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Sept. 21 2017 4:19 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Voters Bump Trump for Repub Dump

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Our man's approval rating is soaring! Per FiveThirtyEight's approval poll aggregator, he's almost up to the point of being a regular unpopular president rather than a historically despised one:



Wha' happen? A new NBC/WSJ poll indicates that the public was impressed when Trump rejected the typical Republican approach to budgeting—namely, shutting down the government for no reason while threatening to create an economic catastrophe by defaulting on the national debt—in favor of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer's plan to not do that:


Not ruining things on purpose is apparently a better political move than praising the patrons of a white-power torch rally as "some very fine people." Who knew?

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Sept. 21 2017 4:00 PM

Report: GOP Is Trying to Buy Murkowski’s Obamacare Repeal Vote by Letting Alaska Keep Obamacare

On Tuesday I wrote that the chances for Senate Republicans’ last stab at Obamacare repeal, Graham-Cassdidy, “may well hang on what offer Republican leaders are willing to make on Alaska’s behalf in the next week” in order to secure Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s pivotal vote. A couple of reports Thursday afternoon show us how that offer may be shaping up. To put it as generously as possible, it’s not subtle.

The first report, from Politico, says that Alaska, along with some other large, sparsely populated Western states, would be exempt from the per-capita caps that Graham-Cassidy would place on traditional Medicaid spending through 2026. In other words, Alaska—at least in the near term—would not be subject to the enormous entitlement reform that just about every Republican health care bill this year has tossed in its repeal-and-replace package. A good start. What else you got, Graham and Cassidy?

Independent Journal Review, citing a “Republican Senate aide,” reports what would be the most incredible package of carve-outs known to mankind. It would allow Alaska—and Hawaii, tossed in as a poor effort for political and legal cover—to keep Obamacare in the Obamacare repeal bill. And then some.

In addition to the per-capita cap exemption that Politico reports, a new draft would allow Alaska and Hawaii to “continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states.” Not only would they get to keep the Obamacare tax credits flowing, but they would also, according to the aide, still be able to receive the block grant money that Graham-Cassidy replaces those subsidies with. The last provision would increase Alaska and Hawaii’s federal Medicaid match rate.

As IJR writes, the changes aren’t final. (Maybe they’ll toss in a gift certificate to the Sizzler for Murkowski, too.) I’ve reached out to the offices of Sens. Murkowski, Graham, and Cassidy for comment on this overflowing chest of legislative treasures, and will update with any new information if they get back.

Few Republican health care reforms are great deals for Alaska. Republican health care reforms slash federal spending on health care, and Alaska's health care costs are extraordinary. The only way to get Murkowski’s vote for the Republican health care reform, then, is to exempt Alaska from the Republican health care reform. This proposal would let Alaska keep its Obamacare money, reap the Graham-Cassidy money on top of that, boost its Medicaid match rate, and not have to abide by the trade-offs of either bill. Nice deal, if you can swing it. Is it possible to expand this language to include all 50 states and the District of Columbia? Might pick up some votes!

By the way, if a deal like this is presented, shouldn’t that prompt Lindsey Graham himself to jump ship from his own proposal? He did say in June that if leaders started “that crap” of straight-up buying votes for their health care bill then “they’re going to lose me.”

Also in June, Murkowski warned that state-specific efforts to “get” her vote for a bad bill wouldn’t work anyway. “Then you have a nationwide system that doesn't work,” she said. “That then comes crashing down and Alaska's not able to kind of keep it together on its own.”

Sept. 21 2017 2:32 PM

Deaf Man Shot Dead by Oklahoma City Police Who Yelled Commands at Him

Oklahoma City police shot and killed a deaf man, Madgiel Sanchez, on Tuesday after he did not comply with an officer’s yelled commands to drop a metal pipe. From the New York Times:

Julio Rayos, a neighbor who lives a few homes away and knew the man was deaf, said he saw the confrontation unfold and sensed trouble.
He said that he ran toward the officer with his wife and his 12-year-old daughter, all three of them screaming that the man could not understand the officer.
“Don’t kill him, he’s deaf,” his daughter yelled. “Don’t do it!”
About six other neighbors joined in, frantically trying to get the officer’s attention. But less than a minute after the episode began, a second officer arrived and immediately pulled out his handgun, Mr. Rayos said. While people continued to scream, the first officer fired his Taser at Mr. Sanchez, while the second fired his handgun, the police said.

Rayos told the Times that Sanchez, 35, often carried the pipe, using it to communicate and ward off stray dogs. The officer who shot Sanchez has been placed on paid leave as the Oklahoma City Police Department investigates. Police Capt. Bo Mathews said at a news conference that the officers who responded may not have been among those in the department trained in sign language. According to the Washington Post’s database, 712 people have been shot and killed by police so far this year; 32 were unarmed.

Correction, 12:34 p.m., Sept. 21: This post originally featured a photo of Miami and misidentified it as Oklahoma City.

Sept. 21 2017 2:06 PM

Who’s More Qualified to Give Opinions About Health Care Policy, Jimmy Kimmel or Donald Trump?

