed that view.

“The positions that he held in the ’70s, those are all in play. They are an affront to Republicans in 2019, never mind the Democrats, so I just don’t see a lane developing for him,” said Chris LaCivita, a GOP political strategist, citing Biden’s comments and positions from decades ago that are out of step with today’s Democratic Party.

Fresh evidence of that seemed to emerge on Thursday afternoon, when Anita Hill told The New York Times she was not satisfied with an apology Biden offered her privately last month for her 1991 experience testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired at the time, after she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Hill told The New York Times. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

“Joe Biden is Jeb Bush of this cycle,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), comparing Biden to the former Florida governor crushed by Trump in the 2016 GOP primary. “The party has passed him by. He got in too late, I don’t think he can capture the nomination, and his high point is today.”

McCarthy, a close Trump ally, said he had discussed all the Democratic candidates with Trump but didn’t think the president was more worried about Biden than other potential challengers.

“He’s no different than the others” to Trump, McCarthy said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Joe Biden: Old man, still in a hurry

Politico -

It may seem like the 2020 presidential campaign has been underway forever but in some profound sense it only began for real at 6 a.m. on Thursday. There is only one person in the Democratic field whose life story—no matter the outcome of this election—already has an epic trajectory, and that is Joseph R. Biden Jr.

There are ample reasons to doubt whether 2020 will at long last reward Biden with the prize he has craved for decades. But, after months of waiting, it’s now clear that no rival on the long roster of Democratic contenders will make history without first surmounting the one whose singular combination of achievements and setbacks has already invested him with historic stature.

Everyone remembers, of course, that Biden at age 76 is an older guy who has been at this game a good long time. But we have become so accustomed to presidential candidates who are old by historical standards—Elizabeth Warren (69) Bernie Sanders (77), Donald Trump (73)—that it is easy to forget the astonishing arc of the former vice president’s tenure on the national stage. No major presidential candidate in history has spent longer in public life—or presented so many different incarnations in the pursuit of power.

Like Pete Buttigieg, Biden was once someone who caught the attention and envy of elders with his youth and audacity. That was when he won election to the Senate just shy of his 30th birthday in 1972, almost 10 years before Buttigieg was born.

Like Beto O’Rourke, Biden once believed that presidential campaigns should be sent aloft on the power of dazzling rhetoric and inspiration. That was in 1987, when O’Rourke was 15, and Biden’s first run ended embarrassingly when it turned out some eloquent passages of his speeches were cribbed from British politician Neil Kinnock.

Like Amy Klobuchar (among others, and at least so far), Biden knows what it is like to be a chopped-liver candidate—amply qualified by resume but attracting little interest compared to less-credentialed but somehow more exciting rivals. That was in 2008, when Biden moved the needle hardly at all in his campaign against Barack Obama, who had joined him in the Senate just three years earlier. Biden was 66 when he became Obama’s vice president. (The oldest person ever to assume the vice presidency was Alben Barkley, elected with Harry Truman in 1948, at age 71.)

Like many in his generation of Democrats, Biden was inspired by John F. Kennedy. Think of this: Biden’s 48 years in public life are already two years longer than JFK’s entire life.

That reality reflects a trend that goes well beyond Biden. A combination of rising longevity and changing cultural expectations have created a new norm about age that seems commonplace now but is arresting in historical context. People under age 45 would have no contemporaneous memory of how big a deal it seemed in 1980 that someone as old as Ronald Reagan would seek the presidency and win it just shy of his 70th birthday. But none of the other old candidates in the race have enjoyed proximity to serious political power for as long as Biden.

Many people remember in high school reading names in history books of people who never became president but kept cropping up in chapter after chapter. Wait—is that the same guy? Or did he have a son? Biden has been hanging around Washington for longer than Henry Clay or John C. Calhoun (40-plus years for each) in the first half of the 19th century, or than William Jennings Bryan did for 35 years starting in 1890. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who first became well-known as assistant navy secretary in 1913, was a national figure for 32 years before dying in the fourth term of his presidency at age 63 — 13 years younger than Biden is now.

Unlike these historical figures, Biden is not powerfully associated with a particular idea or policy landmark. It is in simply human terms that his life takes on novelistic dimensions. He buried a 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, after a car accident that also claimed his first wife just weeks after his first Senate election. He buried a 46-year-old son, Beau, felled by cancer in 2015.

