The Slatest
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March 28 2017 1:09 PM

Fox News Anchors Laugh and Laugh After Bill O’Reilly Says Black Congresswoman Looks Like James Brown

Rep. Maxine Waters has been a lawmaker—in the California Legislature and the House of Representatives—for 40 years. She is the most senior black woman currently serving in the House and a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. On Tuesday, Bill O’Reilly, who throws tantrums for a living, said on Fox & Friends that he had been unable to process the content of a speech by Rep. Waters because of her hair.

O'REILLY: I didn't hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig. If we have a picture of James, it's the same wig.
BRIAN KILMEADE: It's the same one. And he's not using it anymore.*
AINSLEY EARHARDT: No. OK, I've got to defend her on that.
KILMEADE: They finally buried him.
EARHARDT: I have to defend her on that. You can't go after a woman's looks. I think she's very attractive.
O'REILLY: I didn't say she wasn't attractive.
EARHARDT: Her hair is pretty.
OREILLY: I love James Brown, but it's the same hair, James Brown, the godfather of soul, had.
EARHARDT: So, he had girl hair.
O'REILLY: Whatever it is, I just couldn't get by it.

As Media Matters pointed out this afternoon, this is not the first time Waters has been arbitrarily and derisively compared to another black person by a Fox anchor. In 2012, The Five’s Eric Bolling criticized Waters by comparing her to Whitney Houston:

“Congresswoman, you saw what happened to Whitney Houston,” he said. “Step away from the crack pipe. Step away from the Xanax. Step away from the Lorazepam. Because it’s going to get you in trouble.” After the commercial break, Bolling did not apologize. “I was kidding,” he said.

Update, March 28, 2017, at 2:26 PM: Bill O'Reilly has apologized for his comment.

*Correction, March 28, 2017, at 2:57 PM: This post originally stated that Steve Doocy said, "It's the same one" in crosstalk with O'Reilly. The comment was made off screen by Brian Kilmeade.

March 28 2017 12:49 PM

House GOP Says Obamacare Replacement Plan Will Be Ready Soon (This Is Not a Headline From 2011)

It's been a running joke for many years now that Republicans in Congress are always saying they're just about done putting the finishing touches on an Obamacare replacement plan that everyone is going to love. Then–Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised in late 2010, for example, that his caucus was ready to "repeal ObamaCare and replace it with commonsense alternatives" as soon as the next Congress was sworn in, while in early 2012 the Hill reported that House Republicans would be "ready with a plan to replace President Obama’s healthcare law" that summer.

As you may have heard, Republicans—who now hold the presidency and both houses of Congress—finally actually did introduce an actual Obamacare replacement plan earlier this month, which then crashed, died, and was withdrawn in ignominious failure last week after a poll found that only 17 percent of Americans supported it and GOP leaders realized they wouldn't be able to get enough votes to pass it despite holding a 44-seat majority (!) in the House of Representatives.

Well, House Republican leaders held a press conference Tuesday morning after a caucus meeting. And, amazingly, the purpose of the press conference was to announce that they intend, sometime soon, to introduce an Obamacare replacement plan (which everyone is going to love).

"After this morning, the resolve of our conference to repeal Obamacare and replace it has never been stronger," whip Steve Scalise said.

"We promised that we would repeal and replace Obamacare, and that's exactly what we're going to do," Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

"We're going to keep talking to each other until we get it right," Paul Ryan said, adding that he would not commit to an actual schedule for passing repeal legislation because the issue was "too important" to "put an artificial timeline on."

As it happens, ultimate master negotiator/dealmaking genius Donald Trump made a quite public ultimatum regarding the timeline of the issue last week:

Trump issued lawmakers an ultimatum Thursday night. He wants the House to vote Friday on the legislation to begin dismantling ObamaCare and if it fails, he is "done with health care,” and ready to move on to tax reform, a source told Fox News.

The subtext here, I'm guessing, is that House Republicans realize they are going to look like real asshats in their 2018 re-election races if they don't get something done on health care, which they've made their top issue for the past eight years, whereas Trump believes—and not without good reason—that his own "base" doesn't care whether he gets anything done on this (or any) specific issue. It'll be fun to see how it all plays out!

March 28 2017 12:12 PM

SCOTUS Rules Texas Can’t Use Junk Science to Justify Executing the Intellectually Disabled

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ test for determining which inmates are intellectually disabled and therefore constitutionally protected from capital punishment. Texas’ use of outdated and unscientific “medical guidance” to gauge “intellectual functioning,” the majority held, violated the 8thAmendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” The 5-3 decision in Moore v. Texas marks the court’s latest attempt to prevent states from justifying the execution of disabled inmates using arbitrary or capricious standards.

