Montana Democratic Candidate Affirms Support For Legalizing Marijuana

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Rob Quist, the Montana folk singer turned Democratic congressional candidate winning over voters in traditionally GOP areas, affirmed his support for legalizing recreational marijuana, one of several policy differences that emerged during a debate held Saturday evening.

Quist’s progressive platform, which includes support for a single-payer health care system, has helped to bring national attention to a special election for Montana’s only House seat, recently vacated by President Donald Trump’s interior secretary pick, Ryan Zinke.

“To me, the war on drugs has been an abject failure,” Quist said Saturday, when asked if he supported legalizing both medicinal and recreational marijuana. “I think the majority of Montanans and Americans agree they would like to see the decriminalization go forward and not criminalize people for something that should not be criminal.”

Quist’s GOP opponent Greg Gianforte said he supported some access to medical marijuana but warned against legalization, comparing it to more addictive drugs.

The two candidates clashed over a wide range of issues in their only televised debate before the hotly contested May 25 special election.

Gianforte, a tech millionaire who moved to the state from New Jersey, defended his wealth, amid recent reports of possible financial ties to Russian companies that received sanctions from the U.S.

“This pejorative of a millionaire? Again, I’ve been clear: I’m in favor of prosperity. I’m an electrical engineer. Honestly, I think we have too many lawyers in Washington,” Gianforte said. “Maybe we need some more engineers. They’re trained to solve problems and we can actually do math, which is a desperately needed skill back there.”

When Quist brought up the issue of Gianforte’s investments, Gianforte dismissed any concerns about them.

“We have a broad range of investments. Anyone who invests in emerging markets around the world has investments in Russia,” he said. “This is a tiny portion of our portfolio.”

Quist and Gianforte also staked out clear positions on Trump’s executive order that could roll back national monuments, which conservationists say could endanger public lands, a major issue in Montana. Both candidates have promoted themselves as advocates for preserving public lands.

Quist warned that Trump’s order, which calls for a “review” of at least two dozen monuments, could lead to their privatization.

“People have worked on these monuments and some of these wilderness areas for years at a time, and they’re great economic boons for the areas that have them,” Quist said. “I really have deep concerns about this process, and I think the people of America are going to stand up against it.”

Gianforte defended the order, attempting to thread a thin needle between environmental protection and resource extraction. 

“What we’re asking for is local input from the people,” Gianforte said. “This review process allows local input to occur.”

On abortion and Planned Parenthood, Quist affirmed his pro-choice views and condemned “the assault on women’s reproductive rights.” While Gianforte said he supports defunding the organization, complaining that tax dollars are used to pay for abortion, the organization’s Title X federal funds actually go toward non-abortion women’s health services.

“I don’t believe that organization has been a particularly good steward of resources,” Gianforte said.

Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks compared himself and his opponents to cars, saying that Quist is similar to “a little half-ton pickup” and Gianforte a “luxury car.”

“It’s really smooth and comfortable getting down the road. But at the end of the day, it just wants to be parked with the other luxury cars down at the country club,” Wicks said, before adding that, if elected, he would be “the work truck.”

The Montana House race has attracted national attention, especially among Democrats hoping to make electoral gains amid a groundswell of anti-Trump activism.

Quist got a boost earlier this month, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it would spend money in the race. But he reportedly turned down a visit from Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, a source told HuffPost on Saturday. Quist has said he would welcome Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who previously announced that he would campaign with Quist as part of his efforts to expand the Democratic Party’s base. 

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Trump Still Thinks Obamacare Repeal Will Cover People 'Beautifully'

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The 101st day of Donald Trump’s presidency sounded an awful lot like the first, with Trump talking utter nonsense about health care.

In a series of tweets and during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Trump made the same basic promise he’s been making ever since he started running for president ― that his plan for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act would reduce both premiums and deductibles, while protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

This is not an accurate description of the American Health Care Act, the repeal bill House Republicans have been trying to pass since March.

That bill would definitely help some people ― in particular, younger, healthier and wealthier people who buy insurance on their own today and end up paying high prices because they get little or no financial assistance from the Affordable Care Act.

But the proposal would cause real hardship for many millions of Americans ― whether by raising their premiums or deductibles or both, or depriving them of coverage altogether. And it’d be the poor and the sick struggling the most, even as the wealthiest Americans walked away with a sizable tax break.

Whether Trump understands all of this is an open question. During the “Face the Nation” interview, host John Dickerson kept pressing Trump to explain how the health care law could do all of these things ― and Trump, in response, kept modifying his answers.

But Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican making false promises about what the party’s proposal would do. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have made similar comments in the past few days ― Pence during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Ryan during his weekly press conference.

The timing is not coincidental. Pence and Ryan are working hard with their allies to round up votes for the AHCA in the House. Right now the challenge is winning over less conservative Republicans who are anxious about what the AHCA would mean for health insurance coverage ― and how that would play in their districts.

The promise to provide health insurance that is simultaneously less expensive and more comprehensive, all without excluding people who have serious medical problems, is designed to reassure these lawmakers.

But the promises belie what the Republican proposal would actually do.

GOP Bill Would Shift Costs Onto The Poor, Sick And Old

Republicans are calling for a series of dramatic changes to the so-called non-group insurance market ― that is, coverage for people buying insurance on their own, rather than through employers.

Specifically, the bill would shift financial assistance away from people with low incomes and high insurance costs, while giving insurers new freedom to vary prices by age, so that carriers could charge older customers more than five times what they charge younger customers. The bill would also allow insurers to offer skimpier coverage than the law permits today.

And thanks to the amendment that Republicans introduced last week, states could opt out of some of the law’s most important regulations ― a ban on charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions, and a requirement that all plans include a set of “essential” benefits including mental health, maternity care and prescription drugs.

“On net, the new bill has to be worse with this than even the original,” Linda Blumberg, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told HuffPost. “This doesn’t give new protections to [states that want to keep existing consumer protections], it gives new flexibility to the states that want to set the clock back to the pre-ACA days.”

Although the effect of all the changes to the individual market would vary from person to person and place to place, the net effect would be cheaper coverage for the young, healthy and wealthy, but more expensive coverage for the old, sick and poor ― to the point that many could not get decent coverage at all.

Republicans claim that other provisions of their bill, designed to reimburse insurers for expensive beneficiaries or to create separate programs for people with pre-existing conditions, would take care of people with serious medical problems.

“They say we don’t cover pre-existing conditions, we cover it beautifully,” Trump said on “Face the Nation.”

But as multiple analysts have pointed out, these programs have never provided adequate protection in the past, even though Republican leaders like Ryan keep claiming otherwise. 

GOP Bill Would Blow Away Medicaid Coverage For Millions

The changes to the individual market represent just one part of what the American Health Care Act would do. The proposal would also cut Medicaid by a whopping $839 billion over 10 years.  

The amendments that supposedly make the proposal so much more appealing don’t do a thing about this. And it’s this cut that would have the single biggest effect on insurance coverage ― with the number of people getting Medicaid coverage falling by 14 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That Medicaid cut alone would probably represent the single biggest rollback of a public benefit in American history ― and cause widespread hardship to the millions of people who depend on it for everything from opioid treatment to cancer care.  

The vast majority of Americans oppose these proposals, polls now show consistently. Those numbers ― and the backlash Republicans have faced in town hall meetings ― undoubtedly explain why the American Health Care Act hasn’t passed the House yet.

But Republican leaders haven’t given up trying ― and, based on their recent comments, they haven’t given up distorting the truth about their plans, either.

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Source: Huff Politics

Why Donald Trump's Second 100 Days Will Be Even Worse For LGBTQ Equality

When I wrote a piece a few days after the election, “The Mike Pence (Donald Trump) Assault On LGBTQ Equality Is Already Underway,” I hoped against all hope that something might change to alter what was already happening during the Trump transition.

But in fact, much of what I reported has materialized in the first 100 days. And there’s reason to believe the second 100 days will be worse.

In the first 100 days Trump installed viciously anti-gay individuals in his cabinet  and throughout the government departments, all of whom were brought forth from the Mike Pence-run transition team, from Ben Carson and Roger Severino to Tom Price and Jeff Sessions. Trump and Sessions, the attorney general, already rescinded guidance on fighting discrimination against transgender students across the country, and had the Justice Department halt litigation against North Carolina regarding HB2 and the equally discriminatory law that replaced it. The Trump administration decided there was “no need” to move forward with the Census Bureau’s planned data collection on LGBT Americans, thereby keeping LGBTQ people invisible. 

Though Trump made a little bit of a spectacle of not rescinding President Obama’s executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors, his administration later quietly issued an order ending data collection among contractors about such discrimination – thus allowing for it. Similarly, the administration stopped collecting data on discrimination against elderly LGBTQ people. Trump removed Eric Fanning as Army Secretary, appointed by President Obama and the first openly gay Army secretary in history, and has now nominated an anti-LGBTQ Tennessee legislator, Mark Green, to the job ― a man who sponsored a bill allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people and who has called transgender people “evil.”