Buttigieg’s age invites speculation about what he will be up to in 2058, when he will be Joe Biden’s current age. One certainty about Biden’s story, by contrast, is that it will soon reach its denouement.

This infuses an element of drama into Biden’s effort that compensates for what his candidacy may lack in glamour or freshness. He’s already made history, but it is unclear yet how the journey ends.

For the moment, the closest historical parallel to Biden may be Hubert Humphrey. He also landed on the national stage as a garrulous young man with an aura of insurgency, and in due course became vice president and a representative of a political establishment whose time had passed. The question that haunted Humphrey’s last years was what might have been. Many believe that if the 1968 campaign had lasted another week his slow-starting campaign would have managed to beat Richard Nixon.

That’s the question that haunts Biden and his sympathizers, too: What if he had not deferred to Hillary Clinton and run for president in 2016? If Biden had won the nomination, it is hard to see Democrats losing Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and Trump becoming president.

Being a vice president has rarely offered a free walk to the presidential nomination—Walter Mondale had his Gary Hart, and Al Gore had his Bill Bradley. It is a sign of doubts about whether 2020 is really Biden’s moment that he has some 20 rivals.

On the other hand, polls show he remains at the front of this long line. If Biden were to answer the doubts and become president in January 2021, it would be a tale of perseverance and delayed triumph without precedent in the 58 presidential elections since the office was created.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Biden’s ‘fear and loathing’ video panned by critics

Politico -

The campaign world knew that Joe Biden would announce his presidential bid Thursday in an early morning video release. But few were expecting it would be so dark and funereal.

Filled with extensive footage of white supremacists marching with torches, scenes of Nazi and Confederate flags and pegged to President Trump’s reaction to the 2017 racist march in Charlottesville, the 3-minute, 30-second spot was an unlikely announcement video — especially for Uncle Joe, one of the last of the happy warriors.

Where other 2020 Democratic candidates talked about their biographies and offered sunny visions of the future, Biden launched his campaign with a nod to one of the nation’s darkest moments in recent years, casting the election as a referendum on the president and a need to return to core American values.

The former vice president spoke gravely about the violence in Charlottesville and the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who sparked it — “their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging and baring the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the 30s.”

The reaction to the video was decidedly mixed — even among political professionals. Some hailed it as stroke of genius that distinguished Biden from the crowded Democratic field by announcing in stark terms his intention to take the fight to Trump in a way no one else has dared.

Others, however, viewed it as a serious miscalculation, an exercise in stepping on his own message as the heir to Obama’s inspirational legacy.

“Hope and change has given way to fear and loathing,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the liberal group Democracy for America, which endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and is neutral this year.

“The video is incredibly bizarre,” said Sroka, a veteran digital specialist who worked in Obama’s 2008 campaign and his administration, echoing other progressive activists and ad experts. “It’s oppressively focused on Trump while raising the question: Why did it take until Charlottesville to tell you Trump was a nightmare?”

The direct-to-camera narration (which was also used by Beto O’Rourke in his own announcement video) had a throwback quality that made it look like a campaign production from 2008 instead of 2019, reinforcing the notion that the campaign of the 76-year-old Biden was stuck in the past, Sroka and others said.

Several Democratic operatives who declined to be named said even the way the announcement was displayed on Twitter — by way of a YouTube link, instead of being uploaded into the platform’s video player — suggested that Biden’s team was unaware that the social media site’s algorithm would essentially inhibit it from going viral or automatically playing for viewers who could miss it as a result.

Still, the video did the trick for Democrats who want a candidate to take the fight to Trump. And it was played in full on MSNBC, amplifying its reach and Biden’s frontal attack on Trump for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests.

Several ad makers who spoke to POLITICO said while the video wasn’t a standout, it effectively conveyed the message that Biden would directly confront Trump.

John Rowley, founder of Nashville-based CounterPoint Messaging, said unlike lesser-known candidates, Biden didn’t need a kick-off video to move him into the next strata.

“I think that the thing we know about primary voters is that they want to beat Trump. The strength of the video is that it makes that case and it makes the case surprisingly aggressively,” Rowley said. “It draws that out in the first 15, 20-25 seconds. That sort of surprised me about that.”

But another top Democratic ad maker who is not affiliated with any campaign, said the only surprise with the video was how bad it was.

