With Vice President Pence breaking tie, Senate passes anti-Planned Parenthood bill

Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking Senate vote Thursday to pass legislation that will allow states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions.

The measure, which now goes to President Trump for his signature, dismisses an Obama-era rule banning states from denying federal funds to such organizations.

Pence’s vote was needed to break a 50-50 tie. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke with their party, voting against the measure.

Republicans have said the Obama rule should be overturned to allow states the right to steer funds away from abortion providers, if they choose.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said the measure reverses a rule that “attempted to empower federal bureaucrats in Washington and silence our states.”

Democrats condemned the measure throughout the day, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York calling it “another example of the Republican war on women.”

“It would let states treat women as second-class citizens who don’t deserve the same access to health care as men,” he said.

The House in February had voted 230-188 largely along party lines to reject the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn recently enacted regulations.

The rule prohibits states from withholding family-planning funding from providers for reasons other than their ability to offer family-planning services. It took effect Jan. 18, two days before President Obama left office.

Since 2011, 13 states have restricted access to such grants, disrupting or reducing services in several instances.

[USA Today]

Trump threatens to pull funding for California National Guard deployment

President Donald Trump lashed out at California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday, insisting that his administration won’t pay for the state’s National Guard deployment unless the troops help enforce US immigration laws at the border.

“Governor Jerry Brown announced he will deploy ‘up to 400 National Guard Troops’ to do nothing,” Trump tweeted. “The crime rate in California is high enough, and the Federal Government will not be paying for Governor Brown’s charade. We need border security and action, not words!”

Later Thursday, Trump tweeted more about immigration policy.

“Sanctuary Cities released at least 142 Gang Members across the United States, making it easy for them to commit all forms of violent crimes where none would have existed. We are doing a great job of law enforcement, but things such as this make safety in America difficult!”

Trump’s tweets comes less than 24 hours after Brown, a Democrat, agreed to send more National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border. Brown said that the mission would be limited.

“Let’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission,” Brown said. “This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

Trump’s comments seemingly contradict an earlier tweet from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“Just spoke w @JerryBrownGov about deploying the @USNationalGuard in California,” Nielsen wrote on Wednesday. “Final details are being worked out but we are looking forward to the support. Thank you Gov Brown!”

Asked for comment on Trump’s tweet, Brown’s office pointed to Nielsen’s comments.

[CNN]

Reality

Violent crime across the country is at an all time low.

Trump: We’ll put sanctions on Russia ‘as soon as they very much deserve it’

President Trump on Wednesday said his administration would levy additional sanctions on Russia “as soon as they very much deserve it.”

The comments, made at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, capped a four-day stretch of confusion over whether the Trump administration would punish Moscow for its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

Trump began to walk away from the microphone, but returned to answer a shouted question about the sanctions. He then went on to tout his record on confronting Russia.

“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” the president said, restating one of his common talking points.

He noted that he has helped raise money for NATO, as well as touted a recent military strike in Syria that was carried out in coordination with France and the United Kingdom.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haleysaid on Sunday that additional sanctions against Russia would be announced as soon as Monday in response to its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

However, the White House said Monday that Trump had decided not to impose sanctions, contradicting Haley’s comments.

Haley quickly fired back, saying “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Kudlow later apologized, but the incident sparked speculation that all of the Trump administration was not on the same page regarding its policy toward Russia.

Trump has faced criticism from lawmakers for being hesitant at times to speak out forcefully against Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[The Hill]

Trump Says ‘Slippery’ Comey ‘Was Not Fired’ Because of Russia Probe, After Suggesting He Was

President Donald Trump pushed back on suggestions that he fired former FBI director James Comey because of the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia — a key tenet of allegations he sought to obstruct justice.

Of course, the president has not always been so clear on this front. After Comey was fired, the White House claimed it was based on a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over Comey’s handling of the Clinton email probe.

But then, Trump was interviewed by Lester Holt in May 2017, and said the following: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” (Watch above.)

Trump also reportedly told Russian officials that his firing of Comey, who he called “a real nut job, took the “pressure” he was facing over the Russia probe off.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to a U.S. official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

In light of Comey’s media blitz to promote his new memoirs, A Higher Loyalty, Trump is attempting to set the record straight, tweeting: “Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!”

[Mediaite]

Trump blasts ‘breeding’ in sanctuary cities. That’s a racist term.

What exactly did President Donald Trump mean by “breeding” when he tweeted Wednesday about cities that will not cooperate with the federal government to deport the undocumented.

This is Donald Trump. He meant exactly what you think.

The tweet, offered Wednesday morning, argued that Californians prefer his hard-line policies to those of Gov. Jerry Brown.