Under 2002’s Atkins v. Virginia, states are forbidden from executing individuals with intellectual disabilities. But Atkins allowed states to create their own rules for determining when an inmate fit this category. In 2014’s Hall v. Florida, the court noted that states’ discretion here is not “unfettered”—it must be “informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.” If states had “complete autonomy to define intellectual disability as they wished,” the court explained, “Atkins could become a nullity, and the Eighth Amendment’s protection of human dignity would not become a reality.”

March 28 2017 9:38 AM

Trump Will Start Dismantling Obama’s Climate Change Efforts on Tuesday

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday rolling back some of the Obama administration’s executive efforts to combat climate change. From CNN:

Tuesday's order will initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan initiative, rescind the moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands and urge federal agencies to "identify all regulations, all rules, all policies ... that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence," the official said.
Specifically, the order will rescind at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change and regulating carbon emissions, including Obama's November 2013 executive order instructing the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change and the September 2016 presidential memorandum that outlined the "growing threat to national security" that climate change poses.

The order cannot be expected to meaningfully work toward some of the administration’s energy goals, including bringing back or increasing employment in the coal industry, as an energy economist told the New York Times on Monday:

The new order would mean that older coal plants that had been marked for closings would probably stay open, said Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming. That would extend the market demand for coal for up to a decade. But even so, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization,” he said. “They’re not hiring people.” “So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” he said.

The order is expected to come a day before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is scheduled to hold a hearing on climate change featuring climate pundits with a history of both attacking each other and downplaying the effects of climate change. “The exchanges have the potential to become dramatic but will simply be a distraction,” the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow wrote last week. “The conflict may give off the unfortunate appearance that scientists don’t agree on anything and that climate change science is 'not settled,' despite the fact certain fundamentals are undisputed.”

March 27 2017 11:26 PM

White Supremacist Charged With Terror for Murder of Elderly Black Man in New York City

The gruesome, racially motivated murder of a 66-year-old black man, Timothy Caughman, in New York City a week ago by white supremacist James Harris Jackson was terrifying. It was also an act of terror, a grand jury decided on Monday, as it voted to upgrade the charges against the 28-year-old Jackson. Jackson, an Army veteran who is white, was charged with murder as an act of terror in the first- and second-degree and second-degree murder as a hate crime for stabbing Caughman to death with a sword on a crowded street corner.

Jackson admitted killing Caughman to police and outlined his racist beliefs and intent when he got in his car and drove from his home in Baltimore to New York City. “[Jackson] acted on his plan, randomly selecting a beloved New Yorker solely on the basis of his skin color, and stabbing him repeatedly and publicly on a midtown street corner,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney for Manhattan, said Monday in a statement. “James Jackson prowled the streets of New York for three days in search of a black person to assassinate in order to launch a campaign of terrorism against our Manhattan community and the values we celebrate.” “Jackson regarded the killing as practice prior to going to Times Square to kill additional black men,” a complaint filed last week said.

“Mr. Caughman, an ebullient man who described himself on Twitter as a can and bottle recycler, was rummaging through the trash on 9th Avenue near the corner of 36th Street around 11:15 p.m. on March 20 when Mr. Jackson pounced on him from behind and plunged the 18-inch blade into his chest, according to the police,” according to the New York Times. “’What are you doing?’ a woman told the police she heard Mr. Caughman say, according to a police complaint filed in court.”

March 27 2017 8:16 PM

Top Democrat Calls on Republican Head of Trump Russia Investigation to Step Down After White House Intel Collaboration

After weeks of ever-so-gradually gathering momentum, just as things were starting to get interesting, the House investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia has reached an existential crisis of its own. The revelation that the Republican head of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, went to the White House grounds to view what he said were classified documents not available to members of Congress, cast new doubt on the independence of investigation under Nunes’ leadership. The old doubt was that Nunes was literally a member of the Trump transition team to the White House, where he was part of a 15-person executive committee that included current Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s children. If that wasn't bad enough, Nunes’ latest visit to the White House really put the air quotes in the “independent” investigation into Trump’s Russia dealings.