“It looks in memoriam. The font is your grandmother’s funeral card,” said the ad man, who didn’t want to go on record trashing the campaign of Biden, the Democratic frontrunner. “To get people to watch your video and make it go viral, you want people to share it and say you’ve got to see it. Your first four seconds have to be the hook, something to get people to stay. The first 15 seconds of this is Joe rambling along. It’s the most Joe thing ever. It’s what you would’ve done in 2004.”

The video was made by longtime Biden advisor Mike Donilon — and not one of the party’s most innovative after message-meisters, Mark Putnam, who is working with the Biden campaign — leading to speculation that Putnam had a falling out with the campaign over the video, but two informed sources said Putnam shot footage for a separate video that featured Biden in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Republican ad maker Fred Davis, known for his memorable campaign commercials, said it was clear Putnam didn’t make Wednesday’s announcement, which he described as “boring.”

“Biden said the right things. He looked fine. The production was fine. But I’m a Mark Putnam fan. I want to see what he did,” Davis said. “You can say fine, fine, fine. But it was anything but thrilling and inspiring. It was boring. This won’t take its place in history of viral videos. Mark’s probably would have.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Biden swears off lobbyists’ money, but K Street likes him anyway

Politico -

When Joe Biden ran for president in 2008, his campaign raked in checks from Washington lobbyists as well as PACs affiliated with corporations such as Bank of America, eBay and T-Mobile.

This time around, the former vice president has followed the lead of other Democrats running for president and sworn off contributions from registered lobbyists and corporate PACs. But he's still getting help from K Street in other ways.

Biden held his kickoff fundraiser at the home of a Comcast executive who, while not registered as a lobbyist, oversees the company’s lobbying efforts. Stuart Eizenstat, a Washington lawyer who was registered to lobby until recently, told POLITICO he planned to advise the campaign on foreign policy. And several of Biden’s former aides now work on K Street. While those who are registered as lobbyists can’t write campaign checks, those who aren’t registered are free to do so.

“If Biden runs, I’ll be working as much as time allows for him,” Eizenstat said in an interview before the former vice president announced his bid. Eizenstat, a senior counsel at the law and lobbying firm Covington & Burling who was registered to lobby as recently as last year, said he didn’t consider himself a lobbyist and hadn’t contacted a member of Congress in years.

The dynamic highlights the tension many Democratic presidential candidates are facing this year as they try to distance themselves from moneyed interests but also raise record amounts of cash, which they’ll need to compete in a crowded primary and eventually take on President Donald Trump.

Biden, who doesn’t have the track record of some of his Democratic rivals of raising money online from small donors, may be feeling that tension more than most. At the same time he was hold a fundraiser Thursday at the Philadelphia home of David Cohen, the Comcast executive, Biden’s campaign was also running ads on social media encouraging supporters to “chip in $5” to “show everyone the strength of our movement.”

Biden’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Biden’s decision to reject money from corporate PACs and lobbyists isn’t surprising; President Barack Obama’s campaign abided by the same restrictions while Biden was on the ticket.

"Every time a leader running for the highest office in the country rejects corporate PAC money, it's a win for the American people and a blow to special interests,” Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for End Citizens United PAC, which encourages Democrats to reject corporate PAC money, wrote in an email to POLITICO. “Vice President Biden is sending a powerful message to Americans about who he would be accountable to as President."

One reason Biden is popular on K Street is that he was known as a Democrat relatively friendly to corporate interests while he was in the Senate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) repeatedly attacked Biden when she was a law professor for backing a bankruptcy bill championed by credit-card industry lobbyists.

But Biden wasn’t viewed as particularly close to lobbyists during his decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president, according to several Democratic lobbyists who know him.

Biden’s habit of commuting back and forth to Delaware each day left him with little time to hobnob with lobbyists at breakfast fundraisers or happy hour receptions. Hailing from Delaware meant he didn’t need to raise as much money as senators who represented larger, more competitive states.

“He’s not a K Street guy,” said Joel Johnson, a longtime Democratic lobbyist who gave $2,300 to Biden’s last presidential campaign in 2007.

Still, Biden’s staff “was always professional and available and open-minded” about hearing out lobbyists, Johnson said.

His reputation as willing to listen to lobbyists could make him more palatable on K Street than Democratic rivals like Bernie Sanders and Warren, who have sharply criticized corporate America.

Several of Biden’s top aides have ended up in key spots on K Street as well.

