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Jan. 23 2017 12:52 PM

Marco Rubio Caves on Rex Tillerson

Sen. Marco Rubio has carefully measured the pros and cons of voting the way that reflects his opinion and will not do so. He announced Monday morning on Facebook that he will cave and support Rex Tillerson’s nomination for secretary of state.

Rubio, by all accounts, thinks Tillerson is a crap nominee. Rubio, speaking for the Cold Warrior troika of himself, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, aggressively questioned and confronted Tillerson before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rubio asked Tillerson if he would label Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” over the Russian campaign in Syria. Tillerson would not.

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“If confirmed by the Senate and you run the department of State,” Rubio said near the end of the hearing, “you’re going to have to label countries and individuals all the time. When they see the United States is not prepared to stand up and [say], ‘Yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, Saudi Arabia violates human rights … it demoralizes these people all over the world.’ ”

Rubio’s vote carried weight. Republicans hold a one-vote margin on the committee; were Rubio to vote against him and Democrats on the committee able to hold the line, Tillerson would not be referred to the full Senate under regular order. That wouldn’t necessarily have prevented Tillerson from confirmation—Republican leaders still would have procedural tools available to bring the nomination to the floor—but it would delay the process, hobble Tillerson’s tenure from the start, and embarrass a brand-new Republican administration. The last of these was the most treacherous consideration for Rubio. As of last week, it didn’t appear to be fazing him. “On most major issues you are never going to make everyone happy,” Rubio told the New York Times last Monday night. “So you might as well do what you truly feel is right and let the political chips fall where they may.”

Last week was a long time ago, though. “Politically, however, several people in Rubio’s circle said they see no upside to defying Trump, especially now that Tillerson is on the path to being confirmed,” the Washington Post reported Sunday night, after McCain and Graham announced their support for Tillerson earlier in the morning. “Rubio is aware that the backlash from the new White House would be intense, according to those close to him.” The Post story quotes one major Rubio donor from Texas saying that he and his pals have been urging—“in very blunt fashion”—Rubio to cave.

Rubio did just that on Monday morning ahead of the committee vote, citing deference to the president in selecting his Cabinet and Tillerson’s “extensive experience and success in international commerce.” The most risible part of his statement was its last sentence: “However, upcoming appointments to critical posts in the Department of State are not entitled to and will not receive from me the same level of deference I have given this nomination.” Sure, sure.

Marco Rubio made a difficult political decision once in his Senate career—writing and supporting the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013—and it didn’t work out so hot for him when he ran for president. So, enough with that.

Jan. 23 2017 12:37 PM

Donald Trump Is Being Sued for Violating the Constitution. Here’s What You Need to Know.

And we’re off. A Washington ethics watchdog filed a federal lawsuit on Monday claiming that Donald Trump has already violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing his hotels and other businesses to accept payments from foreign governments. “We did not want to get to this point,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement. “It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the U.S. Constitution before he took office. He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”

The lawsuit is not a surprise: Good-government types have been loud and clear about fears that Trump would violate the so-called Emoluments Clause, which bars U.S. officials from accepting payments from foreign government, if he retained ownership of his sprawling business empire. The filing, however, marks the first concrete step taken to force Trump to actually address those concerns since he and his lawyers effectively shrugged them off at a press conference earlier this month. “No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” Sheri Dillon, one of Trump’s lawyers, said at the time. She did not, however, offer any evidence to support that reading or address how it was possible for the larger plan she laid out at the press conference to “completely isolate” Trump from the Trump Organization given he retains an explicit financial and personal interest in its success.

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The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages from the president but instead asks a federal court in New York to block Trump businesses from accepting money from foreign governments—and individuals or companies with ties to them—regardless of whether it comes in the form of payments for hotel stays, or golf course greens fees, or lease payments for commercial real estate in his office buildings, or loans for those same office buildings from banks. Trump has promised to take “all profits” from money paid to his hotels by foreign governments and donate it to the U.S. Treasury, though even if that plan fully addressed the emoluments concerns at the hotels—and it doesn’t—it still wouldn’t end concerns over other foreign payments.

