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Was Trump being sarcastic when he asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton?

At a press conference on Wednesday, Trump encouraged Russian hackers to cyberattack the U.S. to help him win the election, and was immediately denounced by practically everyone in the political establishment. It turns out inviting a foreign power to cyberattack the country is one thing that can bring both sides of the aisle together.

Trump’s camp realized pretty quickly that he screwed up, and sent out this tweet shortly after the press conference ended:

This both reiterated Trump’s invitation and tried to mask it behind the veneer of concern trolling—in any case, at the press conference he explicitly called on the emails to be released to the public, not to be provided to the FBI.

Perhaps realizing the inadequacy of that defense, Trump tried on a new one on Thursday afternoon. “Of course I’m being sarcastic. And they don’t even know frankly if it’s Russia,” Trump told Fox News. “They have no idea if it’s Russia, if it’s China, if it’s somebody else. Who knows who it is?”

This is almost a pretty good defense for Trump, who is quite possibly the most sarcastic presidential candidate in this country’s history. The only problem is that, because Trump is sarcastic so often, we have a pretty good idea of what he sounds like when he’s being sarcastic. And he certainly didn’t sound sarcastic on Wednesday, and there’s nothing sarcastic about the follow-up tweet he sent shortly after the press conference. But sure, who knows, maybe Trump is getting really into deadpan anti-comedy this summer.

The problem with that defense is that it doesn’t really matter if he was being sarcastic—it was an incredibly stupid thing for a presidential candidate to say, even if he was making a joke. Which he wasn’t.

December 05, 2016

Ben Carson will run HUD, which has a a $50 billion budget and 8,000 employees. What could go wrong?

Carson reportedly turned down an offer to run the Department of Health and Human Services shortly after Donald Trump’s election. In a rare moment of self-awareness, Carson realized that his lack of administrative experience could be disastrous. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency,” Carson’s friend Armstrong Williams told The Hill. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.

The HHS has a budget of a $100 billion and 80,000 employees; HUD, in contrast, has a budget half as large and only 8,000 employees. So, it’s possible that Carson simply did the math and decided that there were half as many opportunities to cripple a Trump presidency from HUD. (It’s also possible that this was a big song-and-dance routine to keep people from remembering that Carson and Trump reportedly made an illegal quid pro quo deal several months ago, wherein Carson endorsed Trump in exchange for a cabinet position.)

But HUD is also an enormously important agency, especially when it comes to fighting poverty. Its responsibilities include underwriting one in six mortgages, ensuring equal access to housing, and collecting data on housing. Unfortunately, we have every indication that Carson will do extremely little to use HUD to help the poor, particularly through the Fair Housing Act. Even if Carson somehow manages to survive for four years without instigating a major scandal, its highly likely that his management of HUD will be scandalous, particularly for the country’s poor and most particularly for those who live in the “inner cities” Carson and Trump are always talking about.

There is little in Carson’s background that suggests that he has any ideas about urban planning or fighting poverty, though he has cited his biography—he grew up poor in Detroit, and recently took Trump to visit his childhood home—as experience, a trick that often works in job interviews but pays little dividends on the job. Well, maybe that’s not fair—Carson has one idea about urban planning. Come 2020, 20 percent of America’s poor will be living in pyramids.

December 02, 2016

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The separation of church and state may be another casualty of the Trump administration.

An anti-LGBT amendment didn’t make into the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed on Friday. But the amendment’s author, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), told Buzzfeed News today he’s been assured by the incoming Trump administration that his legislation has a future:

“These issues will be resolved, and we have gotten some very good assurances moving forward,” Russell said at the Capitol, suggesting Trump could take executive action without waiting for Congress. “I am certainly encouraged by the signs that I am getting from the administration that is inbound.”

The Russell Amendment is intended to undermine an Obama executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. ThinkProgress reported at the time that the order extended protections to over a million workers, but social conservatives, including Russell, have demanded carve-outs for religiously-affiliated contractors. If President-elect Trump eventually signs a version of the amendment or otherwise rolls back Obama’s executive order, these contractors will again be able to practice certain forms of discrimination despite receiving public funds for their work.