After weeks of tip-toeing around the issue, on Monday, the ranking Democratic member on the investigation, Rep. Adam Schiff, had had enough and called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation:

After much consideration, and in light of the Chairman's admission that he met with his source of information at the White House, I believe that the Chairman should recuse himself from any further involvement in the Russia investigation, as well as any involvement in oversight of matters pertaining to any incidental collection of the Trump transition, as he was also a key member of the transition team…
I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the President's campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the Chairman…
As to the merits of the Chairman's underlying claim, none of the committee members—Democrats or Republicans—has seen the relevant documents, now almost a week later. Whether the documents support the argument that names were improperly unmasked or distributed, it is impossible to judge, but one thing is very clear: There was no legitimate justification for bringing that information to the White House instead of the committee. That it was also obtained at the White House makes this departure all the more concerning. In the interests of a fair and impartial investigation whose results will be respected by the public, the Chairman's recusal is more than warranted.

March 27 2017 5:56 PM

Today in Conservative Media: What’s Next for the GOP?


A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

Still reeling from the collapse of the Affordable Health Care Act on Friday, conservative media outlets spent Monday wondering about the young Trump administration’s next steps. While some maintained that there was still a chance for healthcare reform, other outlets and commentators suggested alternative routes that the GOP might explore—and pointed to other promises that Trump is keeping.

In National Review, Jay Nordlinger wrote that Republicans should “take a mulligan” on health care and do everything over, this time emphasizing persuasion. An earlier article on the site gamed out a “reform and retain” alternative to “repeal and replace” that could more easily win bipartisan support—or, at least, put swing state Democrats in a difficult position.

The Federalist proposed another strategy for tackling health care in “3 Non-Stupid Strategies For Republicans To Reverse Their Obamacare Fail.” Acknowledging, “The political damage is already done,” the publication went on to argue, “Repealing the Affordable Care Act, freezing Medicaid growth, then piecemeal replacement is the best possible plan.” While this last step would require bipartisan effort and compromise, the article suggests that taking such an approach would at least prevent an electoral disaster for the right in 2018 and 2020.

Meanwhile, many publications seemed to think it was time to focus on anything but healthcare reform. Drudge Report, in particular, featured a picture of the White House and a link that simply read “New Week.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 2.05.05 PM

Drudge Report

That link directed visitors to a Fox Business article titled, “Trump Keeps Focus on Promises, Meets with Business Owners at the White House.” After cryptically referring to “one campaign promise … pushed to the back burner,” that article discussed the president’s Monday morning session on “economic empowerment for women business owners,” a meeting attended by Ivanka Trump. The article framed this meeting as a promise kept.

Trump’s business background also came up in articles about the administration’s planned Office of American Innovation, to be run by Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner. The Blaze wrote that the team “was designed to shake things up, using tried-and-true business models from business executives with little-to-no political experience instead of stale government ideas to run the country.” Similarly, the Daily Caller wrote that the innovation office “is expected to help attain some of the major promises Trump made on the campaign trail.”

Appearing on Fox & Friends, Newt Gingrich offered a broader approach for how Trump should move forward, whatever issue he might be tackling. “First, you go to the country. You don’t go to the city,” he said, suggesting that Trump should be selling bills at rallies, not on Capitol Hill. He went on to say that he thinks the administration should “focus on infrastructure first, because you can reach out to every single Democrat on infrastructure. You can write a bipartisan bill that gets an enormous margin.”

Gingrich’s call for a bipartisan infrastructure plan intrigued Rush Limbaugh, who considered the prospect at length on his radio show, saying:

I think the Democrats are salivating at the opportunity to work with Trump. I think they’re licking their chops. I think privately the Democrats can’t believe the good fortune that has been dropped in their lap by what happened with this bill. … I can see the Democrats happily joining Trump to work with him on his trillion-dollar infrastructure thing.

He went on to speculate that such cooperation might be bad for leftist politicians, since it would potentially enrage the base. And yet, he warned, it might also provide one more opportunity for Democrats to attack the GOP, which is, he said, “always portrayed as being against progress.”

March 27 2017 4:58 PM

Apparently Anyone Can Have a Meeting at the White House. Let’s All Have Meetings at the White House!


The most recent news in the dumb story of Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes' quest to legitimize Donald Trump's bogus "Obama wiretapped my apartment" claim is that Nunes met Tuesday night with an "intelligence official" on "White House grounds" to discuss evidence related to the question of whether the U.S. government surveilled Trump. Nunes, as you may know already if you are following this stupid story from Stupidville, then came back to the White House last Wednesday to brief Trump on what Nunes has described as evidence that the names of Trump associates who were incidentally caught up in U.S. surveillance of other targets may have been inappropriately included in intelligence reports.