CREW leans liberal, though on this particular issue it can claim bipartisanship. Richard Painter, who previously served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer and who joined CREW this December, is among those experts that have signed on to the suit. Other bold-faced legal names involved include: Norman Eisen, a former chief ethics lawyer in Obama’s White House; Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe; University of California–Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky; and Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress this past year.

Still, Trump is not completely alone in his market-value reading of the Emolument Clause. In an academic paper published last week, University of Iowa law school professor Andy Grewal argued for a similarly narrow reading. He contends that a payment to a Trump-owned hotel would not be a violation because the cash would be going to a Trump corporate entity and not Trump personally. Grewal says that as a result there’s no problem with a foreign diplomat paying top dollar as long as he pays the same rate a regular tourist would. “He might subjectively hope that the president will view his patronage favorably, but subjective wishes cannot change the economic character of a transaction,” he wrote.

That’s a fight for another day, however. The most immediate hurdle facing the lawsuit isn’t the interpretation of the Emoluments Clause, which has been largely untested in court, but instead whether the group has the legal standing to challenge Trump in the first place. In order to sue someone, a plaintiff generally needs to prove that they were specifically harmed by the alleged wrongdoing in question. The group is attempting to check that box in a relatively creative way. It claims that since its mission is to investigate corruption, Trump’s actions represent a drain on resources that would otherwise be spent investigating its usual areas of interest, like campaign finance and the revolving door between K Street and the federal government. There’s some precedent to support such a claim, though it might be a stretch; the New York Times, for instance, notes that courts tend to be skeptical of such broad assertions of standing outside of the context of civil rights violations.

If the court does refuse to hear CREW’s case, though, it won’t be the end of the road. The American Civil Liberties Union says it is currently looking for hotels that compete against Trump properties for business and that would be willing to serve as plaintiffs in a similar case. While that would seem to be a better bet to make it to court, it relies on finding a business willing to risk angering a president who has made it clear he’s willing to single out corporations for public scolding and possibly even government retribution. The only other obvious option would be for Congress to take up the emoluments case itself. That, however, is unlikely as long as Trump is giving Republican leaders what they want.

Previously in Slate:

***Follow Josh Voorhees on Twitter, or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com***

Jan. 23 2017 12:24 PM

Trump’s National Security Nominees Rejected His Most Extreme Positions. Don’t Be Reassured.

It’s now looking like the brief show of GOP resistance to the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state was just that, a show. The senate’s leading Russia hawks—John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio—now say they’re reassured enough to support the former Exxon CEO, all but ensuring his confirmation.

In the end, and like the rest of Donald Trump’s nominees for national security and foreign policy Cabinet positions, Tillerson expressed fairly mainstream foreign policy views. In fact, one of the most striking things about the confirmation hearings of the past two weeks was hearing one nominee after another—Tillerson, John Kelly, James Mattis, Nikki Haley—reject the extremist positions that had been at the very center of Trump’s campaign. They could have been applying for jobs in a Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush administration. All rejected creating a registry of Muslim citizens, barring Muslims from entering the United States, resuming the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture, dismantling NATO, or encouraging more countries to develop nuclear weapons. They were wary of the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and mostly accepted the intelligence community’s findings on election interference. They felt a big beautiful wall was not the best method of addressing immigration. They wanted to make sure the Iran deal was strictly enforced rather than tearing it up completely. Even CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo seemed to be backing away from his past views on torture and “radical Islam” during his hearings. The strange vice presidential debate, back in October, in which Mike Pence didn't feel it necessary to defend or even acknowledge Trump's views, turns out to have been the blueprint for how members of this administration will talk about the boss.

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Some have argued that Trump’s relatively standard-issue Republican Cabinet picks could moderate his more extreme views and rash impulses. This was actually the subtext of much of the hearings. “We can only hope,” the president listens to Mattis, Sen. John McCain suggested during the general’s hearing. At Haley’s hearing, she reassured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Trump's views on NATO and other international alliances:

I think that what the president-elect has put out there are his opinions as they stand now. What I do think is going to happen is that I look forward to communicating to him how I feel as I do, and I know that the rest of the National Security Council does as well. … As we continue to talk to him about alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic in the ways we are moving forward, I hope that we can get him to see it way we see it.

