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Who could have predicted that John Kelly would have racist views about the Civil War?

Brace yourselves: Kelly, who willingly joined the Trump administration and orchestrated an inhumane immigration crackdown in his role at the Department of Homeland Security, likes Confederate monuments. It’s shocking, I know. Who could have seen this coming? Certainly not the Beltway press, which repeatedly referred to him as a “moderating force” inside the haunted mansion that is the White House.

Here’s Kelly in his own words, defending the preservation of monuments to the Confederacy:

I think we make a mistake, though, and as a society, and certainly as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, “What Christopher Columbus did was wrong.”

Actually, what Christopher Columbus did was wrong. But as Kelly approaches more recent history, it somehow gets worse:

I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.

But we know why the Confederacy tried to secede. Any “compromise” would’ve involved keeping human beings in chains—an outcome that apparently doesn’t disturb our fine general. And the idea that Lee was “an honorable man,” instead of an enslaver who put men to the sword to defend the institution of slavery, is so off that it is not merely ahistorical, but a form of intransigence.

Kelly has performed at least one service. He has reminded the political press that the types of people who join the Trump administration are rarely moderates, especially when it comes to race.

February 23, 2018

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Trump is now scapegoating a sheriff’s deputy for the Parkland massacre.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the sheriff’s deputy who was on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida, had resigned after it was revealed that he never entered the school during the Valentine’s Day massacre that left 17 dead. Instead, he apparently took up a position outside the school. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters on Thursday that the deputy should have “[w]ent in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.” The deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned after being suspended without pay.

A day later, Donald Trump used the deputy’s inaction to push the case for more guns in schools. Speaking to reporters before heading to CPAC, Trump said Peterson was either a “coward” or “didn’t react properly under pressure.” Trump described Peterson’s failure to act as “a real shot to the police department” and said it “could have been prevented” if he had entered the school. “He certainly did a poor job, there’s no question about that.”

Peterson’s role has become something of an obsession for gun advocates. If Peterson had entered the school, they say, the massacre could have been prevented or the death toll could have been dramatically reduced. That’s possible! But the Peterson incident also makes the opposite case—that even people who are trained to respond to massacres react in unpredictable ways when those massacres are actually underway.

Rick Perry was asked at CPAC if Trump can really save coal. Perry dodged.

A joint Q&A session with the Department of Energy secretary and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke kicked off day two of the conservative conference, and featured one telling exchange between Perry and the moderator, former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez. “President Trump, candidate Trump, promised to end the war on coal,” Beauprez said, and turned to Perry. “Tell us what’s changed. Can coal really be competitive with cheap natural gas and relatively affordable oil? I know you haven’t stopped your effort to support research and development of renewables as well.”

Perry chose to focus his response on that last sentence—the effort to support renewables—and said that Trump “truly is an all of the above energy policy:”

Whether it’s the renewables, whether its the innovations we haven’t even seen yet. Clean coal technologies, the carbon capture utilization, sequestration—we’re exporting that around the world. We’re going into India, into China, with technologies where they’re going to use coal. We want them to use American technology that will allow the use of that in the most environmentally friendly way that can occur.

We’re seeing American LNG. We saw a major reduction in the state of Texas in the 2000s in nitrogen oxide, [sulfur dioxide]—the real emissions that affect the environment. We saw a reduction of 20 percent of CO2 in the 12th largest economy in the world by a transition over to natural gas, getting rid of older, inefficient plants, some other changes, and the greatest growth in wind energy in the United States occurred in my home state during that period of time. They produced more wind energy in Texas today than five countries.

That’s the type of energy policy that President Trump wants to see. All of the above, where we’re using our resources, we’re using American innovation, and we’re not just sitting there saying we’re going to regulate our way into Nirvana, because that is a fallacy.

