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Sept. 20 2017 6:55 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Shut Up, Jimmy Kimmel

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

Conservatives weren’t happy about Jimmy Kimmel’s Tuesday night monologue criticizing Graham-Cassidy, in which the late-night host said, “Bill Cassidy lied right to my face about healthcare.” National Review’s Theodore Kupfer wrote that Kimmel is unqualified to offer commentary on the subject:

Cassidy and Graham’s bill fails the Jimmy Kimmel test, at least according to its namesake. Kimmel labeled Cassidy, who appeared on Kimmel’s show months ago to applause, a liar. Perhaps it was a mistake for a senator to arrogate rhetorical supremacy to a comedian, but Cassidy, for his part, has since pushed back. “I am sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy said today on CNN. “There will be more people covered under the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment than under the status quo,” he said later on MSNBC, explaining that his bill requires “coverage” of pre-existing conditions “to be ‘adequate and affordable.’”
What to do about the health-care system is a complicated question. Kimmel has elected to probe the empirical matter of whether this bill does quite enough to erect a safety net for people with pre-existing conditions. There are legitimate critiques of Graham-Cassidy on those grounds, but at the same time, rhetoric about those with pre-existing conditions, or about the costs of reforming our current health-care system, tends toward exaggeration. And with the leeway Graham-Cassidy’s New Federalist framework would afford them, states might be able to find more efficacious ways to protect those people. The collective decision to elevate Kimmel to status as a leading bioethicist and policy wonk reduces a tricky debate to a single talking point.

“Fact is that Kimmel is a fan of the status quo,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi wrote, “and he wants you to call Cassidy to complain about it. It’s a shame that Kimmel didn’t provide a number to call for the tens of millions of Americans who have seen their premiums and out-of-pocket costs skyrocket under Obamacare’s strictures. Is there no telephone number for those who are sick of being in exchanges that coerce them to buy plans they don’t need sold to them by companies they don’t like in fabricated non-competitive markets that have dwindling choices?”

Other conservatives took to Twitter to slam Kimmel:

In other news:

Fox News ran a brief segment about a youth football team in Illinois that kneeled during the national anthem at a game for a Colin Kaepernick–inspired protest. From Fox News Insider:

Every player on the 8-and-under Cahokia Quarterback Club football team took part in the protest before Sunday’s game in Belleville.
“One of the kids asked me if I saw [people] protesting and rioting in St. Louis," Coach Orlando Gooden told Fox 2. "I said yes. I said, ‘Do you know why they are doing it?'”
Coach Gooden said the player responded, "Because black people are getting killed and nobody's going to jail.” ...
After explaining that Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem of NFL games last season to protest police brutality and racial inequality, Gooden said one of the kids asked if they could “do that.”
He said as long as they knew why they were kneeling, he didn't have any problem with it.

“[W]hile Gooden tries to shift the burden of the decision on the kids, it's clear that he led them to see Kaepernick's protest of the country as a positive response to a perceived injustice,” the Daily Wire’s Aaron Bandler wrote. “They might have asked if they could do it, but he clearly deliberately planted the idea.”

Sept. 20 2017 6:39 PM

Why It Matters That Mueller Is Reportedly Looking into Trump's Russia Meeting

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has asked the White House for documents about Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. This includes any documentation of an Oval Office meeting Trump had with the Russians the day after Comey was fired, in which the president reportedly told them “great pressure” on him personally had been “taken off” because of the sacking.

From the Times:

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 different areas that investigators want more information about. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.
One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

In a lot of ways, this should not be considered unusual. Mueller is just doing what any good investigator would do and tracking down possible leads surrounding his investigation, which is reportedly delving into whether or not Trump intended to obstruct justice with the firing of Comey. “It is entirely unsurprising,” Georgetown Law professor and former federal prosecutor Julie O’Sullivan told me over email. “Any investigator worth his salt would look into this.”