In a turn of events that began when his child was born with a condition that required open-heart surgery, ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel has become the face of public opposition to Affordable Care Act repeal. Kimmel has been specifically critical of the way Republicans have proposed repeal bills that would allow states to waive the ACA's requirement that insurers offer reasonably priced coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. As he's (correctly) explained, such waivers—like the one in the Graham-Cassidy bill currently looming in the Senate—would likely make it impossible for many families like his whose breadwinners aren't well-compensated celebrities to afford care for their sick kids.

Some on the right have responded by telling Kimmel he should stick to entertainment:

You may have noticed a flaw in this strategy, namely that the nation's most powerful Republican got elected president largely because he starred on a reality show for loud idiots. So: Who is more qualified to discuss public policy, Jimmy Kimmel or president of the United States? Let's break it down.

1. Attitude toward reading complicated material:

Kimmel's detailed Wednesday monologue would indicate that he has done a fair amount of research on the issue of ACA repeal.

Trump famously doesn't like to read briefing papers if they're long and don't involve pictures.

2. Ability to explain health care reform in layman's terms:

Kimmel, again, did this on Wednesday.

Trump has famously never demonstrated, in either public or private, any understanding of how Republican health care plans work.

3. Intellectual pedigree of TV co-stars:

Kimmel worked with a former presidential adviser and Yale Law School graduate on a distinguished high-brow program that involved tests of knowledge in areas such as literature and history.

Trump's Celebrity Apprentice co-stars included Gene Simmons and Jose Canseco.

4. History of being so bad at his ostensible occupation (business, for Trump; being a comedian, for Kimmel) that investors in one of his enterprises insisted shortly before its second bankruptcy filing that he resign from any role in its management:

In 2009, bondholders in Trump's publicly traded Trump Entertainment Resorts organization forced him out of his role running the company shortly before it filed for its second bankruptcy.

This sort of thing has never happened, to my knowledge, to Jimmy Kimmel. His relationships with the other creators of Crank Yankers appear to be solid. The Man Show, its problematic sexual politics aside, never filed for bankruptcy even one time.

My verdict? Neither of these people should probably be president, but especially not Donald Trump.

Sept. 21 2017 10:51 AM

Sean Spicer Threatens Legal Action Against Reporter for Asking Him Question via Text

Axios' Mike Allen writes Thursday that Sean Spicer apparently took extensive notes during his time working with Donald Trump both before and after the 2016 election. This is ostensibly of interest because it means Robert Mueller could seek to examine Spicer's notebooks for potential evidence that the Trump campaign/administration colluded with Russia or obstructed justice by firing James Comey. But the big takeaway from Allen's piece is really just that Spicer is a big weirdo:

When we texted Spicer for comment on his note-taking practices, he replied: "Mike, please stop texting/emailing me unsolicited anymore."
When I replied with a "?" (I have known Spicer and his wife for more than a dozen years), he answered: "Not sure what that means. From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again. Should you do again I will report to the appropriate authorities."

Spicer further sent Allen an email threatening to "contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment."

This would be pretty mystifying behavior for a professional spokesman to engage in even if Allen were a notoriously confrontational reporter, which he's not; on the contrary, he's actually notorious for being a deferential, even obsequious figure.

Sean Spicer is definitely the kind of guy who has shouted the phrase "you'll be hearing from my attorneys" while being physically removed from Sears after a dispute over the price of a surround-sound speaker system.

Sept. 20 2017 9:50 PM

Manafort's Now Working Against U.S. Stated Interest by Helping Kurds in Iraq Hold Independence Vote

Paul Manafort’s global web of business and political dealings has come under increasing scrutiny in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but that hasn’t stopped the former Trump campaign chairman from working out on the rough and tumble fringes of global politics. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Manafort has been working since the summer with Kurdish leaders in Iraq to help the autonomous region hold a referendum on independence. The United States opposes the non-binding referendum and has lobbied hard to postpone the measure over fears that it would destabilize the already delicate political situation in Iraq, making it harder to snuff out ISIS. The international community agrees and has lined up against the symbolic vote. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is set to vote on the referendum on Monday.

Enter Paul Manafort.

According to the Times’ reporting, Manafort signed on with Iraqi Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani and his allies “to help administer and promote” the referendum. The referendum is the latest effort of a multifaceted push by Kurdish leaders to build support for their cause in Washington.

Here’s more from the Times:

Mr. Manafort agreed to assist with the referendum, including a planned push for Western recognition, after he was approached several months ago by an intermediary for Mr. Barzani’s son, Masrour Barzani, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Manafort has traveled to the region since then to advise the Barzanis’ allies on the referendum, according to Kurdish independence advocates. One of Mr. Manafort’s lieutenants is in Erbil preparing for the referendum, and Mr. Manafort himself may return to the region in the coming days for the vote, according to the advocates…
The Kurdistan Regional Government had paid millions to Washington lobbying firms with deep connections to both Democrats and Republicans, including more than $1.5 million over the last three years, according to Justice Department records. But it has also worked to build support for independence from think tanks and scholars who might be willing to vouch for the referendum’s fairness, and use it to win bipartisan support in Washington for Kurdish independence, according to people familiar with the outreach.

It’s unclear how much Manafort is being paid for his referendum consulting work.

Sept. 20 2017 6:55 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Shut Up, Jimmy Kimmel


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.”