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Tough guy Chris Christie didn’t follow through on his anti-refugee rhetoric.

Usually it’s a bad, disappointing thing when politicians lie about their intentions. In this case, it’s a little harder to call: While Chris Christie infamously talked a big game about his intent to direct New Jersey’s Department of Human Services not to aid or resettle Syrian refugees, Politico New Jersey reports an open records request found no such order issued from Christie’s office. Aside from a letter from Christie’s office to the Obama administration, Christie sent no written request to DHS asking or ordering them to alter their usual work. 

This makes Christie’s course of action distinct from, say, that of the Texas state government, which really did send a letter out through the state’s Health and Human Services Commission demanding that all non-profits with refugee services suspend aid to Syrian refugees specifically. 

Not that the state government of Texas, or Christie for that matter, has the authority to make or enforce that kind of request, which is against federal law. Still the record should reflect that Christie doesn’t even have the courage of his bad convictions.

January 17, 2017

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Chelsea Manning is going free. It’s about time.

The New York Times reports that President Obama has commuted the “bulk” of her sentence. She will be released on May 17: 

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

NBC had previously reported that Manning was on Obama’s clemency shortlist. There is a strong humanitarian case for her release: She’s suffered a number of human rights abuses during her time in Leavenworth Prison. The ACLU sued the military on Manning’s behalf in 2014 over its refusal to grant her access to treatment for gender dysphoria; officials only granted permission for her to receive gender-confirmation surgery last September. She attempted suicide twice last year, only to be sentenced to solitary confinement despite her fragile state.  And her situation was set to worsen under Trump. As Megan Carpentier reported for The New Republic last November, Trump’s hostility to the presence of LGBT people in the military posed an imminent threat to Manning’s health and safety. 

Manning is the reason we know how Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, really died. Thanks to her, we know that two U.S. Army Apache helicopter crews gunned down both men in a crowd of Iraqis—and laughed about it afterwards.

Manning’s commutation should have happened years ago, but Obama has likely saved her life by securing her release now. Edward Snowden probably won’t be as lucky, but this is the move he implored Obama to make last week: 

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Paul LePage thinks John Lewis should shut his mouth (unless he’s using it to thank white people).

LePage, a Trump supporter, is none too happy with Lewis. The civil rights icon recently told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd that Trump will not be a “legitimate president,” and announced he would not attend the inauguration for the first time in his congressional career. “John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage said in an interview Tuesday with WVOM, a Maine radio station. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.”

Where to begin? How about the fact that Lewis is a genuine national hero. The longtime congressman was one of the “big six” organizers of the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis has been arrested more than 40 times, and has suffered brutal beatings at the hands of police in the struggle for equal rights. And he recently added a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a National Book Award to his resume. In other words, John Lewis is the last person on earth who needs a lecture on the history of slavery and civil rights.

What’s worse, not only do LePage’s remarks reek of casual racism, they’re also just plain wrong. Jim Crow laws didn’t go into effect until after the Grant administration. And it was the election of Hayes that ushered in the end of Reconstruction, ripening the landscape for the institution of Jim Crow.

This is all to say nothing of the deeply flawed logic of LePage’s argument:

Sadly, this kind of outrageous behavior is par for the course for LePage, who has been making Trump-like statements before Trumpism was even a thing. Let us never forget the time he told the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”

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Vladimir Putin is seizing his moment.

Much remains to be proven, but the general consensus is that Russia’s hacks of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails were undertaken to help undermine the credibility of the United States’s political system. That has been a goal of Putin’s Russia for some time, but it has never been so successful—not only was faith undermined, but Putin’s good buddy Donald Trump is about to take over the White House. Now, Putin is twisting the knife, just a little bit.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Putin lashed out against the explosive leaked dossier that alleged that Russia had compromising material on Trump and that Trump had paid prostitutes to pee on a bed while he watched. “People who order fakes of the type now circulating against the U.S. president-elect, who concoct them and use them in a political battle, are worse than prostitutes because they don’t have any moral boundaries at all,” Putin said, apparently without irony. Putin even went as far to suggest that the leaks were part of a broader plan orchestrated by President Obama to “undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect” despite his “convincing” victory. (These things were also said without irony.) This is largely in keeping with the spirit of the Trump team’s own explanation for the leaks.

Putin also argued that the allegations simply weren’t plausible. “It is true that when he came to Moscow—I don’t remember when, a few years ago—he was not a political actor. We did not know about his political ambitions. He was just a businessman, one of the rich people of America. What do you think—we have special security services running after every American billionaire? Of course not. It is complete rubbish,” he said.