“There is a Revolution going on in California. Soooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept. Jerry Brown is trying to back out of the National Guard at the Border, but the people of the State are not happy. Want Security & Safety NOW!”

It is true that the government of Orange County has voted twice now to opt out of the state’s so-called “sanctuary” law.

Whether there is full-blown “Revolution” in California seems less likely.

But it’s the next part of the tweet that is more difficult to understand.

“Sooo many Sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept,” according to the President.

What exactly does he mean by “breeding concept?” It appears to be a new addition to his rhetoric on immigration. He doesn’t appear to have used it before on Twitter or in recent public remarks on sanctuary cities.

There is great danger in trying to dissect every word of a Trump tweet, but in this case it is worth trying to figure out. CNN has reached out to the White House to figure out exactly what he meant.

The tweet has not been deleted at the time of this writing, so he means for those words to remain out there. In other words, it’s not likely to be at typo. He has been known to correct those in the past.

A simple Google search doesn’t uncover any specific mention of a “breeding concept” with regard to sanctuary cities in the conservative media, so it’s a little unclear what he’s referring to.

Taken literally, the most likely explanation is that he’s talking about sanctuary cities as places where undocumented immigrants breed.

If that’s right, there’s a racial undertone in the comment should slap you in the face.

Fear of immigrants from certain countries “breeding” has been a staple of nativist thought for hundreds of years. The “breeding” fear has been affixed to Jews from Eastern Europe, Catholics from Ireland and Italy, Chinese and, now, Latinos, Filipinos, Africans and Haitians. This is dog-whistle politics at its worst.

“Breeding” as a concept has an animalistic connotation. Dogs and horses are bred. So his use of it is, at best, dehumanizing to the immigrants he appears to be referring to.

The other possible definition of the word has to do with manners passed down through generations. In that case, Trump is saying people in sanctuary cities weren’t raised right. That doesn’t seem to work within the context of the tweet.

Plus, there is Trump’s obsession with the idea of immigrants flooding the US. He’s insisted that immigration reform end the concept of what opponents call “chain migration.”

“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” Trump said during his State of the Union address. Politifact called that claim “misleading.”

At the outset of his presidential campaign, he seemed in tent on challenging the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.

“What happens is they’re in Mexico, they’re going to have a baby, they move over here for a couple of days, they have the baby,” he told Fox News in August 2015 as he was taking command of the Republican field. “Many lawyers are saying that’s not the way it is in terms of this,” and went on to say, “They are saying it is not going to hold up in court. It will have to be tested but they say it will not hold up in court.”

In an interview around the same time with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, he said, “You have people on the border and in one day, they walk over and have a baby and now all of the sudden, we’re supposed to pay the baby.”

Changing interpretation of the 14th Amendment is not an issue he’s pursued as President, but it’s clear from those early interviews that he has at times wanted to pursue it and that he’s been nervous about immigrant children.

More recently, he’s raised concerns that immigrant women coming into the US have, in large numbers, been raped.

All of those things put together suggest Trump’s “breeding concept” tweet, consciously or not, is in line with his efforts use ever more divisive rhetoric on immigration.

[CNN]

Ryan Zinke refers to himself as a geologist. That’s a job he’s never held.

Defending his decision to shrink the Bears Ears national monument to lawmakers last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke fell back one of his favorite credentials.

“I’m a geologist,” he said. “I can assure you that oil and gas in Bears Ears was not part of my decision matrix. A geologist will tell you there is little, if any, oil and gas.”

Since becoming leader of the 70,000-employee agency, Zinke has suggested that he was a geologist or former geologist at least 40 times in public settings, including many under oath before Congress.

He uses it as a credential booster, saying things such as, “I can tell you, from a geologist, offshore mining of sand is enormously destructive environmentally, as in comparison to seismic,” as he told the House Natural Resources Committee last month.

And, “Florida is different in the currents — I’m a geologist — it’s different in geology,” in an interview with Breitbart News, defending his decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

In May, he criticized the work of the US Geological Survey, saying at a press conference in Alaska that “I think the assessments of the USGS has done previous, I think they fall short, from a geologist’s point of view.”

Zinke, however, has never held a job as a geologist.

In his autobiography, Zinke wrote that he majored in geology at the University of Oregon, which he attended on a football scholarship, and chose his major at random.

“I studied geology as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog, and I never looked back. I am just glad I did not find electronics,” he wrote, adding that he was focused and a good student, and earned an outstanding academic achievement award his senior year.

After graduating, Zinke wrote that he considered a career in subsurface geological surveying, but after a meeting with a Navy commander, “I realized that I was doing a lot more thinking about SEAL activities — or what I thought SEAL activities would be — than I was about geological exploration and surveying.”