Russell’s optimism probably isn’t just a manifestation of his small-minded hopes and dreams. Mike Pence is poised to be an influential vice president, and he isn’t the only member of Trump’s incoming administration with ties to the religious right. That has disturbing implications for the future of separation of church and state—and LGBT rights.

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Turns out raising the minimum wage does not cause Armageddon.

According to The Big Picture, a financial blog, Seattle’s unemployment rate has tumbled despite the city’s minimum wage hike.

The unemployment rate in the city of Seattle—the tip of the spear when it comes to minimum wage experiments—has now hit a new cycle low of 3.4 percent, as the city continues to thrive. I’m not sure what else there is to say at this point. The doomsayers were wrong. The sky has not fallen.

This development tracks with earlier reports. In July, The Seattle Times noted that the city’s labor market was actually growing. Though this growth can’t be attributed to the wage hike, it does rebut the idea that raising wages kills businesses. And in August, economist Jared Bernstein reported that “low-wage workers’ employment, hours, and wages all rose substantially” after the wage hike.

We still don’t have enough information to know if Seattle’s model can be replicated nationally. But this is further evidence that a $15 minimum wage doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster—and helps workers as it was intended to do.

Breitbart is already passing for scientific authority in Washington.

The House Science Committee, which oversees the government’s role in scientific research and development, retweeted a debunked article from the website claiming to have evidence against global warming.

Climate scientists like Katharine Hayhoe criticized the accuracy of the article, which cited the Daily Mail, a publication about as scientifically literate as the committee’s leader, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who bullies scientists, accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil and gas companies, and sometimes writes for Breitbart himself.

The Breitbart article claims that global land temperature averages are decreasing. NASA, an organization the House Science Committee oversees, has previously demonstrated that this a function of weather, not climate (there’s a reason it’s not called “weather change”). Luckily for the committee, it won’t have to worry about its own programs contradicting its tweets if Trump fulfills his promises to slash funding for NASA’s climate research.

At least we can count on Bernie Sanders for a comeback.

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Trump’s “victory tour” is really just a “greatest hits tour.”

At some point, if you’re the Eagles or the Rolling Stones (or LCD Soundsystem) you just shut up and play the hits—you give the people what they want. Trump has been very open about the fact that he plays to his crowd, mentioning the wall he’s going to build between the United States and Mexico whenever energy starts to dim. And, while Trump has a new tune—he saved 700 jobs in Indiana, though 1,300 will still be shipped to Mexico—the first stop of Trump’s “victory tour” was very much a greatest hits show.

The crowd chanted “lock her up,” even though Trump has distanced himself from that pledge. He hit all his campaign themes, even the promises he’s said he might not fulfill. He talked about repealing Obamacare, stopping immigration from Muslim countries, ripping up trade deals, and—maybe richest of all, given the very Goldman Sachs-y makeup of his cabinet—“draining the swamp.”

Trump’s plan to continue doing these rallies gets at one of the biggest liabilities of his presidency: his need for constant affirmation. Trump has suggested in interviews that he understands that the realities of government mean that many of his more outrageous promises will not be fulfilled. But Trump will nevertheless go out to his base and insist that they will be—that he is the only person who can fulfill them, and that he is the only honest man in Washington.

The Carrier deal is a good example. Trump is insisting that it proves that he’s keeping his word to “punish” companies that try to move out of the country and to keep jobs here. That’s not really what happened—the executives at Carrier will benefit handsomely from the deal and over a thousand people will still lose their jobs—but it suggests a path forward for Trump. He’ll make compromises, ones that often contradict his campaign promises, and then sell them as being total wins for him and his base. Judging by the response to Carrier, it could work.

That said, Trump did try one new song on Thursday. It didn’t take.

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The history of the 2016 presidential campaign is already being rewritten.

