While Congress is in recess, Zika may have shown up in U.S. mosquitos.

The New York Times reports that four people in Florida—three men and one woman—have contracted the virus, which health department officials believe to have been transmitted by local mosquitos. If this turns out to be true, it will be the first instance of mosquitos carrying the virus inside the U.S. (all previous cases of Zika in the country have been from travel abroad).

The news does not come as a surprise—officials have been preparing for this eventual scenario for months. However, the timing only highlights Congress’s inability to pass the $1.9 billion funding bill that President Obama requested to combat the virus. Marco Rubio, one of the few Republicans who is pushing for full funding, stated back in April, “I don’t think we want to be halfway through the summer and wake up to the news that hundreds and hundreds of Americans in multiple states have been infected and we did nothing.”

January 16, 2017

Drew Angerer/Getty

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.

Ian MacNicol/Getty

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.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Chicago police repeatedly violated civil rights. Will Trump care?

On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the results of a year-long investigation into the Chicago Police Department. The report concluded that the CPD “engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.” A systemic deficiency in officer training—particularly in de-escalation—and accountability contributed to this dangerous pattern.

Examples of aggressive police force include CPD officers initiating “good pursuits without basis for believing the person had committed a serious crime” and several officer-civilian confrontations that ended in fatal shootings.

“The resulting deficit in trust and accountability is not just bad for residents—it’s also bad for dedicated police officers trying to do their jobs safely and effectively,” said Lynch. “With this announcement, we are laying the groundwork for the difficult but necessary work of building a stronger, safer, and more united Chicago for all who call it home.”

The Justice Department launched its investigation of Chicago’s police force in December 2015 after the city released a video of a white police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

As a result of these findings, the Department of Justice and the City of Chicago have entered negotiations about a court-enforced consent decree to reform the police department. Consent decrees—described as the DOJ’s “crown jewel”—are an important tool for imposing reform. During President Obama’s tenure the Civil Rights division opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies, resulting in 14 consent decrees.

The future of this decision remains unclear for a couple of reasons. One, President-elect Donald Trump ran on a “law and order” platform and has called for an end to the “war on police.” And two, Jeff Sessions, his pick for attorney general, is a known opponent of consent decrees, referring to them as “dangerous” and an “end run around the democratic process.”

Alex Wong/Getty

Rex Tillerson has already pissed off the Chinese.

Before even being confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson has managed to anger the Chinese state-run media by implying that the U.S. would potentially use military force to block China from its island-building project in the South China Sea. In his confirmation hearing yesterday, Tillerson said, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops. And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” His comments were received as intent to take a harder line on a delicate territorial conflict between a number of countries surrounding the waters, on which the Obama administration has pursued a diplomatic approach, going only as far as sailing ships into the disputed area to challenge China’s claims of exclusive ownership.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang has taken a conciliatory tone, saying, “China-U.S. relations are based on ‘non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.’” But two of China’s state-sponsored media outlets have condemned Tillerson’s statements.

On a provocative starting note, the Global Times responded that threats of U.S. intervention in the South China Sea would be “foolish” unless Washington intended to “wage a large-scale war” with China. On the more subdued side, an editorial in China Daily wrote that Tillerson displayed “undisguised animosity toward China” and called his comments “a mish-mash of naivety, shortsightedness, worn-out prejudices, and unrealistic political fantasies.”

As the Global Times disdainfully remarked, Tillerson is no stranger to this conflict; in his work with ExxonMobil, Tillerson (in partnership with the Vietnamese government) clashed with China over access to the oil-rich area.

But at least things are good with Russia?


Why do rich Democrats take David Brock seriously?

Today, BuzzFeed reported that Brock, who runs a constellation of organizations that backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, such as American Bridge, Media Matters, and Shareblue, is organizing a summit for top Democratic donors next week in a bid to establish a Koch brothers–like infrastructure to channel their money into liberal causes. The event itself, which will take place during Donald Trump’s inauguration, mirrors the summit the Koch brothers called together in January 2009 after Barack Obama was elected.

“We really aspire to be like the Kochs,” Brock told BuzzFeed.

The Kochs, who have injected billions of dollars into politics over the past few decades, are often credited with the right’s gains at the local, state, and national levels. But the Koch brothers have one crucial trait that David Brock lacks—an adherence to coherent ideological goals. Brock, who famously made his name attacking the Clintons before switching sides, has shown no signs of a similar commitment to progressive ideology. In an interview with Jason Zengerle in 2011, Brock stated, “I’m still more pitched at fighting the right than I am about building a progressive platform for the future. It’s fair to say that that conversation doesn’t interest me as much.”

The Koch brothers succeeded in large part because they looked long-term, past the four-year cycle of national electoral politics. They matched their money with candidates and causes that reflected their values. Without progressive values to guide them, David Brock and his Democratic donors will not be able to do the same. And Brock has done little to indicate that his determination to lead the left is anything more than an attempt to continue funding his own organizations. According to BuzzFeed, “The event is still aimed at promoting and raising a undisclosed multimillion-dollar amount for four of his organizations: American Bridge, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, ShareBlue, and Media Matters.”

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s transition is officially a disaster of historic proportions.

A Gallup poll released Friday shows that the president-elect “continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance,” with 51 percent of the public disapproving and just 44 percent approving—a significant decline from a month earlier, when Americans were evenly divided, 48 percent to 48 percent. Even more embarrassing for Trump, his ratings are vastly inferior to his predecessors’. Barack Obama had 83 percent approval for his transition in early January of 2009, George W. Bush had 61 percent at the same time in 2001, and Bill Clinton had 68 percent in 1993.