Perry never answered the actual question: Can coal be cost-competitive with natural gas? Is Trump fulfilling his promise? A truthful answer would not be politically expedient. Coal plants continue to retire at a rapid rate, despite Trump’s attempts to revive the industry by repealing environmental regulations. “Troubling economics have proven difficult to overcome, with low wholesale power and natural gas prices being the main contributing factors squeezing margins,” read a February report from consulting firm S&P Global Marketplace Intelligence.

People living in coal communities genuinely believe that the industry is coming back, because people like Trump and Perry say it is. It is not. But what has come “storming back,” according to a Thursday report in The New York Times, is “a new black lung epidemic” in some of those communities.

February 22, 2018

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Mueller just put more pressure on two former Trump campaign officials.

The office of special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed a new indictment on Thursday against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates. The 32-count filing charges both men with multiple financial crimes related to political consulting work they did on behalf of pro-Russia political parties in Ukraine over the last 15 years.

None of the crimes involve either of the defendants’ tenures on the Trump campaign. However, the additional charges put Manafort and Gates in deeper peril of serving long prison sentences if they’re found guilty at trial. Legal experts theorized during the initial wave of indictments against the two men last October that Mueller deliberately undercharged Manafort and Gates. That would allow the special counsel’s team to pressure them into plea bargaining negotiations in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.

Multiple news outlets reported that Mueller’s team was close to finalizing a plea deal with Gates, who served as Manafort’s deputy when Manafort ran the Trump campaign during the summer of 2016. The long business relationship between the two men likely would have made such a plea deal dangerous for Manafort, especially if Gates testified against his former associate in exchange for a lighter sentence. Whether Gates is still negotiating with the special counsel is unclear after Thursday’s charges. The Daily Beast reported that Gates had fired an attorney who’s known for striking plea deals.

In the new indictment, federal prosecutors accuse Manafort and Gates of evading U.S. tax laws by misrepresenting and not reporting tens of millions of dollars in income from their consulting work in Ukraine, using a series of loans from multiple overseas banks to cover their tracks. According to prosecutors, Manafort and Gates then used those funds to purchase high-end real estate in the U.S., which became collateral for tens of millions of dollars in loans from U.S. banks. Manafort allegedly received $30 million in laundered funds, while Gates took $3 million.

Thursday’s filings cap one of the busiest weeks yet for Mueller’s team, at least from what’s publicly discernable. The special counsel’s office secured a guilty plea on Tuesday from Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who once worked for a top U.S. law firm. In the plea, van der Zwaan admitted to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with Gates during the 2016 presidential election, some of which were recorded.

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Trump: I didn’t say “arm teachers.” Also, we should arm teachers.

At an excruciating meeting with parents who have lost children in school shootings, Donald Trump put forward a proposal he believed would help prevent massacres: Give teachers guns. “It only works when you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many,” Trump said. “It would be teachers and coaches.” He added, “An attack has lasted, on average, about three minutes. It takes five to eight minutes for responders, for the police to come in, so the attack is over. If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.”

Arming teachers is a horrible idea. Increasing the number of firearms in schools would increase the odds of firearms being used in schools. It would add to the already palpable anxiety in American schools. And, in dangerous situations, even people who have been extensively trained with firearms do not perform very well, meaning that innocent people are likely to be hurt. Given these realities, Trump’s comments were met with shock.

On Thursday morning, Trump tried to clarify his thoughts about arming teachers.

Trump is basically just reiterating what he said at the meeting on Wednesday. He also is very much arguing in favor of arming teachers—hundreds of thousands of teachers, if he’s serious about the 20 percent number. He also is conveniently omitting that Stoneman High School, where 17 teenagers were killed last week, had an armed security guard.

Trump has been all over the place on gun control. But his basic plan for school safety is still more guns, which would inevitably mean more violence.

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Teens may save us all yet.