It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been less than a month since Donald Trump won the election. That’s partly because our long national nightmare is still ongoing: Hillary Clinton may be lost in the woods, but Trump is still very much in campaign mode, holding rallies and engaging in a never-ending series of publicity stunts. Meanwhile, his crew of unlikely white nationalist Davids have had time to gloat about orchestrating the upset of the century and taking down the Clinton Goliath.

On Thursday the two sides met at the Kennedy School of Government to discuss their takes on the election and—surprise, surprise—after one of the dirtiest presidential races in history (or at least since the advent of electricity), nerves were still raw. The event has been described as a “shouting match” and a “brawl,” and featured the campaigns bickering over why Trump won. Clinton’s team blamed James Comey and Trump’s overtures to white supremacy, while Trump’s team stuck out their tongue and made farting noises. (They also made the argument that Clinton did not have a message for working class voters.)

Though Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook—arguably the person with the most egg on his face—acknowledged that there were messaging problems and that the campaign was not prepared for a change election, he made a number of arguments that were at best dubious. For one thing, Mook blamed millennials for not turning out enough for his candidate, and claimed that they gravitated toward third-party candidates in the final days of the race. This may very well be true, but the fact that late undecided voters broke heavily away from Clinton suggests the blame lies with her and her campaign rather than with the voters.

Similarly, Mook leaned heavily into the Comey letters. It has been deemed the principal factor in those late undecided voters breaking away from Clinton, but that migration started before October 28, when the first letter was made public. More importantly, Comey’s letter wasn’t what caused the Clinton campaign to build a lackluster operation in Michigan and Wisconsin, or to focus on tactics that it believed would run up the score, instead of consolidating a winning coalition of likely Democratic voters.

Millennials and James Comey are convenient scapegoats for people like Mook, who are auditioning for jobs. But if former Clinton campaign hands want to find out who really cost her the election, they should look in the mirror.

This post has been updated.

December 01, 2016

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Is Keith Ellison getting Reverend Wright’ed?

In 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was very nearly derailed when ABC News unearthed incendiary sermons by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in which he shouted “God damn America” and made a series of radical assertions about the nation’s past sins. It was catnip for conservatives to exploit white anxiety about the future first black president, regardless of the fact that Obama disagreed with Wright’s worldview.

Now Keith Ellison, the Muslim congressman from Minnesota, is facing similar accusations of supposed ties to anti-Semitism—related to past associations he denounced years ago—as he bids to chair the Democratic National Committee.

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski—whose work uncovering politicians’ past statements has been invaluable—is nevertheless out with a nothingburger on Ellison’s “past ties to the Nation of Islam and his defense of its anti-Semitic leader, Louis Farrakhan.” Sure, Kaczynski uncovers columns and press statements in which Ellison defends Farrakhan and other black radicals against charges of anti-Semitism, all of which deserve to be part of the public record. But these finds don’t fundamentally tell us anything new about Ellison, and they certainly shouldn’t give Democrats pause about his candidacy.

By Kaczynski’s own admission, all of the material comes from “the late 1980s through the 1990s.” And as he further notes, “None of the records reviewed found examples of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.”

On Medium Wednesday, Ellison again addressed Farrakhan and his own organizing for the 1995 Million Man March, which Farrakhan led:

I saw the Million Man March as a positive effort and I helped to organize a group from Minneapolis to attend. Like many young African-American men at the time, including President Obama, I hoped the March would promote change in our communities, and I was proud to be part of it. Civil rights leaders, ranging from Rosa Parks to Jesse Jackson, and artists like Stevie Wonder and Maya Angelou, supported and spoke at the event.

The congressman also reiterated how he “neglected to scrutinize the words of those like Khalid Muhammed and Farrakhan who ... organize by sowing hatred and division, including, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a chauvinistic model of manhood.”

“I disavowed them long ago, condemned their views, and apologized,” he wrote.

It’s all the explanation we need.

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Now that it’s their problem, Republicans are realizing that Obamacare might not be so bad after all.

Polls are a funny thing. Look no further than the huge swings in economic confidence after Trump’s election—substantial numbers of Republicans became significantly more confident about the state of the economy, while Democrats became significantly more pessimistic, even though nothing had changed.