Got that? Nunes goes to the White House, learns some stuff, and then returns to the White House the next day to have a meeting with the president about all the stuff he's discovered. It doesn't seem to make much sense, but in an interview with Bloomberg's Eli Lake published Monday, Nunes was careful to say he met Tuesday not with a "White House staffer" but with an "intelligence official," and that the meeting took place at the White House only for convenience:

In an interview Monday, Nunes told me that he ended up meeting his source on the White House grounds because it was the most convenient secure location with a computer connected to the system that included the reports, which are only distributed within the executive branch. "We don't have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress," Nunes said. He added that his source was not a White House staffer and was an intelligence official.

CNN has reported, meanwhile, that Nunes was seen on the night in question at the National Security Council offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is next to the White House and encompasses what the official White House site describes as "a majority of offices for White House staff."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, meanwhile, is playing it coy/ignorant about Nunes' meeting. "Any questions regarding who he met with or why he was here should be referred to him," Spicer said at Monday's press conference, adding later that he was not personally aware whom Nunes had met with at the EOB. Spicer also told CBS's Major Garrett that he wasn't aware whether or not Nunes had been cleared by the White House to access a SCIF—an officially secure room—on its grounds. Meanwhile, the Trump White House has not yet begun releasing public online visitor logs as the Obama administration did.

So ... a congressman just showed up and used a White House building, and a week later the White House's spokesman has no idea whom the congressman met with or who let them onto the property. I guess the White House is like the lobby of a hotel—anyone can walk in and use it to sit around and read a newspaper/hold a work meeting/learn some national security secrets. Who wants to meet me at the White House tomorrow? Do you think they'll give us the Wi-Fi password if we buy coffee?

March 27 2017 4:53 PM

Stop Saying That Trump’s Plan to Fight ISIS Is the Same As Obama’s

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve started to get a good look at the Trump administration’s strategy to fight ISIS and other Jihadi groups in Syria, and the consensus seems to be that it’s not a new strategy at all.

I completely understand the thinking behind these headlines. Since he first began his campaign for president, Trump claimed to have a plan for “defeating ISIS quickly and effectively and having total victory” that he did not want to reveal to the enemy, so as to maintain the element of surprise. He also claimed to know more about ISIS "than the generals do.” But since taking office, he has not only hired generals for virtually every major national security position in his administration, he’s given them carte blanche to design an anti-ISIS plan that, as the headlines above indicate, looks an awful lot like the one that’s been in place for years now and that Trump derided as a failure on the campaign trail.

As NBC puts it, this involves “calls for continued bombing; beefing up support and assistance to local forces to retake its Iraqi stronghold Mosul and ultimately the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria; drying up ISIS's sources of income; and stabilizing the areas retaken from ISIS.” Or as retired Adm. James Stavridis put it, "The current plan to defeat the Islamic State is just like that old saying: Plan B is just, 'Try harder at Plan A.”

But while it’s now abundantly clear that Trump did not know more than the generals or have a secret plan to defeat ISIS, it’s a mistake to suggest that nothing has changed. Doing so risks brushing aside some of the more disturbing aspects of the Trump approach.

Trump has instructed the Pentagon to loosen the rules of engagement for airstrikes to the minimum required by international law, eliminated White House oversight procedures meant to protect civilians, and ordered the CIA to resume covert targeted killing missions. Since then, there have been a number of mass casualty events, including an alleged strike on a mosque in Aleppo that locals say killed nearly 50 civilians; a strike on a school near Raqqa that reportedly killed at least 30, many of them displaced people taking shelter; and strikes in Mosul that may have killed as many as 200 civilians in recent days. This weekend, the U.S. officially acknowledged a strike on Mosul that may have killed more than 100 people, most of them presumed to be civilians, which would be the greatest loss of civilian life in one incident since the beginning of the U.S. campaign against ISIS.

The number of reported civilian fatalities from U.S. coalition airstrikes has jumped to 1,058 in March from 465 in December according to the monitoring site Airwars. While it’s impossible to say that any one of these strikes would not have been ordered under Obama, the new directives should cause us to give the military and administration less of the benefit of the doubt. The New York Times last Friday cited an Iraqi special forces officer in Mosul as saying that there has been a “noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.”

He may not know more than the generals do about ISIS, but Trump does appear to be fulfilling his campaign pledges to “bomb the shit” out of them and stop what he called Obama’s “politically correct” efforts to protect civilians.

It’s also worth remembering that Trump’s infamous travel ban is viewed by this administration as part of its anti-ISIS strategy. The order itself mentions ISIS more than a dozen times. As limited as the program to take in Syrian and Iraqi refugees was under Obama, completely halting the intake of refugees is a major shift. For Trump, fighting ISIS means keeping Syrians, as well as citizens of several other Middle Eastern states, out of the U.S.