But the best part of Putin’s defense was his endorsement of Russian hookers. “This is an adult, and a man who for years organized beauty contests and spoke with the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I can hardly believe that he ran off to meet with our girls of low social morals. Although of course ours are the best in the world.”

There you have it. Russia has the best sex workers in the world, but Trump certainly wouldn’t have taken the bait.

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We now know precisely how devastating Obamacare repeal could be.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that, without a replacement, repealing the Affordable Care Act will leave 18 million more Americans without health insurance within a year. “Later, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchased through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026,” according to the nonpartisan federal agency.

In addition, the CBO found premiums would increase by 20 to 25 percent within a year: “The increase would reach about 50 percent in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the marketplace subsidies, and premiums would about double by 2026.”

Republicans, of course, are promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, giving Americans “lower costs and more choices.”

All they’re lacking is an actual plan to make that happen.

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Trump’s team is delivering a warning to Steven Mnuchin.

Even in a cabinet chock full of controversial appointments, Mnuchin stands out. If you want to make the argument that Trump’s cabinet was designed to enrich America’s wealthiest citizens at the cost of everyone else, look no further than Mnuchin, who is the epitome of banking excess and corporate greed. Mnuchin’s former bank, OneWest, was a foreclosure machine, profiting handsomely off the housing crisis (it even went so far as to kick an old woman out of her home over a 27-cent debt). Mnuchin’s confirmation hearings were always going to be tough for both him and the incoming administration, because Democrats are keen to connect the two: Mnuchin, like Trump, wants to pick your pocket.

But Mnuchin apparently has done little to prepare. According to native advertiser Mike Allen and his new newsletter Axios Presented By Bank of America, Trump’s people are worried about how Mnuchin will perform and are generally annoyed by his preening ways:

Transition officials tell us they are worried about Steven Mnuchin’s readiness for his Thursday confirmation hearing to run Treasury. In early prep sessions, he came off as uneven and stiff, so extra people were brought in to help get him ready. (One spy at the transition office told me that all the suits surrounding a conference table during one of Mnuchin’s prep sessions made it look like a Fortune 500 board meeting.) And some insiders worry about how he’d react to demonstrators. Democrats hope to derail at least one pick, and Mnuchin still tops the list. Insiders weren’t thrilled when he leaked word of his selection and then went on CNBC to talk about it. So it’ll be interesting to see how hard Trump fights for this one, if needed.

Allen is a master of unintentional comedy. Referring to a friendly leaker as a spy, as if Axios Presented By Bank of America is cobbled together by the Master of Whispers, is a perfect Allen-esque self-aggrandizement. But more than anything, this graf feels like a message to Mnuchin being delivered through the media: Shape up, or we’ll cut you loose. That Mnuchin is behaving arrogantly is not particularly surprising, but that the Trump team would issue this kind of threat two days before his hearing is. Trump’s transition is not going well at all, and the last thing they need is for Mnuchin to become yet another symbol of a detached and corrupt cabinet.

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Donald Trump is trying to unskew his historic unpopularity.

On Tuesday, the president-elect dismissed recent polling showing his abysmal approval ratings. The latest was a Washington Post-ABC News survey that finds him to be “the least popular incoming president in at least four decades.” Trump said Americans should ignore the crooked media, because it failed to predict his election:

The first problem with this argument is that the polls weren’t so wrong. As Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake reiterated on Twitter, national surveys were only off by about one percentage point, and Hillary Clinton, after all, won the popular vote.

What is most concerning about Trump’s tweets isn’t that he’s wrong on the history of political forecasting. It’s that he’s relentlessly seeking to delegitimize mainstream sources of information—any outlets that don’t help him politically. At the same time, he’s rewarding those that do, propping up fringe media willing to toe the Trumpian line. It’s why his team saves a special seat for Breitbart at his news conferences, and why he’s promoting One America News Network—a small pro-Trump channel that recently hired the president-elect’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Trust in America’s democratic institutions is eroding, and its incoming leader wants to erode it further.

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Tom Price is a perfect representative of Trumpian corruption.

On Monday evening, CNN reported that Trump’s pick to lead the Health and Human Services Administration introduced legislation in 2016 that would have benefited a company whose stock he had purchased days before. He then received campaign contributions from that company:

“Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company.... Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN. Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

“Zimmer Biomet, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of knee and hip implants, was one of two companies that would have been hit the hardest by the new CMS regulation that directly impacts the payments for such procedures, according to press reports and congressional sources. After Price offered his bill to provide Zimmer Biomet and other companies relief from the CMS regulation, the company’s political action committee donated to the congressman’s reelection campaign, records show.