Some won’t be able to write checks for his campaign in 2020. They include Tony Russo, who’s now the top lobbyist for T-Mobile; Jeffrey Peck, a lobbyist who represents clients such as Anheuser-Busch and Deloitte; and Chris Putala, who lobbies for clients including Comcast, Oracle, Sprint and T-Mobile. Biden is so close to Russo that he’s described him as a “third son,” according to The Washington Post.

Others who’ve wound up in the industry aren’t registered to lobby, meaning they could donate to Biden.

Danny O’Brien, for instance, a former Biden chief of staff while he was in the Senate, is now Fox’s head of government relations but is not a registered lobbyist. Alan Hoffman, a former deputy chief of staff to Biden while he was vice president, is now an executive vice president at Herbalife, the nutritional supplement company, where he oversees its lobbying work but isn’t a registered lobbyist himself.

Neither of them responded to queries about whether they’d give money to their old boss.

Some lobbyists have expressed frustration that so many Democratic presidential candidates won’t take their money.

Al Mottur, a Democratic lobbyist who raised $1 million for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, said the Democrats who aren’t accepting checks from lobbyists are, when viewed as a group, leaving millions of dollars on the table.

Mottur hosted fundraisers in the past for Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — all of whom now refuse to take contributions from lobbyists. He said he’d be happy to contribute to their presidential campaigns.

“I’m frustrated I can’t,” he said in an interview.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Anita Hill says she ‘cannot be satisfied’ with Biden’s apology

Politico -

Former Vice President Joe Biden has apologized to Anita Hill for her treatment during the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, a Biden spokeswoman said Thursday.

“Vice President Biden has spoken with Anita Hill,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “They had a private discussion where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country.”

The campaign did not answer specific questions, including about whether the former vice president directly apologized.

Hill told The New York Times in an interview Wednesday that she “cannot be satisfied” by Biden’s apology when she has doubts that the Democratic primary candidate has a true grasp of how his actions have affected her and other women who are victims of sexual harassment.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” she said. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”

Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 and has been repeatedly criticized for his handling of Hill’s testimony during Thomas’ confirmation process, when she accused the now-justice of harassing her while acting as her supervisor. During the televised hearings, Hill faced intense questioning from an all-male, all-white panel of senators. She and Thomas are both African-American.

Hill’s remarks to The Times were published the day Biden officially joined the crowded pool of presidential candidates as a Democratic frontrunner, an attempt to resolve an issue plaguing his campaign before it was off the ground.

In the months leading up to the former vice president’s Thursday morning announcement, Biden also came under scrutiny when multiple women accused him of inappropriately touching them in an overly friendly manner.

Hill, a law professor, expressed concerns about these accusations during her interview with The Times and said she could not support Biden unless he did more to address his past actions.

“He needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw,” she told The Times. “And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”

Biden has publicly expressed regret about his treatment of Hill, but Hill told The Times that this was the first time he apologized to her personally.

“She paid a terrible price. She was abused through the hearing,” Biden said of Hill during the Biden Courage Awards ceremony in New York last month. “To this day, I regret I couldn’t get her the kind of hearing she deserved.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

DeVos Didn’t Try to ‘Defund’ Special Education

FactCheck -

In a CNN town hall, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic candidate for president, went too far when she said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “not only has tried to defund special education, but she also has tried to get rid of the Special Olympics funding.”

Klobuchar has a point about the Special Olympics, but the administration’s proposed budget keeps the bulk of the special education funding intact.

It’s true that the proposed fiscal year 2020 Department of Education budget sought to eliminate federal contributions to the Special Olympics — a cut that DeVos later said she opposed behind the scenes and that President Donald Trump reversed after public outcry. But most of the federal government’s funding for special education flows through Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and the department’s budget proposed keeping that federal funding at $13.2 billion — the same as Congress approved for FY2019.

DeVos found herself in the national media spotlight for her department’s proposed budget cut of nearly $18 million for the Special Olympics and more than $20 million to other programs that serve blind and deaf students.

During the CNN town hall on April 22, an audience member asked Klobuchar about DeVos’ attempts to “slash funding from special needs programs.”

Klobuchar noted that she “strongly opposed” DeVos’ appointment as secretary of education.

“It is no surprise to me that these things keep happening, and she not only has tried to defund special education, but she also has tried to get rid of the Special Olympics funding, if you watched any of this,” Klobuchar said.

Later in her answer, Klobuchar, who supports substantially increasing federal IDEA funding, said the Trump administration wants to “reduce the funding for special ed and for the Olympics which then had a reverse on because there was such a public outcry. That hurts people with disabilities, and they haven’t done anything to fund education for people with disabilities. So I give them, since you’re all students, an ‘F.'”