In other words, we can rein him in.

I wouldn’t be so sure. Yes, Trump is convincible. The fact that “Mad Dog” Mattis opposes torture seems to have impressed him, for now at least. But convincing Trump means gaining access to him, and even under normal circumstances that can be tricky. Barack Obama, for instance, was criticized during his second administration for relying heavily on the counsel of a small group of advisers who had been with him since his 2008 campaign, whereas Secretary of State John Kerry was memorably described by one White House official as floating through space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

Trump doesn’t exactly seem like someone who seeks out the widest variety of opinions and expertise before making a decision. During the campaign, he notably chose not to take State Department briefings before speaking with foreign leaders or the customary daily intelligence briefings available to the president-elect. Last week, the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported that so far, key national security decisions are being mostly handled by chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and chief of staff Reince Priebus. These three “comprise an informal council that sits atop the Trump transition team’s executive committee and has the final say on national security personnel appointments. No major decision can go forward without their sign-off,” Rogin writes. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also reportedly plays an influential role.

Even if that circle expands a bit now, these figures who, with the exception of Priebus, were loyal to Trump throughout the campaign, seem far more likely to exert influence over him and have access to him than his Cabinet. Flynn and Bannon, at least, are much closer to the views Trump espoused during the campaign. (Kushner is a bit of a cipher at this point, but if he was as key as some think to getting Trump elected, he cannot be viewed as a moderating force.)

The confirmation hearings allowed former Trump opponents in the Senate GOP to act like they were exercising oversight and reassure themselves that all that crazy stuff from the campaign was just talk, but no one should be reassured of anything just yet. The names in Trump's Cabinet will matter less than who he really listens to.

Jan. 23 2017 11:54 AM

Top Democrats Missed Women’s Marches to Attend Luxury Donor Retreat Thrown by Clinton Henchman

 

Saturday was probably the best day for progressives in the United States since the last time Barack Obama was elected. Roughly 3 million(!) people joined women's marches across the country in an unexpectedly enormous demonstration of enthusiasm (and, perhaps more crucially, organization). And yet a number of the most influential figures in Democratic politics—the people who are ostensibly responsible for translating this energy into political and electoral action—missed the marches completely because they were at a retreat for bajillionaire donors at something called the "Turnberry Isle" luxury resort near Miami.

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The gathering was hosted by David Brock, the onetime Clinton-hating right-wing quasi-journalist goon who switched sides and, during the latest election cycle, ran a number of pro-Hillary super PACs and advocacy groups. (Hat tip to the Observer for its colorfully accurate description of Brock as a "henchman.") Among the attendees at Brock's event, via a program helpfully snagged by the New Republic:

  • Five of the candidates running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, including Keith Ellison and Thomas Perez. (The one candidate who marched instead of attending the retreat was South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Slate contributor Pete Buttigieg. Attaboy, Mayor Pete!)
  • Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer, and the presidents of EMILY's List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Democracy Alliance. (Richards was at a retreat event on Friday but spoke at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday. EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock and NARAL president Ilyse Hogue attended the D.C. march as well.)*
  • "More than 120" major Democratic donors. (The event was also a fundraiser for Brock's organizations.)
  • James Carville
  • Rahm Emanuel
  • Jennifer Granholm
  • Former Joe Biden chief of staff Ron Klain
  • New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman
  • Keith Olbermann, for some reason
  • Harold Ford Jr., who was last seen in electoral politics losing a 2006 Senate race, has worked on Wall Street ever since, and who somehow nonetheless appeared on a panel called "Democratic Messaging That Can Work."

In case you were wondering, yes, the phrase "thought leader" did appear in the program.

The Washington Free Beacon, meanwhile, wrote that reporters who attended the event were only allowed into three of its events and were asked not to talk to any of the donors or speakers present.

Turnberry Isle's website notes that its rooms feature 47-inch flat-screen TVs and "spacious marble bathrooms" that are appointed with "luxury skin and hair care products."