At the same time, the news demonstrates that Mueller considers the obstruction portion of the investigation to be significant and will not just limit his examination of the matter into the respective credibility of Comey and Trump. Comey testified under oath that the president suggested he halt the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Trump says he’s lying. Mueller is apparently not content to just look at their words alone, but is willing to examine outside evidence that could point to whether or not Trump acted with “corrupt intent” when he fired Comey. This apparently includes the relevance of him possibly telling the foreign power at the center of the scandal that the pressure was off. “It obviously is relevant to his reasons for firing Comey, and thus to the obstruction investigation,” O’Sullivan wrote.

Again, this could be considered significant because it demonstrates that Mueller is not leaving stones unturned. The president’s backers have questioned the scope of the inquiry—with some Republicans in Congress going so far as to call for Mueller to resign. “We’ve […] moved off of the original topic, which was the Russian issue, and now we’re talking about obstruction of justice and we’re just going to keep expanding the scope looking for something,” Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs said in June while calling for Mueller to step down. Newt Gingrich—who led the impeachment of Bill Clinton for, among other charges, obstruction of justice—has argued that “technically, the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice.”

This news is another indication that Mueller thinks that maybe the president can and that as special counsel he will be leading a thorough investigation of that question.

The other reason why the news might matter is that the obstruction portion seems to be coming up relatively early in the inquiry.

“[It was] inevitable that Mueller’s work would include some kind of judgment on that legal question,” Duke University law professor and former Enron prosecutor Samuel W. Buell told me over email. “But this and other developments seem to show him working relatively quickly on several fronts, perhaps with some sense of urgency about timing.”

Sept. 20 2017 6:06 PM

Report: Paul Manafort Planned on Providing Russian Billionaire With Campaign Updates

The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort offered to provide updates on the 2016 campaign to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. The offer was reportedly made through an intermediary between email. From the Post:

The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email exchanges as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”

The AP reported in March that Manafort crafted a plan to influence American politics in the interests of Vladimir Putin for Deripaska in 2005. The FBI raided Manafort’s home in late July, a day after his meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, as part of its ongoing investigation of his activities. According to the Post's reporting, people close to Manafort believe that Mueller hopes to pressure him into providing infomation about others in Trump’s circle.

One particularly juicy tidbit from the Post report is that the emails contained potentially coded language possibly discussing money either paid to Manfort or owed to him. 

The notes appear to be written in deliberately vague terms, with Manafort and his employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, never explicitly mentioning Deripaska by name.
Investigators believe that key passages refer to Deripaska. The billionaire is referenced in some places by his initials, “OVD,” and one email invokes an expensive Russian delicacy in what investigators believe is a veiled reference to Manafort’s past work with Deripaska.
In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?”
....
Kilimnik wrote in the July 29 email that he had met that day with the person “who gave you the biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” according to the people familiar with the exchange Kilimnik said it would take some time to discuss the “long caviar story,” and the two agreed to meet in New York.
Investigators believe that the reference to the pricey Russian luxury item may have been a reference to Manafort’s past lucrative relationship with Deripaska, according to people familiar with the probe.

"The biggest black caviar jar"... Delicious!

Sept. 20 2017 3:43 PM

Cornell Frat Shuts Down After Black Student Allegedly Called Racial Slur and Assaulted

A Cornell University fraternity chapter has been shut down as officials investigate the alleged assault of a black student last Friday.

According to a statement from Cornell, one undergraduate student was arrested after a “verbal exchange between Cornell students including the use of racial slurs led to a physical assault.” The alleged victim told the New York Times that when he arrived home early Friday morning, he encountered the group of students arguing with his housemates. When one of the students called him a racial slur as he tried to get them to leave, “he confronted them, and four or five of them turned on him and started punching him in the face.”

John Greenwood, a 19-year-old student at the school, was charged with assault in the incident. He denied the accusations.

The university's statement did not confirm that the students involved were members of the fraternity, and it told The Times it was trying to determine if some or all of the students were members. The school's student newspaper reported that the fraternity's alumni group had denied Greenwood was a member.