And perhaps most consequentially, Trump placed on the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, a constitutional originalist in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia ― by his own description ― and someone whose idea of “religious liberty” is a direct threat to LGBTQ rights. 

But here’s why the next 100 days ― and after that ― could be far worse: Trump is continuing to plummet in approval ratings and he needs his base to back him ― and to back the GOP ― more than ever if he has any hopes of re-election and of keeping Congress in the hands of the GOP in 2018 and beyond. He just barely made it in 2016, and any softening of any part of his base will spell doom. The anti-LGBTQ religious right turned out for Trump in numbers as great or bigger than every previous recent Republican presidential. 

Christian right activists are already demanding much more. They were hoping a religious liberty executive order ― which would allow for widespread discrimination against LGBT people ― would have been issued already, and were disappointed when the Trump administration early on said a leaked draft of it wasn’t coming soon.

But Trump transition official Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, told me in February it was indeed coming, and was being fine-tuned to withstand a legal challenge. Last week USA Today reported that a group of 51 GOP legislators in the House sent a letter to the White House asking for the order to be signed:

 “[We] request that you sign the draft executive order on religious liberty, as reported by numerous outlets on February 2, 2017, in order to protect millions of Americans whose religious freedom has been attacked or threatened over the last eight years.” 

These are anti-LGBTQ legislators who backed Trump and who represent the armies of the Christian right. They’re pressuring him to move ahead with the anti-LGBTQ agenda he promised. Though the media downplayed it, Trump courted these people at events and through their media during the campaign, promising everything from “protecting” religious liberty to getting the Obergefell marriage equality ruling overturned. 

Again, if Trump has illusions of winning re-election, and helping the GOP in Congress, he knows he must deliver to his base, and won’t be able to lose any of it. If you thought the GOP was done with the issue of marriage equality, for example, you need only to look at House member Randy Weber of Texas, who last week wept as he asked God to forgive the U.S. for making marriage legal for gays and lesbians ― at an event attended by the GOP House leadership (including Paul Ryan), which didn’t challenge him.

The Christian right isn’t satisfied with what they see as the crumbs Trump has given them in the first 100 days. They’re demanding much, much more, and Trump, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both of whom courted the Christian right and believed they needed evangelical voters for re-election, will feel compelled to deliver. (And one could argue that Reagan, and to a lesser extent Bush, didn’t need that religious right base for re-election as much as Trump desperately does.)

That’s why the next 100 days and beyond are even more treacherous, and why we’ll have to pay great attention and fight back hard. 

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Rob Quist Turned Down A Visit From DNC Chair Tom Perez

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Rob Quist, the folk music star-turned-Democratic House candidate in Montana’s special election, declined an offer for the Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez to campaign for him in the state, an inside source says.

The Quist campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The DNC declined to do so. 

The national Democratic Party has endured criticism from progressive activists for failing to provide support to Quist and other long-shot special election candidates. But some Democratic operatives argue that their involvement can nationalize a race in a way that is sometimes unhelpful to candidates running in Republican-leaning districts.

On its face, Quist’s decision to reject the DNC’s offer of in-person assistance affirms this theory. Montana has lately trended Republican in national elections, and a visible presence from the chair of Democratic Party could prove a liability among independents and Republican swing voters.

However, Quist has welcomed the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who the Montana Democrat backed in the 2016 presidential primary. Sanders announced this month that he would campaign for Quist some time before the May 25 special election.

It can’t hurt that Quist is running a populist campaign in the Sanders mold. He emphasizes his support for protecting Montana’s federally owned public lands and a single-payer health care system. In a not-so-subtle dig at GOP opponent Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire who moved to Montana from New Jersey, Quist ran an ad criticizing the disproportionate number of millionaires in Congress.

With less than a month to go, Quist needs all the help he can get. He announced a $1.3-million fundraising haul earlier this month, but a new poll shows him trailing Gianforte by 15 points.

Still, the contrast in Quist’s apparent attitudes toward the DNC and Sanders, respectively, reflects the delicate balance the Democratic Party is striking as it seeks to revive its electoral prospects. 

Sanders, who has caucused with Democrats for decades and is a member of Senate Democratic leadership, officially remains an independent. Despite that distinction ― or perhaps because of it ― the senator is the most popular elected official in the country, according to a recent Harvard-Harris poll.

That has effectively made Sanders’ stamp of approval one of the most coveted endorsements in the Democratic Party. Like Quist, Democrat James Thompson, who held the Republican to an unexpectedly tight margin in the special election for Kansas’ deep-red 4th district this month, also sought and received Sanders’ blessing.