His LinkedIn page, his book, and various news clips piecing together his post-military life — compiled by the left-leaning group American Bridge — show that once Zinke retired as a SEAL he went into business and politics, never mentioning work in the field of geology.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift provided this statement to CNN: “Ryan Zinke graduated with honors with a B.S. in Geology. His intended career path was underwater geology – and he had college jobs to support that career. Upon graduation he was recruited to be an officer in the US Navy SEALs where he proudly served for 23 years and retired with the rank of Commander.”

Interior did not answer if Zinke is or has been a member of the American Institute of Professional Geologists or the Association of State Boards of Geologists.

Several geologists who CNN has spoken with have flagged his comments as disingenuous, saying that someone with a 34-year-old degree who never worked in the field is not considered a geologist.

“He seems not to be familiar with modern geologic knowledge,” said Seth Stein, a professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “In particular, geologists now know that the climate is warming rapidly because of human activities. This is is causing many serious problems including rising sea level, which is a major threat to coastal communities.”

In addition, Zinke’s numerous rollbacks of environmental protections, wavering stance on climate change, and allegations by career staff that he surpassed certain reports have at least one Democratic member of Congress asking whether he should be using his college degree as a credibility booster.

“I’m not sure Secretary Zinke was paying attention during those geology classes,” said Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Zinke has, several times, fallen back on his geology degree to justify his decisions. For example, in a hearing in March before the Natural Resources Committee, Zinke said, “as a geologist, the fair proposition is if you’re going to develop on federal land, there needs to be a reclamation plan to make sure that it’s returned to as good or better condition than what you found it.”

And in December, when he ordered a nationwide survey of minerals, Zinke said, “right now the United States is almost completely reliant on foreign adversaries and competitors for many of the minerals that are deemed critical for our national and economic security. As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the risk this presents to our nation.”

In September, he touted fracking at a Heritage Foundation event, saying, “I’m a former geologist. I say ‘former’ because when I went to school, I was taught that we are going to be out of oil in 2003; that there was peak oil. That’s not possible with fracking.”

And in July, when discussion national monuments he was considering shrinking, Zinke was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal saying, “the area of the monument – it’s actually four separate parcels – is a ‘little disconnected,” he told reporters during a helicopter tour. “The boundaries are difficult to discern – between private, public, state lands,’ he said. ‘The features, as a geologist, I was particularly fascinated with the basalts and the volcanics – beautiful ground.”

In one Senate Appropriations hearing last June, Zinke called himself a geologist four times, including while discussing coal revenue and potential drilling sites.

“I’m a geologist,” Zinke said. “And I don’t consider myself a genius, but I’m a pretty smart guy.”

[CNN]

Trump touts Rasmussen poll: ‘51% Approval despite the Fake News Media’

President Trump touted a conservative-leaning poll of his job approval on Tuesday while slamming surveys from news organizations, such as The Washington Post and CNN, as inaccurate.

“Rasmussen just came out at 51% Approval despite the Fake News Media,” Trump tweeted. “They were one of the three most accurate on Election Day.”

Rasmussen Reports, a right-leaning polling firm, routinely pegs the president’s approval ratings higher than other pollsters. As of Tuesday, Trump’s approval rating sat at 49 percent, according to the firm, and 50 percent disapprove.

RealClearPolitics, which averages data from a number of pollsters, had Trump’s current figure at about 42 percent on Tuesday.

Trump has seen relatively low approval ratings throughout much of his first 15 months in office, but has repeatedly insisted that many surveys are inaccurate.

Trump has long questioned the accuracy of public opinion polls, especially during the 2016 presidential race, when many pollsters projected a win for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

[The Hill]

Trump Threatens Comey With Jail Time in Unhinged Tirade

President Donald Trump spent Sunday morning railing against former FBI Director James Comey, whose highly anticipated book will be released Tuesday. In a series of unhinged tweets, the president described Comey, whom he fired last year, as “not smart”; the “worst” FBI chief in history; a “self serving” liar; and a “slimeball.” He even threatened Comey with jail time.

Trump kicked off his tirade by referencing reports that Comey discloses in his book that Hillary Clinton’s lead in 2016 election polling may have influenced Comey’s handling of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s email server.

Whatever one thinks of this troubling admission from Comey, it’s worth noting that what Comey actually wrote, according to early reports, is that he may have treated Clinton more harshly because of his assumption that she’d win.

Comey made a similar statement to ABC News in an interview clip released Saturday, saying that his decision to disclose the reopening of the email investigation “must have been” influenced by his belief that Clinton would win.