At last night’s CNN town hall, teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting looked power in the face and held it accountable. They had tough questions for Senator Marco Rubio and the NRA’s Dana Loesch, neither of whom acquitted themselves particularly well. Via CNN:

The students-turned-gun-control advocates, their teachers and parents asked frank questions of Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Rep. Ted Deutch about whether they would support banning certain assault-style rifles and refuse to take money from the NRA. “We would like to know why do we have to be the ones to do this? Why do we have to speak out to the (state) Capitol? Why do we have to march on Washington, just to save innocent lives?” asked senior Ryan Deitsch, his voice rising with each question.

Asked directly by a survivor if he would refuse further donations from the NRA, Rubio dithered, saying only that “people buy into my agenda.” (Rubio has received an A+ rating from the NRA and took $9,900 from the organization for his 2016 re-election campaign.) Loesch, meanwhile, deflected questions and at times resorted to conspiracy theories, citing the Puckle gun and the Belton flintlick gun as evidence that semi-automatic rifles existed during the passage of the Second Amendment. The Belton gun never actually existed. The Puckle gun required a crew to operate it, and it never entered mass production.

Loesch and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also repeatedly blamed people with mental illness for the United States’s disproportionately high rate of mass shootings. Loesch decried the “mentally unfit” and Israel argued for expanded police power to involuntarily commit people with mental illness. Gun rights advocates have found their scapegoat, but fortunately for all of us, Parkland isn’t buying it.

February 21, 2018

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Pennsylvania Republicans are inching toward a constitutional crisis.

A growing number of GOP officials in the Keystone State are calling for the impeachment of five justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who struck down the state’s congressional districts for unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Those calls intensified after the court issued a new map on Monday that reduces Republicans’ advantage in races for the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case last week.

State Representative Cris Dush began circulating a letter among colleagues calling for the Pennsylvania judge’s removal shortly after their decision. U.S. Representative Ryan Costello, who represents the state’s Sixth Congressional District, endorsed removing the justices for what he described as a “politically corrupt process.” Other Republicans are planning a lawsuit in federal court, which has the backing of President Donald Trump.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey told reporters on Wednesday that impeachment is “a conversation that has to happen” among state lawmakers. “I think state house members, state senators, are going to be speaking among themselves and their constituents, and the fundamental question is, does this blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process—does that rise to the level of impeachment?” he asked.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices are elected to ten-year terms, and can be reelected for another ten-year term. All five of the justices in the gerrymandering majority ran as Democrats. Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives holds the power to impeach judges, whom the state Senate could then vote to remove by a two-thirds vote. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, while Governor Tom Wolf is a Democrat.

Impeaching judges for misconduct isn’t unheard of at the state level or in the lower federal courts. But Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers are proposing something much different. Removing judges purely on the basis of an adverse legal decision would be a grave breach of the principle of judicial independence, which helps form the bedrock of the American rule of law.

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Donald Trump wants to know why Obama didn’t do more about Russian meddling. He should ask Mitch McConnell.

In the aftermath of Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russian nationals for intervening in the 2016 election, Trump has hit on a new defense: Actually, it’s all Obama’s fault.

The argument, such as it is, goes like this: Russian meddling occurred in 2016. Barack Obama was president in 2016. Therefore, it’s Obama’s fault that Russia interfered in the election.

There are a number of flaws with this reasoning. For one, there is a substantial body of evidence that, at the very least, the Trump campaign played footsie with Russian operatives during the 2016 election. It also suggests that Trump has been tougher on Russia than Obama was, a claim for which there is no evidence.

But the biggest problem is that Obama tried to do something about Russian meddling but was blocked by Mitch McConnell. Last year, The Washington Post reported that McConnell “voiced skepticism” when presented with intelligence by the FBI suggesting that Russia was trying to undermine Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Because of McConnell’s intransigence, the Obama administration decided not to go public with the information, fearing that it would just lead to a partisan squabble and accusations that it was trying to influence the election on Clinton’s behalf. (That said, it’s unclear whether the Obama administration would have intervened if it thought that Clinton losing was a serious possibility.)