*Correction, Jan. 23, 2017: This post originally misstated that Cecile Richards, EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock, and NARAL president Ilyse Hogue were not at the Women's March in Washington. It also misspelled Cecile Richards’ last name. And Pete Buttigieg is the current, not former, mayor of South Bend.

Jan. 23 2017 9:30 AM

Trump’s First Monday in Office: Dismantling Trade Agreements

President Trump is expected to take two steps to begin the upending of American trade policy very soon—perhaps as soon as Monday. One, an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Barack Obama championed, is expected to be issued Monday according to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The other, an executive order to begin the process of renegotiating NAFTA, may also come down as early as Monday per NBC:

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order as early as Monday stating his intention to renegotiate the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, a White House official told NBC News.
Eliminating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was crafted by former President Bill Clinton and enacted in 1994, was a frequent Trump campaign promise.
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As NBC writes, it is unclear what Trump specifically plans to tackle in the renegotiations. "Trump has said little about what improvements he wants, apart from halting the migration of U.S. factories and jobs to Mexico." NBC also reports that Trump plans to immediately begin negotiating trade agreements bilaterally with TPP signatories. He is expected to meet with union leaders on Monday as well.

Jan. 22 2017 6:56 PM

Looks Like Former Exxon CEO Tillerson Will Be Confirmed as Secretary of State

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham may have had their doubts but they are ready to vote in favor of former ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state. That, in short, means his confirmation is all but assured. “After careful consideration, and much discussion with Mr. Tillerson, we have decided to support his nomination to be Secretary of State,” McCain and Graham said in a statement. “Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is now the only Republican in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who appears to still have doubts about whether to vote in favor of Tillerson. The Republicans have a one-vote majority in the committee so Rubio’s vote will be key. But even if he votes against Tillerson, his confirmation vote can then move on to the full Senate. “It appears highly unlikely now that Tillerson will lose the three or more Republican votes that could have scuttled his nomination,” notes Politico.

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Speaking on ABC’s This Week, McCain said that while he still has questions about Tillerson, he thinks the right thing to do is vote in his favor. “Listen, this wasn't an easy call. But I also believe that when there's doubt the president, the incoming president, gets the benefit of the doubt, and that's the way I've treated every president that I've had the obligation to vote for or against as a member of the United States Senate,” McCain said.

Graham told CBS' Face the Nation that his initial concerns were eased when he met one-on-one with Tillerson. “In my office visit he said that when America doesn’t lead other people will and the vacuum is always filled by bad actors,” Graham said. “He said that we have to have a foreign policy that engages the world, we need to lead from the front.”

The Senate Foreign Relations committee is expected to vote on Tillerson’s nomination Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed confidence that all of Trump’s Cabinet nominees will be confirmed. “I believe we’ll be able to confirm the president’s entire Cabinet,” McConnell said on Fox News Sunday. “I’m optimistic.” Considering Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and Cabinet nominees just need a majority vote to obtain confirmation, it seems to be a pretty safe bet.

So far, the Senate has confirmed retired Gen. James Mattis to be secretary of defense and retired Gen. John Kelly as secretary of Homeland Security. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas is expected to be confirmed as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday.

Trump is set to meet with congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Monday night.

Jan. 22 2017 5:58 PM

British Police Taser Their Own Race Relations Adviser, Mistaking Him for Wanted Man

A 63-year-old man who helped found an organization to improve relations between the black community and the police in Bristol was tasered by police after he was mistaken for a wanted man. And it was all caught on video. Police are now investigating how it was that police got to the point of firing a Taser at Judah Adunbi outside his home on Jan. 14.

The video shot by a neighbor shows how Adunbi refused to identify himself to the police officers, who repeatedly asked him for his name. “I’ve done no wrong,” Adunbi can be heard saying in the recording. “Leave me alone.” Police then tried to prevent Adunbi from getting into his home and fire the Taser that hit the grandfather in the face. He quickly fell to the ground.

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“I felt that was it. Because of the way I fell back. The way I fell backward on the back of my head. I was just paralyzed. I thought that was it,” Adunbi said. “I thought they were taking my life.”