In often confrontational congressional testimony, DeVos attempted to defend the cuts, noting that she was under a directive to cut 10 percent from the overall education budget and “we had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.” DeVos added that the Special Olympics is “well-supported by the philanthropic sector.”

“What is it that we have a problem with children who are in special education? “Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan asked in a widely reported exchange.

DeVos noted that the proposed budget kept IDEA funding levels the same, even in the context of an overall 10 percent cut to the education budget.

Pocan, though, said he was talking about cuts to other programs, including ones that support blind and deaf students.

Indeed, the proposed budget did call for cuts to programs for the disabled, including:

  • Reducing federal funding to Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, by $13 million, to $121 million.
  • Cutting the federal allocation for the American Printing House for the Blind, a program that produces books for blind students, by $5 million, to $25 million.
  • Cutting the funding for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf by $8 million, to $70 million.
  • And reducing the funding for the Helen Keller National Center from $13 million to $10 million.

When we contacted Klobuchar’s office, it cited cuts to those programs — which are authorized under legislation separate from IDEA — as well as proposed cuts to programs that include services for those with special needs, including Arts in Education, which offers special programs for disabled students, and the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which seeks to eliminate barriers in the training and employment of people with disabilities. 

In a statement released on March 27, DeVos defended the administration’s commitment to special education funding.

“Make no mistake: we are focused every day on raising expectations and improving outcomes for infants and toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, and are committed to confronting and addressing anything that stands in the way of their success,” DeVos stated. “The President’s budget reflects that commitment. It supports our nation’s 7 million students with disabilities through a $13.2 billion request for IDEA funding, the same funding level appropriated by Congress. All of that money goes directly to states to ensure students with disabilities have the resources and supports they need. The budget also requests an additional $225.6 million for competitively awarded grants to support teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support students with disabilities.”

The National Education Association told us that although the department’s budget proposes to keep the federal contribution to IDEA at the same level it was in FY2019, the average federal share per child would be less in FY2020 because the average cost per pupil is expected to rise, as is the number of children with disabilities served.

After he reversed course on funding the Special Olympics, Trump told reporters on March 28, “I have overridden my people.” Trump’s previous budget proposals similarly called for eliminating Special Olympics funding, but Congress funded it anyway.

Interestingly, DeVos — who last year contributed a quarter of her salary, $50,000, to the Special Olympics — said she has fought behind the scenes to keep the Special Olympics funding in the administrations’ proposed budgets, but according to CNN, she was rebuffed by the White House budget office.

One can take issue with the proposed cuts to several programs that serve people with disabilities. But that is different from attempting to “defund special education,” as Klobuchar put it. The proposed cuts to those programs are a fraction of the money proposed for special education funding through IDEA.

Klobuchar’s office said she “made it clear that this was both defunding some programs, as well as reducing funding of other programs.” But the line between cutting funding for some programs for people with disabilities versus special education funding through IDEA has been blurred in the public debate, and Klobuchar’s comment that DeVos sought to “defund special education” contributes to the confusion.

The post DeVos Didn’t Try to ‘Defund’ Special Education appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Judge freezes Trump abortion rule

Politico -

A federal judge in Washington state on Thursday blocked a Trump administration rule that would have overhauled the Title X federal family planning program and cut funding to health providers that offer abortions or abortion referrals.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian, an Obama appointee, issued a nationwide injunction staying the changes from taking effect while several other legal challenges proceed. Bastian heard several hours of arguments Thursday from Washington state and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association challenging the administration's Title X funding rule and arguments from the Justice Department defending the changes.

The rule was set to take effect May 3 and would have stripped Title X funding from providers that refer patients to an abortion provider even if they ask for such a referral — a provision critics have labeled a “gag rule.” It would have the effect of excluding Planned Parenthood, which currently serves about 40 percent of all Title X patients nationwide, while funding conservative groups opposed to contraception and abortion that promote abstinence and natural family planning methods.

Nearly two dozen states and several medical provider and advocacy groups have sued to block the rule. Some of those states as well as all Planned Parenthood affiliates had also threatened to drop out of the Title X program entirely if the rule takes effect, forfeiting millions of dollars and leaving low-income women in many areas with few or no options for free or subsidized care.