The Obama administration could have done more to publicize Russian interference in the 2016 election, sure. But it failed to act because of partisan pressure from Republicans.

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Billy Graham, dead at age 99, transformed American Christianity and the Republican Party.

Graham passed away at his Montreat, North Carolina, home on Wednesday morning. Arguably the most important evangelist in American history, he applied a Southern preacher’s earnest demeanor to the eternal Christian project of winning souls. As NPR reported on Wednesday:

His influence as a moral and spiritual leader in 20th century America was such that one historian said Billy Graham could confer “acceptability on wars, shame on racial prejudice, desirability on decency, dishonor on indecency, and prestige on civic events.”

His Crusades, which began as modest tent revival services, earned him both a loyal following and disdain from some of his peers in the faith. The latter was because Graham was no theologian, and held only a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Wheaton College in Illinois. He further irked fundamentalists by promoting a more open engagement with the secular world—though they differed little on actual doctrine. Graham believed the Bible was God-breathed, or infallible in every respect, and thus should be interpreted in a literal fashion. 

Aside from the Crusades, Graham became best known for his influence on American politics. This did not always go well for him. Despite a record of condemning some forms of racial prejudice, he also appeared on the Nixon Tapes complaining about the Jewish “stranglehold” on the country. He apologized for those remarks in 2002, but they seriously damaged his credibility at the time. And Graham’s work—becoming a counselor to presidents, bringing religion into politics—may have unleashed consequences he did not intend. What “evangelical” means now is not what it meant when Graham began his career. It’s mutated from religious identity to demographic signifier: It increasingly means “white” and “Republican.”

Though Graham reached out to both parties, his emphasis on political engagement helped set the stage for the marriage of evangelicalism to the Republican Party. It is perhaps the greatest irony in Graham’s superlative life that his son, Franklin, is a vituperative, Muslim-hating, gay-bashing reminder that the admixture of Christianity and Republican politics benefited the latter more than the former.  

February 20, 2018

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Banning bump stocks wouldn’t have prevented the Parkland shooting.

The White House announced on Tuesday afternoon that President Donald Trump has decided to take action on bump stocks, which effectively convert semiautomatic rifles into machine guns:

Bump stocks were used in last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, but not in the Parkland shooting. And as a one reporter for The Trace pointed out on Twitter, Trump may not have the legal authority to bypass the legislative branch in this manner:

Still, this is more action than his fellow Republicans in Florida appear willing to take. On Tuesday afternoon, state legislators there refused to even hear a bill that would ban assault rifles:

They did so in front of survivors of the Parkland shooting.

Mitt Romney will never stop being owned by Donald Trump.

During the 2016 election, Romney gave a speech in which he called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud” and fervently argued that he was unfit for office. After the Access Hollywood tape dropped, Romney tweeted that these “vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.” Then, three weeks after Trump won, he kissed the ring and submitted to a humiliating photo-op while trying to convince the president-elect to make him Secretary of State.

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When Romney finally announced that he was running for Senate last week, he strongly hinted that his days of criticizing Donald Trump were over. Advisers told the press that Romney would be focusing on Utah and Utahns. While there was some attempt to subtly rebuke Trump, offering Utah’s approach to conservatism as a contrast to the president, it was clear that Romney was throwing in the towel.

Romney’s supplication was complete on Monday evening, however, when he received and accepted Trump’s endorsement on Twitter.

Inconsistency is the core of Romney’s political brand. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was pro-life and built a health care system that became the model for Obamacare. In 2016, Romney repudiated these positions and others (notably on immigration) and pitched himself as a Tea Party-style conservative.

But what’s notable about Romney’s decision to bow before Trump is that it’s unnecessary. Though Utah is a red state, it has been ambivalent toward Trump—Trump received just 46 percent of the vote there in 2016, while independent candidate Evan McMullin received 22 percent. Given his name recognition and his record criticizing Trump, Romney could conceivably run as a Republican alternative to the president. But that’s not who Mitt Romney is.