Adunbi described the humiliating experience of having been taken to the hospital with a Taser still dangling from his face. “They then removed most of the loose wires. They lifted me back on my feet. They tried to pull the one from my face off and realized they couldn’t,” he said.

At first, police charged Adunbi with assaulting an officer but the charges have since been dropped. Still, he said it was difficult for him to understand what actually happened. "It's a little distasteful in my mouth," Adunbi said. "To know that I'm one of the founder members of the Independent Advisory Group, which was created some years ago in order to improve better relationship between the Afro-Caribbean community and the constabulary, and to be treated like this it's difficult."

Jan. 22 2017 3:57 PM

It’s Official: Audit Was Just an Excuse; Trump Is Never Releasing Tax Returns

Just in case there were any doubts, President Donald Trump won’t be releasing his tax returns, even after the frequently cited audit is complete. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, during an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “We litigated this all through the election.”

Throughout the campaign, Trump had vowed to release his tax returns once an audit was complete despite the fact that the IRS had clearly said an audit doesn't prevent anyone from releasing his or her own returns. Here's video of Trump saying during a presidential debate that "as soon as the audit is finished it will be released."

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The president seemed to once again push this argument at his news conference earlier this month when he said, “I’m not releasing the tax returns because, as you know, they’re under audit.”

Now there seems to have been a change of heart.

Why won’t Trump release the returns? The American public just isn’t interested and showed as much by voting for Trump. “People didn’t care,” Conway added. “They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are—are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.”

Trump had made much the same point in his Jan. 11 news conference, saying that only reporters cared about the returns. Yet a Washington Post–ABC poll revealed this month that almost two-thirds of Americans want the documents to be made public. Although presidents aren’t required by law to release their returns, every president since Richard Nixon has done so voluntarily.

The issue came up because ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Conway about a petition posted on the White House website demanding the release of Trump’s tax returns. The petition was posted on Friday and has garnered more than 220,000 signatures. Petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures are supposed to get an official response from the White House.

One group that is none too happy with Trump’s decision? WikiLeaks, which described Trump’s “breach of promise” as “even more gratuitous than Clinton concealing her Goldman Sachs transcripts.” The group called on someone to leak the documents so they can see the light of day.

Jan. 22 2017 2:01 PM

Trump Response to Protests: From Defiant to Conciliatory in 96 Minutes

It seems President Donald Trump was having a bit of trouble deciding how he felt about the global protests against his new administration that took place around the world on Saturday. First he sarcastically dismissed them as insignificant, and later defended their rights to protest. The first reaction came via a tweet that was posted at 7:47 a.m. EST: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

But 96 minutes later, Trump seemed to have a change of hurt and posted a tweet with a very different tone at 9:23 a.m. EST: “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”

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The dueling tweets suggest the president may still be operating his Twitter account as a stream-of-consciousness outlet to speak his mind even after he was sworn-in as commander-in-chief. But senior adviser Kellyanne Conway also struck a conciliatory tone, saying Trump would be willing to talk directly with those who organized the women’s march “but none of them has reached out to us” so far. “Folks who are actually open to constructive conversation and solutions, of course we’re open to that,” Conway told Bloomberg News. “He said from the beginning he’d be the president of all Americans.”

Trump and his administration spent a significant portion of his first full day in office complaining the media had maliciously underestimated the number of people who attended his inauguration.

Jan. 22 2017 12:41 PM

Kellyanne Conway: Trump Spokesman Didn’t Lie, He Gave “Alternative Facts”

Now they tell us. Turns out that President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t lie, it just has different versions of the truth. Kellyanne Conway, the omnipresent senior aide to the president, said Sunday that the White House press secretary wasn’t lying when he lied about crowd numbers at the inauguration, he was merely presenting “alternative facts.” Even though Sean Spicer said something that was evidently false by claiming Trump enjoyed “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period,” that is not a lie.

The phrase that will go down in history because with two simple words, Conway perfectly illustrated how the Trump administration has a tortured relationship with the truth. 

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