Moreover, while secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s speech last week gave lip service to finding “regional diplomatic solutions for the underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish” and “provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities as necessary,” priorities also continually mentioned by the previous administration, the White House’s proposed federal budget includes devastating cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid. This makes it hard to take any commitment to non-military initiatives seriously.

Most dramatically, the military has also been deploying thousands of new ground combat troops to the region, where they could potentially be called upon to fight ISIS. The troops sent to Syria so far have mostly been tasked with assisting Kurdish-led forces, rather than taking the fight to ISIS directly, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which that could change. The likelihood of a large number of U.S. ground troops being involved in direct combat in Syria has gone up significantly since Trump took office.

So, no, Trump didn’t come into office with fresh ideas on how to resolve the Syrian civil war or find a way to get Turkish and Kurdish forces to work together—not all that surprising from a man who mixed up the Kurds and the Quds force and complained that he was being asked about too many Arab names. But there have already been significant changes to the U.S. approach to this conflict. So far, it’s been mainly a wanton disregard for Iraqi and Syrian lives. Soon, it may also be a significantly higher number of American troops in harm’s way.

March 27 2017 12:44 PM

Carl Icahn Is Apparently Profiting Enormously From His Role as an Adviser to Donald Trump

Trump administration conflicts of interest come in many forms. There are those created directly by the president himself, those raised by his family members both inside and outside the White House, and those posed by his most senior advisers, such as Kellyanne Conway. But the New York Times on Monday highlighted yet one more area of concern: Trump’s informal, unpaid advisers—specifically billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

During his presidential transition, Trump named Icahn as a special adviser on regulatory matters and has kept him on in that role this year. “His help on the strangling regulations that our country is faced with will be invaluable,” Trump said in a December statement lauding Icahn, who was an early supporter of Trump’s unlikely presidential campaign and has an estimated net worth of $16.6 billion. It appears that, in his new role, Icahn has already proved to be a valuable asset to himself. Among the red flags spotted by the Times:

  • Icahn has aggressively pushed for the Environmental Protection Agency to rework an otherwise obscure rule on how corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline. He pressed Scott Pruitt on the matter during an interview with Pruitt for his current job as EPA chief, later raised the matter with one of Trump’s top economic advisers, and ultimately talked about it with the president himself during a phone call last month. Of note here is that Icahn is the majority owner of CVR Energy, a Texas oil refiner that has claimed to have spent $205.9 million last year to comply with the rule and that desperately wants to see it scrapped. Since Trump was elected, CVR’s stock price is up about 50 percent.
  • Icahn has weighed in on who should be the new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Icahn’s investment portfolio includes major stakes in several companies that have recently found themselves in the commission’s crosshairs, including CVR and Herbalife, as well as a number of other business ventures in highly regulated industries.
  • Icahn has pushed a global mining company he helps run, Freeport-McMoRan, to be more aggressive in its fight with Indonesia over one of the company’s contracts to mine gold and copper in Southeast Asia. Icahn says he hasn’t intervened with the White House directly on the matter. However, the company has asked for help from the State Department, Commerce Department, and the White House, according to its CEO.
  • Despite the president’s current regulatory freeze, his administration allowed a new IRS rule to go into effect in late January that would give qualifying oil and gas companies a corporate tax break. Icahn cited the rule as a major reason he first invested in CVR several years ago and appears well-positioned to benefit from the change.

All that understandably has Democrats and like-minded watchdog groups furious. “This is a mile out of bounds by any standard,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told the Times. “Were the shoe on the other foot, Republicans would be having fits about any Obama relationship like this.” Whitehouse and several of his fellow Democrats are sending a letter to the Office of Government Ethics and the Justice Department this week to object to Icahn’s ongoing roles. The OGE, however, can’t do much more than ask nicely that the White House behave, and the DOJ ultimately reports to President Trump—so, yeah, good luck with that.

The defense put forward by Icahn and the White House, meanwhile, is that there is nothing to see here because Icahn’s role is technically an informal and unpaid one, which they claim means he is not subject to the same ethics laws as official staff. “I’m not making any policy, I am only giving my opinion,” Icahn told the Times. “He is simply a private citizen whose opinion the president respects and whom the president speaks with time to time,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love added.

That, though, should do nothing to allay anyone’s concerns. It’s become standard operating procedure for this White House to use vague descriptions of individual staff responsibilities to shield them from serious ethics questions. The Trump administration intentionally avoids publicly defining roles and policy portfolios, and then turns around and claims advisers can’t have conflicts of interest. Again: The unofficial White House ethics plan is not to have one.