But the alumni board of the fraternity made the decision to permanently shut down the chapter of Psi Upsilon. Since 2016, the fraternity, which had a history of complaints over its members’ behavior, had been under a three-year-long ban from the university, meaning it could not take advantage of university benefits and recruit new members.

The fraternity initially had been suspended in 2016 when its president had been accused of rape. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense. The fraternity then received its three-year ban when it violated the rules of that suspension by throwing a party.

Earlier this month, a member of a different fraternity at Cornell allegedly chanted “build a wall” near the university’s “Latino Living Center” after Trump ordered the end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

While the fraternity has been shut down, its property and building are undergoing renovations. According to Cornell, when completed it will be used for student organizations “that are dedicated to promoting a diverse and inclusive student community.”

Sept. 20 2017 3:08 PM

The Trump Administration’s “Unprecedented” New Attack on Voting Rights

Over the last eight months, the Trump administration has launched an assault on voting rights designed to limit access to the ballot. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has defended voter ID laws and state efforts to purge voters from the rolls, and the president’s voter fraud commission has peddled falsehoods to lay the groundwork for a rollback of voting rights laws. This month, the administration has urged a court to strip voting rights from an entire class of people.

This latest gambit involves the rights of United States citizens who relocate from a state to a U.S. territory. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), states must allow citizens to vote by absentee ballot in federal elections when they relocate anywhere outside the U.S. The law is meant to be global, even cosmic: Citizens retain their right to vote absentee for federal offices if they move to a foreign country, a research station in Antarctica, or the International Space Station. But bizarrely, the statute does not require states to let citizens vote absentee if they move to four U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, or American Samoa. It does compel states to let citizens vote absentee if they move to a fifth permanently inhabited territory, the Northern Mariana Islands.

In 2015, Illinois residents who relocated to several of these disfavored territories filed a lawsuit challenging this limitation as an equal protection violation. They argued that the UOCAVA arbitrarily limits their right to vote in federal elections. (U.S. territories do not receive full representation in Congress and may not vote for president.) By protecting the absentee voting rights of residents of the Northern Mariana Islands but not those who live in other U.S. territories, the plaintiffs argued, the UOCAVA irrationally discriminates against certain territorial residents in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The only solution is to extend absentee voting rights to residents of every U.S. territory.

Sept. 20 2017 2:19 PM

Senate to Vote on Obamacare Repeal Again Next Week

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said “it is the Leader’s intention” to have the Senate vote on Graham-Cassidy next week, according to Politico. The bill, crafted by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, would replace Obamacare’s subsidies and Medicaid expansion with federal block grants to the states to establish their own health insurance systems.

For the past several days, the GOP vote count had been stuck at 48 or 49, pending a change of heart by Sens. John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, or Susan Collins. It's unclear whether McConnell now has one or more of those votes locked up now.

The Senate Finance Committee will have the only hearing on the bill next week. The Congressional Budget Office is scheduled to release a “preliminary assessment” of the bill early next week without estimates of the bill’s effect on insurance coverage or premiums.

Sept. 20 2017 1:50 PM

Russian Facebook Account Reportedly Organized Florida Trump Rallies During Election

Russian Facebook accounts attempted to organize more than a dozen Florida Trump rallies during the election, the Daily Beast reported Wednesday:

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists—brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.
The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.

The Beast reports that the Florida events were put on by a Facebook page called “Being Patriotic,” which had 200,000 followers before being shut down last month, and a Twitter account called @march_for_trump. The “Being Patriotic” Facebook page was shut down at around the same time Facebook revoked multiple accounts being run by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm American intelligence agencies have linked to an ally of Vladimir Putin.

The news comes after the revelation two weeks ago that Facebook also facilitated $100,000 in Russian-funded political advertising targeted at U.S. voters in the run-up to the election.

Donald Trump won 49 percent of the vote in Florida, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 47.8 percent.