It’s not just Trump’s approval ratings, either. The president-elect already has personnel problems. “In their first week of grilling before congressional panels, Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees broke with him on almost every major policy that has put Mr. Trump outside Republican orthodoxy,” The New York Times reported Thursday. Trump certainly put on a good face for Twitter Friday—“All of my Cabinet nominee [sic] are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”—but these Capitol Hill performances suggest a cabinet of chaos.

The Russia controversy is intensifying. The awkwardness with congressional Republicans continues unabated. And as Richard W. Painter, George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005-2007, wrote in the Times on Thursday, Trump has utterly failed to disentangle himself from his business empire:

Trump will be in violation of the Constitution as of next Friday with respect to, among other things, loans from foreign-government-controlled banks, leases of Trump office space to foreign-government-controlled companies, foreign governments and diplomats renting rooms in Trump hotels and any investments that are made alongside foreign sovereign wealth funds.

In other words, Trump will be a law-breaking president on day one. Put on your seatbelt, America.

The Washington Post/Getty Images

Report: Michael Flynn is even shadier than you thought.

There were already plenty of reasons to be worried about President-elect Donald Trump’s national security advisor: He’s an Islamophobe who has lobbied for the Turkish government, taken money from Kremlin-funded Russia Today, and was a leader in the pitchforks-and-torches brigade to lock up Hillary Clinton.

Now, thanks to a bombshell column Thursday night from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, we may have insight into the retired lieutenant general’s latest antics:

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. ... The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Team Trump long ago abandoned the norm that the president-elect shouldn’t contradict the outgoing one. But now Flynn may have broken the law—and further emphasized Trump’s troubling ties to Russia in the process.

Paul Ryan’s town hall wasn’t impressive—it was awkward.

Ryan was himself at last night’s CNN town hall, which is to say that he was personable and folksy (“Go Packers!”) and used the word “percent” a lot. There are people who cover politics who seem to labor under the impression that a politician can be wonkish or charming but never both, and Paul Ryan is both, albeit to a very moderate degree, which can make him seem very impressive indeed. Ryan had one goal at the town hall, which is the same goal he will have every day for the next four years: to square the circle between whatever Donald Trump has said in the last two weeks with his own myopic, libertarian ideas about government spending.

Much of the town hall revolved unsurprisingly around Trump’s incoming administration. It started with a question that set the tone for the entire evening: A former Reagan campaign worker asked about the future of Obamacare, which he credited for “saving his life.”

Ryan pivoted to the Republican Party’s favorite talking point: that premiums are rising exponentially in a few states, like Arizona. Ryan even brought a prop—an index card with the figures written on them—that he pulled out of his jacket to great effect. And then he told the man that the law that saved his life was “destroying the rest of the health care system for everybody else” (it’s not) and the “worst is yet to come” from Obamacare (maybe, but Ryan’s party would be at fault for this as much, if not more, than the law itself). Ryan promised the man that a replacement would happen at the same time as repeal, and that the new law will simultaneously fix Obamacare and America’s larger health insurance market without affecting people like him. There is no evidence that this will happen, but Ryan plowed through it nevertheless.

The next awkward moment resulted from a question asked by an undocumented immigrant who came to America as a child, is protected from deportation by DACA, and now has a family of her own. She asked Ryan what he would do about families like hers, who are justifiably terrified because of everything Trump has said over the past 18 months. (Her question is at the 10:30 mark in the video above.)

This time Ryan stuttered and stumbled a bit, at one point nervously giggling while saying that a “deportation force” is not being assembled, despite what Donald Trump has said. Once again, Ryan tried to make the case that he and the incoming president were on the same page—that they only wanted to push policies that would affect undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes, not law-abiding ones like the woman who asked the question. But once again, Ryan’s tap dance just didn’t work.

This is as easy as it’s going to get for Ryan. Trump isn’t president yet, so Ryan can go ahead and say that he and the president-elect are on the same page because they haven’t had to actually work together yet. But at last night’s town hall you saw considerable dissonance between the concerns of citizens, Ryan’s own political philosophy, and Trump’s words and proposed policies.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rudy Giuliani doesn’t know what a free press is.

The former New York City mayor showed up on Sean Hannity’s show Thursday night, where he and the host gleefully celebrated Donald Trump’s disgraceful first press conference as president-elect. Countering his Fox News colleague Shepard Smith—who rightly knocked Trump for “belittling and delegitimizing” CNN correspondent Jim Acosta at the Wednesday event—Hannity heaped praise on the “pretty big beatdown” of the media. Par for the course for the president-elect’s biggest cable cheerleader.

Yet it was Giuliani, telling war stories about insults he used to hurl at reporters when he ran city hall, who had the most galling assessment of Trump’s behavior. “It is refreshing and it is very good for our democracy that we have a president that it trying to get us back to the free press,” the former mayor said.

This, of course, is straight-up Orwellian—four-legs-good-two-legs-better stuff. Trump’s contempt for the free press is unprecedented in modern presidential politics. He blacklisted a host of leading news organizations during his campaign and threatened to “open up” libel laws to sue them for coverage he dislikes, though experts say he’d have a real hard time doing it. In general Trump has no respect for the rights of reporters to tough questions—and, indeed, cover him critically—without repercussions.

The question is how much this will bother Americans in the next four years. Trust in the press is at a historic low, and the Sean Hannitys of the world have been whipping up conservatives against the media for decades. They finally have a president willing to do the same.