Something similar is happening right now with Obamacare. For the last five years, Republicans have railed against the health care law, and voted to repeal it over and over again. With Trump’s election, they’ve finally caught the car—they have the votes to repeal it in Congress and a willing pen waiting for them in the Oval Office. But repealing Obamacare would mean taking health insurance away from 20 million Americans. That is, to put it lightly, a humanitarian problem, but for Republicans it’s also a public relations nightmare. And they know it.

Trump himself has suggested that he wants to keep Obamacare’s most popular provisions—even though the law itself wouldn’t work if stripped of less popular ones, like the mandate. Some Republicans—particularly those who represent thousands of people who rely on Obamacare—are starting to get cold feet. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito told Talking Points Memo, “I’m from a state that has an expanded Medicaid population that I am very concerned about. ... I don’t want to throw them off into the cold. ... It’s too many people. That’s over 200,000 people in my state. So we need a transition. I think we’ll repeal and then we’ll work during the transition period for the replacement vehicle.”

Voters seem to be changing their tune about Obamacare as well. A month ago 69 (nice) percent of Republicans supported a full repeal of Obamacare. Now only half do. That’s still a significant number, but a 20-point decrease is arguably more significant, given that repealing Obamacare was a Day One promise from Donald Trump. Right now, all of the signals—from Trump, from congressional Republicans, and from Republican voters—point to a longer and more complicated future for health care.

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The Trump administration is shaping up to be a public health disaster.

According to surgeon David Gorski, prospective HHS Secretary Tom Price belongs to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. The name is anodyne, but the group is anything but:

Perhaps he was so attracted to the AAPS vision of doctors as special and “outside of the herd” to the point that he ignored its simultaneous promotion of dangerous medical quackery, such as antivaccine pseudoscience blaming vaccines for autism, including a view that is extreme even among antivaccine activists, namely that the “shaken baby syndrome” is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury; its HIV/AIDS denialism; its blaming immigrants for crime and disease; its promotion of the pseudoscience claiming that abortion causes breast cancer using some of the most execrable “science” ever; its rejection of evidence-based guidelines as an unacceptable affront on the godlike autonomy of physicians; or the way the AAPS rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything.

As Gorski notes, it’s possible Price doesn’t fully agree with the organization’s positions. He also hasn’t publicly expressed any doubts about the efficacy of vaccines or denied the existence of AIDS. Nevertheless, Gorski is correct to be concerned about the implications of Price’s AAPS affiliation.

But this isn’t the first time Trump and his inner circle have invited accusations of vaccine skepticism. According to Stat News, our future president met with anti-vaccine activists this summer—and they’re optimistic about his views:

“For the first time in a long time, I feel very positive about this, because Donald Trump is not beholden to the pharmaceutical industry,” movement leader Andrew Wakefield told STAT in a phone interview.

Wakefield is a discredited quack. There is no evidence vaccines typically cause anything but a bit of soreness in the arm. It may sound reasonable to allow parents to “space out” vaccines or exempt their healthy children from receiving them at all, but these practices harm herd immunity and put young babies, the elderly, and immunocompromised people in serious danger.

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Once more with feeling: Ivanka Trump is not your secret liberal ally.

This morning Politico reported that Trump’s dearest daughter might become the country’s next “climate czar,” and that she “aims to use the first lady’s lectern to champion liberal causes.”

Ivanka wants to make climate change—which her father has called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese—one of her signature issues, a source close to her told Politico. The source said Ivanka is in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue.

We have no idea what Ivanka’s stance on climate change will be. But there is little reason to hope—time and time again, she has shown that she is, above all else, her father’s daughter, not the secret liberal ally the press wishes her to be. After all, she was supposed to be a champion for women in her father’s administration, but the last time she was asked about her father’s checkered past with women she stormed out of the interview.

Furthermore, Ivanka taking control of a policy portfolio while she supposedly runs her father’s businesses through a “blind trust” is extremely unethical. If anything, this shows that the ever-shrinking line between the Trump business and Trump’s presidency may be about to get much, much thinner.