Ruth Harlow, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project who represented a coalition of about 750 Title X-funded organizations, said the judge seemed sympathetic to her argument that the rule was contrary to the purpose of Title X and was arbitrary and capricious. But she added, "This is just temporary. We will be fighting this in the next phase to make this permanent and make sure this rule is never resurrected."

An HHS spokesperson declined to comment on the injunction, citing the pending litigation.

The ruling came two days after another federal judge in Oregon announced his intent to put the new rules on hold, siding with a coalition of Democratic attorneys general, Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association. Judge Michael McShane called the administration's policies a "ham-fisted" approach that would "reduce health outcomes" but has not yet indicated whether his injunction will be nationwide or more limited.

“We won’t stand by and let the government control what doctors can and can’t say to their patients,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the lead challenger in the multi-state lawsuit that resulted in the first injunction, told POLITICO.

It's possible that other courts in California and Maine that heard similar requests for an injunction could issue more stays in the days to come.

The states and groups challenging the Trump administration rule argued it would violate both state and federal law — particularly parts of the Affordable Care Act that prohibit the government from interfering with patient-provider communications “regarding a full range of treatment options" or restricting providers' ability to disclose "all relevant information to patients making health care decisions.” Some of the challengers also argue the rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the First Amendment.

The Trump administration countered that the Supreme Court upheld a similar Title X rule issued by the Reagan administration that was never fully implemented, and that a handful of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that do not explicitly mention abortion cannot override that precedent. The Justice Department also argued the rule is justified because, despite a longstanding ban on federal funding for abortions, groups like Planned Parenthood could “co-mingle” their federal income for contraceptive services and screenings with other funding used for abortion care.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Warren, Brown raise alarms about biggest bank merger since crisis

Politico -

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The biggest proposed bank merger since the 2008 financial crisis is drawing flak from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other key Democrats, who warn that it could create another institution so large that its failure would threaten the economy.

The potential deal between BB&T and SunTrust, which would create the nation's sixth-largest retail bank, has also sparked fears about branch closings and whether the marriage will reduce consumers' access to credit, concerns that were voiced on Thursday at a public hearing in Charlotte.

While it's unlikely that Warren or other lawmakers like Rep. Maxine Waters could block the merger, the timing of the deal gives Democrats more 2020 campaign fodder against President Donald Trump, who has overseen a sweeping bank deregulation agenda despite the populist message of his 2016 campaign.

“Legislative giveaways and regulatory rollbacks have already amplified the potential for the biggest banks to threaten our financial system,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in a letter to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams this week. “Further consolidation by large banks would make matters even worse.”

Waters, a California Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee said the proposed merger “raises many questions and deserves serious scrutiny from banking regulators, Congress and the public to determine its impact and whether it would create a public benefit for consumers.”

The banks and their supporters argue that the deal would increase their ability to compete with megabanks like JPMorgan, which has more than $2.6 trillion in assets. The newly merged bank would have about $442 billion in assets.

SunTrust CEO William Rogers, at the hearing in Charlotte, argued that his bank and BB&T don’t engage in the kind of complex activities found in their largest competitors, so the new lender’s size should not cause concern.

“Some have suggested this transaction will create an institution that’s too big,” Rogers said. “Let me assure you, in the case of this merger, bigger does not mean riskier. Each company has a conservative risk profile now and will maintain such as a combined entity.”

The merger “will actually increase competition by creating a stronger regional bank that reduces the concentration of systemic risk at the top of the market,” he added.

The Federal Reserve and FDIC will determine whether to approve the proposed deal, looking at a number of factors, including financial stability, effects on competition and community needs.

At the hearing hosted by the two agencies, the banks heard a slew of complaints from community groups about the potential impact of the merger, though there was also praise — particularly for BB&T — for prior community investments.

SunTrust also faced blowback for helping to finance private prisons, a major focus of progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who earlier this month personally thanked JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon for ending his bank’s ties to that industry.

But there’s no sign yet of any deal-breaking factors for the merger. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 presidential contender, has chided the Fed’s board for approving 87 percent of merger applications between 2006 and 2017.

“The Board’s record of summarily approving mergers raises doubts about whether it will serve as a meaningful check on this consolidation that creates a new too big to fail bank and has the potential to hurt consumers,” she wrote to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell when the deal was announced.

And Brown, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee argued this week that the merger should not be approved until the FDIC has a full board. One seat reserved for Democrats is empty while Martin Gruenberg, the sole remaining Democrat at the agency, is serving on an expired term. The FDIC would be on the hook to cover depositors if the bank were to ever become insolvent.