Trump’s transition team quickly hit back, describing the piece as “junk reporting” and insisting that “any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false.”

This is an extremely bad look for an incoming cabinet secretary, but it’s a particularly bad one given that Price was going to be tasked with leading the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

It’s also a win-win for Democrats. If Price drops out, the incoming Trump administration will have lost a leader of the repeal movement. If Price stays, a walking metaphor for corruption will be leading that repeal, someone who has put the interests of drug companies and himself above that of citizens. Chuck Schumer, at least, seems to recognize this:

It’s also a larger metaphor for Trump’s cabinet. Despite promising to “drain the swamp,” Trump’s cabinet is full of swamp creatures. Obamacare will be the administration’s first high-profile test, and it’s already proving to be corrupt to the gills.

January 16, 2017

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Monica Crowley proves that rampant plagiarism is a problem even in Trump’s administration.

Crowley, best known for being a die-hard Richard Nixon defender, was slated to take a post as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council. But she’s decided to forgo the position in the wake of revelations, first broken by CNN, that there was widespread plagiarism in her 2012 book What the (Bleep) Just Happened. This was followed by a report in Politico that she also plagiarized portions of her 2000 doctoral thesis at Columbia. The Trump transition team initially defended Crowley, saying the CNN report was “nothing more than a politically motivated attack.”

Given the extensive ethical issues that already plague the incoming administration, including Trump’s own likely violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, Crowley’s word-theft might seem like small beer. Still, it’s heartening to know that there are acts that embarrass even the Trump team. This also creates a fresh incentive for both journalists and Congress to keep investigating Trump’s nominees.

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Is Trump’s “insurance for everybody” vow really a contradiction of Republican plans?

Hours after a number of top Republicans went on the Sunday shows to reiterate their pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, The Washington Post published an interview with Donald Trump in which the president-elect promised “insurance for everybody.” Most interestingly, Trump also suggested something resembling universal health care, telling the Post, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

Trump implausibly claimed that the plan is almost ready: “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” suggesting that the plan would be unveiled after incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was confirmed by the Senate. It’s not clear whether that means that a law that will replace the Affordable Care Act is ready, or if Trump is referring to a summary of what that replacement will be.

Trump’s comments obviously seem to contradict Republican orthodoxy on health care, particularly his pledge that people who cannot afford health care will still have access to it. Trump pledged that he would pay for the law by forcing drug companies to negotiate directly with the government over pricing on Medicare and Medicaid. He also hinted that he would fight pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing—he apparently said he would do it “just like on the airplane.” Lockheed Martin’s shares tumbled after Trump blasted the “tremendous cost and cost overruns” on its production of a fighter jet. The pledge to hold pharmaceutical companies hostage is an interesting one and it could be effective, but there’s also a huge difference between the production of a jet and America’s health care system—if anything, this just points to Trump’s one-size-fits-all approach to negotiation and his lack of government experience. The Affordable Care Act, as the Post notes, was signed into law fourteen months after Barack Obama was inaugurated.

Trump pushing for truly universal health care or a public option would be an incredible development and would fly in the face of Republican orthodoxy. But Trump is really starting a marketing campaign, although his words will hopefully be thrown back in his face by Democrats. But, though told with typical embellishment, his claims largely square with the Republican pledge for “universal access” to health care, which does not necessarily mean affordable health care and certainly does not mean universal health care. Whatever he and the Republicans in Congress propose will be branded as being “universal health care,” even though it will be anything but.

January 13, 2017

John Lewis: Trump is not a “legitimate president.”

Speaking with Chuck Todd for an interview that will air on Sunday’s Meet the Press, the congressman and civil rights icon said that Trump will not be a “legitimate” president. Lewis said that he would like to work with Trump but that it would be hard because he thinks “the Russians participated in helping [him] get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” Lewis also will not attend the inauguration. “It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in Congress, you cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong,” Lewis said.

Many of Lewis’s colleagues have danced around the question of Trump’s legitimacy, and his willingness to speak out forcefully and openly against Trump may push more members of Congress to make bolder statements attacking the president-elect’s credibility. It is worth noting that if Hillary Clinton were in Trump’s position, facing accusations of colluding with Russians, Republicans would already have been calling for impeachment. Lewis’s statement probably will not be treated as such, but it’s fairly modest, given the political rhetoric of the last eight years.