Sept. 20 2017 12:27 PM

A South Carolina School Assignment Asked Fifth-Graders to Justify the Actions of the KKK

A South Carolina fifth-grade teacher has been placed on administrative leave after she gave students an assignment that asked them to justify the actions of the KKK in the Reconstruction-era South.

The assignment sparked criticism and outrage on social media after a student’s uncle posted a photo of the KKK-focused homework assignment. “You are there,” the prompt reads. “You are a member of the KKK. Why do you think your treatment of African Americans is justified?”

According to the uncle, the student came home crying the day of the assignment. The teacher, Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, South Carolina, was placed on administrative leave the next day. The school district, in a statement to WLTX, said the action was part of a standard investigation and that they were “taking this matter very seriously.”

South Carolina standards for 5th grade require lessons on Reconstruction and discriminatory groups including the KKK. We must teach the standard, but we are taking steps to ensure this particular assignment will never be used again in District Five schools.
We understand the seriousness of this matter particularly in light of the events taking place in our country at this time. We want to ensure that our students, parents, staff and community know that we are giving this matter our full attention.

While it does seem like a particularly charged time to ask students to envision themselves as members of the KKK, as other publications have noted, Roberts isn’t the only one to get in trouble for racially insensitive school assignments. A Los Angeles school gave second-graders a math question about slaves during Black History Month. In April, a Florida teacher gave a diversity-focused worksheet to middle schoolers that really missed the mark.

Sept. 20 2017 11:06 AM

Giant Sinkhole Swallows Part of House in Florida

Long after the worst of the debris has been cleared, people living in affected regions can spend months cleaning up after a powerful hurricane. But here’s a fun thing you might not realize can appear after hurricanes: sinkholes.

While it’s not certain the large Florida sinkhole that swallowed up a portion of a home near Orlando had anything to do with Hurricane Irma, authorities can’t rule it out. There have been others that popped up in the same area and farther to the south, and after Hurricane Harvey, there were sinkholes in Texas. Florida has more sinkholes than any other state, and heavy rainfall plays a big part in that.

WFTV reported that the family living in the Apopka, Florida, home that partially collapsed made it out safely after noticing the strain on the house the previous night. "I saw big, deep cracks in the bathroom. The tub was sinking, and the window was coming loose, and I said, ‘It's time to go,’ ” one of the family members told the station.

The family then watched a 25-by-15-foot sinkhole appear under their home.

If you’re wondering what people do with these sinkholes, here’s an explainer on just how they get filled. And if you’re contemplating moving to Florida, this has been a friendly reminder that the earth there sometimes swallows parts of houses.

Sept. 20 2017 10:30 AM

Tom Price Reportedly Spent $60,000 on Private Jets Last Week

Late on Tuesday, Politico reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew on private jets five times last week, at an expense of “tens of thousands of dollars” more than the commercial flights that had been standard for his predecessors. From Politico:

The secretary’s five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.
HHS spokespeople declined to confirm details of the flights, or respond to questions about who paid for them, with a spokesperson only saying that Price sometimes charters planes when commercial flights aren’t feasible. All three organizations that hosted Price last week — the Massachusetts-based health IT firm athenahealth, Goodwin Community Health Center in New Hampshire and the Mirmont Treatment Center in Pennsylvania — told POLITICO they did not pay for his flights or other travel costs.

According to Politico, staffers say Price has been using private jets for months. Charter operators told Politico’s Dan Diamond and Rachana Pradhan that Price’s private flights last week would have cost at least $60,000. For at least one leg of travel, a short jaunt from Washington to Philadelphia and back on Friday, Diamond and Pradhan write that there were ample commercial alternatives. A round-trip United flight would have cost between $447 and $725 per person. A cheap ticket on an Amtrak train would have cost $72. A road trip would have cost around $46 in gas and tolls per SUV. Price’s round trip to Philly—just over an hour of flight time—cost $25,000.*

*Correction, Sept. 20, 2017, at 11:34 a.m.: The last sentence of the post originally conflated Tom Price with Steven Mnuchin.

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