Jeremy Kress, a business law professor at the University of Michigan, said he wasn’t sure the “too big to fail” label — a term applied to institutions that the government would bail out to avoid widespread economic pain — would apply if the banks were to merge. But the deal “would result in greater or more concentrated risks to U.S. financial stability,” he said.

“There is strong empirical evidence that the collapse of a combined BB&T-SunTrust would be worse for the economy than if both banks failed separately,” Kress said, pointing to a Fed research paper showing a large bank failure hurts the economy more than if several smaller banks of equivalent size were to collapse.

“Not only that, but the combined BB&T-SunTrust … would be considerably bigger than firms like Washington Mutual, Countrywide and National City — all of which proved systemic during the crisis,” he said.

But Karen Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics, said the notion that the merged bank would be considered by regulators as too big to fail is a “big stretch.”

“It would be a big drain on the FDIC, but manageable because the bank, while big, is relatively simple and traditional,” she said.

Regulators look at risk indicators to determine the extent to which a bank is entrenched in the financial system. BB&T and SunTrust each had a score of 14 in 2015, according to the Office of Financial Research. In contrast, Wells Fargo had a score of 250 and JPMorgan had a score of 464.

At the hearing, National Community Reinvestment Coalition CEO Jesse Van Tol argued that in the face of the reality where very large lenders continue to operate, a bank’s obligations to the communities it serves should increase the larger it gets. The public benefit it provides should be weighed against the prospect of reduced competition, he said.

“The problem with so-called ‘trust busting’ is that practically speaking, once a bank reaches a certain size many people consider it impractical, disruptive and perhaps politically unfeasible to break them up,” he said.

“We believe this type of analysis should be considered along the way, as banks grow, with a larger obligation the bigger they get,” he added.

NCRC will soon close negotiations on a community benefits agreement with the two banks, “detailing lending, investments and services for low and moderate income people and communities of color,” at which point, Van Tol said, his group could support the merger.

“It is your job, additionally, as the regulators, to ensure that the banks' forward-looking statement creates a clearly significant public benefit,” he said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump leaves Pentagon power vacuum

Politico -

A quarter of the Pentagon's most senior civilian posts remain filled by temporary personnel who are unconfirmed by the Senate – a high number that has slowed decisions, handicapped the department in policy disputes and shifted more power to the White House, according to recently departed Pentagon officials.

Including acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, who has served in a temporary capacity for an unprecedented 115 days, nine of the Pentagon’s 45 secretaries, deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries are serving in an acting capacity or fall into a related category of officials who are “performing the duties of” the position, according to a POLITICO review.

The problem is most acute in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where Shanahan is one of eight such unconfirmed officials out of 24, including his civilian number two. The department’s number three civilian job, the chief management officer, is also filled on an acting basis.

President Donald Trump himself has said that he prefers having top officials in his administration serving in a placeholder capacity because it gives him "more flexibility." And White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday reportedly insisted that "none of the work is impeded" at the Pentagon as a result.

But a host of Defense Department veterans, including some who have worked for the current administration, assert that the lack of permanent, Senate-confirmed civilian overseers is taking its toll on the Pentagon's ability to operate effectively -- from delaying policy reviews to undercutting Pentagon officials in administration debates.

“It’s not a healthy situation,” said Eric Edelman, who was acting undersecretary of defense for policy under George W. Bush before being confirmed and recently co-chaired the National Defense Strategy Commission created by Congress. “You have the appearance of being fully empowered, but it’s like particles below the water line – you can’t see them but that doesn’t mean they’re not eating away at the hull of the ship, undermining the office.”

“You can wind up with someone who’s going to keep the trains running on time rather than make decisions about where the trains should be going," added Eric Fanning, who was acting Air Force secretary and Army secretary in the Obama administration before being confirmed for the latter and now runs the influential Aerospace Industries Association.

In addition to the top positions of secretary, deputy secretary, and chief management officer, other posts lacking a Senate-confirmed occupant include an assistant secretary who works with the military officers of the Joint Staff to implement White House directives and represent the Pentagon in deliberations with the State Department and intelligence agencies.

The undersecretary, deputy undersecretary, and assistant secretary of defense for readiness are also all unconfirmed, despite a major Pentagon push to ensure that military units are fully equipped with troops and that enough aircraft and other weapon systems are available and usable. The Pentagon has also had an acting inspector general responsible for rooting out waste, fraud and abuse, for more than three years.