Trump went on to call “Slippery James Comey” the “WORST FBI Director in history, by far” and insist that the notes Comey took documenting his conversations with Trump are “FAKE.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Official Blames Obama for His $1 Million Office Redesign

Since the Trump administration moved in last year, there’s been an unspoken competition among Cabinet officials to spend as much taxpayer money as possible in the most questionable of ways. A favorite among the group, of course, has been refusing to come within 20 feet of coach, insisting instead on flying business or first class or, hell, just renting a private plane or borrowing a jet from the government. Also popular? Dropping tens of thousands—and in some cases hundreds of thousands—on office redesigns as though they’re Fortune 100 C.E.O.s and not government bureaucrats.

Over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose department had its funding slashed in the latest White House budget, dropped $31,000 on a dining set for “safety” reasons. At the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, the front-runner for Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official, invoiced taxpayers for a “brown maple wood stand-up desk with brass locks,” a second “oversize desk with decorative woodworking that some E.P.A. employees compared to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office” (cost of refurbishment: $2,075), and a nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth, which, it turns out, was illegal for him to purchase without notifying Congress first. And to round out the club, on Tuesday afternoon we learned that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the people responsible for dragging us into a trade war with China, spent nearly $1 million to redecorate two of his offices.

According to the New York Post, Lighthizer spent $3,500 of taxpayer money on an antique desk, $859 on a hugely important 30-inch “Executive Office of the President” plaque, and $830 to “transport and install two paintings on loan from the Smithsonian.” In addition, he paid Executive Furniture of Washington, D.C., which specializes in high-end furniture and wood-finished desks, a whopping $475,000. For his staff, he splurged on 60 sit-stand desks ($18,500), a modular wall system ($290,000), and 90 Herman Miller Aeron office chairs ($54,000). But if you thought Lighthizer would take responsibility for the expenditures, think again:

When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration.

“The furniture purchases are the culmination of a longtime, planned project that began under the Obama administration to replace two-decade-old furniture,” Lighthizer’s office said in a statement.

(An official from Lighthizer’s office further explained to The Hive: “Ambassador Lighthizer did not direct these expenditures, which were planned and executed consistent with career staff’s spending authority. All furnishings were acquired through Executive Office of the President contracting procedures. In my opinion as a senior career official responsible for developing and implementing this project, these funds were critical for continuing to execute effectively USTR’s mission.”)

Obama-era, unsurprisingly reps were having none of this explanation, telling the Post that they didn’t approve any major remodeling plans and that it was “laughable” Team Trump would try to pin this on them, considering the new administration had no problem pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day four of Trump’s presidency. “We told 11 other countries that we were going to do a trade deal with them, and the Trump administration found the power to unwind that,” an Obama trade official told the Post. “So furniture purchases cannot be as binding.”

As for whether Lighthizer will suffer any consequences for the pricey interior design choices, the odds are about as likely as Trump blurbing a second print run of James Comey’s book. Though the president is indeed on a firing spree, ethical transgressions like Lighthizer’s seem only to improve one’s standing with the boss. If Pruitt can hang on after his office decor spending spree, shady housing arrangement, and insistence on outfitting his official business car like it’s the Batmobile, then Lighthizer should be just fine.

[Vanity Fair]

Trump tweets “Mission Accomplished!” after Syria bombing

Less than 24 hours after ordering missile strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump declared, “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet on Saturday.

The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq War, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over and would stretch on for years.

Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase on Twitter and said he’s trying to bring it back in vogue. He said he knew the “Fake News Media” would “seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” He said he wants to bring it back and “use often!”

The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattiscalled a “one-time shot.”

Trump, who has publicly telegraphed his thinking on Syria on Twitter in recent days, took to the platform to take a victory lap after the bombing.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokesperson Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.

[Vox]

Reality

US military officials have already acknowledged that the strikes did little to blunt Syria’s capacity to manufacture and deliver chemical weapons. The mission was a compromise from the start, targeting facilities that would result in the lowest possible probability of loss of civilian life. And the US warned Russia in advance using the deconfliction line between the US and Russian militaries that there would be an operation over Syria, tipping off Russia and Syria of the strike Trump had already promised was coming.

The strike did accomplish a few things besides blowing up (apparently empty) buildings. It demonstrated how the US, French, and British militaries are capable of orchestrating a joint strike operation on (relatively) short notice, as well as the effectiveness of two relatively new weapons systems. It also demonstrated how some of the oldest weapons systems in the US military’s inventory can still serve a role in these sorts of operations. And the strike gave nearly everyone but the US Army and US Coast Guard an opportunity to take part.

There is also the possibility that these strikes were illegal and unconstitutional.

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