The Pentagon, at least officially, maintains that all is well. “Secretary Shanahan is focused on performance, he is focused on the job. He is not focused on the title,” said his spokesperson, Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, in a statement, adding that Shanahan “is in the process of finalizing personnel actions” for some of the positions.

But the high number has empowered the White House relative to the Pentagon in several key policy debates, said a recently departed Pentagon official who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.

“It leaves the department at a real disadvantage” in policy debates, the former official added — including during a recent dispute over whether to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group.

During those deliberations over the winter, the White House overruled the concerns of several top Pentagon officials, including both a confirmed undersecretary and the acting assistant secretary for international security affairs. Shanahan’s status as acting secretary seemed to deter him from standing up for his subordinates’ concerns, the former official said.

“DoD felt pretty strongly about it not being designated, but Shanahan is in an acting role and he’s auditioning for the part, so how much was he going to do?” the former official said.

In the final stage of the discussions, Shanahan allowed his undersecretary of defense for policy, John Rood, to “carry the water” against National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who were the main proponents of the provocative move, rather than challenging them himself, according to the former official.

“How much better would that conversation have gone for [the Department of Defense] if you had a secretary who was actually in the seat and confirmed instead of one is still auditioning for the seat?” the former official asked.

During the run up to the Revolutionary Guard decision, the Pentagon’s policy office was also outmatched by the more fully staffed National Security Council staff at the White House. “Who had problems with it? DoD. But who had the robustness of staffing? NSC,” the former official said. “Those dynamics definitely affected DoD’s ability to make its case.”

Within the Pentagon, the military officers of the Joint Staff wound up picking up some of the slack, the former official added.

That also happened with the administration’s 2017 review of its Afghanistan war strategy, according to a second recently departed Pentagon official. They explained that military officers, who are supposed to be subordinate to the civilian leadership, played an unusually influential role.

“In an environment where the uniformed personnel have a little more sway, the [civilian-military] dynamic gets harder when you have a large number of people acting and ['performing the duties of'] in civilian leadership positions,” the former official said.

Another major policy area affected was the Pentagon’s long-awaited missile defense review, which Trump commissioned in the opening days of the administration but which wasn’t released for two years.

The absence of a confirmed undersecretary of defense for policy during the administration’s first year kept the review in limbo, recalled Edelman, now a scholar at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “The acting was hamstrung and unable to finish the process,” he explained. When Rood was finally confirmed as undersecretary, “he came in and decided to redo the whole thing.”

The military’s hierarchical culture does give acting officials some leeway and deference. “There is an authority that comes with that office that’s difficult to ignore even for a temporary occupant of that office,” said Susanna Blume, a former Obama administration Pentagon official.

“The building responds to people who are in the seat,” agreed Fanning. But that only goes so far, he added.

“When I was the acting secretary of the Air Force, I felt like I was treated as though I were the secretary, but I now see from the outside that there is a perception issue,” he explained.

Indeed, the bureaucracy can more easily resist a boss who is officially designated as temporary, said Michèle Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration.

Shanahan “is trying to drive reform in [Defense Department] business practices right now,” she said. “If there’s anything in that agenda that people in the bureaucracy don’t want, they’re more likely to just try to wait someone out if that person’s tenure is unclear.”

The trend may soon begin to ebb. The nominations of two acting assistant secretaries — for readiness and health affairs — are now on the Senate’s calendar. And Trump is expected by multiple insiders to officially nominate Shanahan as secretary of defense now that he has been cleared by a Pentagon inspector general probe related to dealings with his former employer Boeing.

Still, Trump has sent Congress just a handful of nominees to fill defense-related posts so far this year. And as long as Shanahan's status remains in limbo, a large share of his subordinates will also likely remain unconfirmed, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) predicted.

“The problem is until you get the secretary of Defense, you can’t fill those other positions,” Inhofe told reporters. “The secretary of Defense is supposed to be participating in all these selections, and he can’t very well do that until he’s confirmed.”

For now, the prevalence of unconfirmed officials at the Pentagon is another hallmark of how the Trump administration doesn't follow traditional norms of governing, said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former acting assistant defense secretary in the Obama administration who is now a member of the Armed Services Committee.

“Since the president has said publicly that he actually prefers acting officials because they are not subject to the same scrutiny, it’s opened up a new area for the U.S. government,” she said.

Connor O'Brien contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine


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