The party clearly recognized this reality when Perez teamed up with Sanders for the cross-country “Stand Up, Fight Back” tour last week. 

Not all candidates view Sanders as an asset, of course. Jon Ossoff, the Democrat running to fill an open House seat in the affluent and heavily Republican Georgia’s 6th district, has not asked for Sanders’ blessing, the senator told HuffPost. (Sanders nonetheless expressed his hope that Ossoff would win the June 20 runoff.)

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In NYC, Birthplace Of Climate March, A Reminder Of Who Suffers Most From Pollution

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QUEENS, N.Y. ― Jerome Nathaniel, 27, looks small standing in front of Ravenswood Generating Station, its four smokestacks looming like colossal candy canes over the power plant’s gated bramble of pipes and machinery. But his protest chant, soundtracked by a big speaker blasting Public Enemy’s anthem “Fight The Power,” rings loud.

“This is what democracy looks like,” he shouted as protesters, marching in New York City’s only official climate march on Saturday afternoon, streamed past the power plant.

The People’s Climate March began in 2014 as a massive protest in Manhattan. But this year, with environmental regulations under assault from a new president who dismissed climate change as a hoax, organizers encouraged as many people as possible to join thousands for a mass march in Washington, D.C.

Knowing not everyone could make the trip, Nathaniel, a community organizer in Queens for nonprofit food pantry City Harvest, assembled a sister march through New York City’s biggest and most diverse borough. The march began outside a public housing development in Queens’ Woodside neighborhood and snaked through the borough’s otherwise quiet residential streets, stopping off at four different public housing projects.

“This is bigger than one block, two blocks, one NYCHA development or four NYCHA developments,” Nathaniel told HuffPost, using the acronym for the New York City Housing Authority. 
The last stop, the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement, served as a microcosmic example of the larger environmental problem about which Nathaniel hoped to raise awareness: that low-income people and communities of color often suffer the worst effects of the greenhouse gas pollution warming the planet and rapidly changing the climate. The housing project sits sandwiched between the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, where a steady stream of vehicles spew exhaust all day, and the one of the dirtiest power plants in New York State.

Ravenswood produces about 2.3 million metric tons of emissions each year, according to figures the Queens Tribune cited. That’s equivalent to about 500,000 cars. Unlike many plants that run on cleaner-burning natural gas alone, the power station burns 3,264,000 gallons of fuel oil per year. Under a law passed in 2015, the plant has until 2020 to switch over to a cleaner fuel. But lawmakers have recently stepped up efforts to probe emissions from the plant, citing health problems for people who live nearby. 

“For decades, power plants in our communities here in western Queens have strongly contributed to increased asthma rates and increases in hospitalizations and ER visits that exceed the average in Queens,” said Costa Constantinides, a Democrat who represents the area on the city council, in December. “Our city has made great progress on ending the use of dirty fuel oil in buildings. Now more than ever, these plants must become better neighbors and stop the practice.”

The march wasn’t locals only. Protesters came from around the city and surrounding suburbs. Tina Nannaroni, who lives in the Forest Hills area of Queens, said she got up at 5 a.m. to take a bus to Washington, D.C., only to learn her ride had been mysteriously canceled. 

“In 1965, they sabotaged the anti-Vietnam marches by canceling the buses,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s what happened, or if it’s just incompetence.” 

Evelyn Fenick and Stephen Judd took the train in from Connecticut to march with matching signs that read “Just Cuz The Climate Killed The T. Rex Doesn’t Mean Rex T. Gets To Kill The Climate,” a reference to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who previously served as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. 

“It blew up,” Nathaniel said. “This is urgent, it’s important for a lot of people, you can no longer work in silos. It’s all community, it’s all climate justice.”  

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Texas Cop Accused Of Staging His Own Death, May Be In Mexico

A Texas police officer believed to have committed suicide earlier this week is now accused of staging his death and fleeing to Mexico, authorities said in a press release.

The Austin Police Department reported late Friday that one of its own, 29-year-old Coleman Martin, faces a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report.

The fiasco started Tuesday, when Coleman’s wife, Jaclyn Williams, called the department to report that he was in “emotional distress” and might make an attempt on his own life, according to the New York Daily News. Coleman reportedly left the house at about 10 a.m., saying that he needed to “clear his head” ― but 15 minutes later she received a text with a suicide note, detailing Coleman’s plans to drown himself in a lake near the border of Mexico.

Police noted that he withdrew $300 from the couple’s joint bank account in the morning and purchased a rope, a raft and a few cement blocks, according to ABC News. Coleman’s information was entered into state and national databases for authorities to be on the lookout.

On Wednesday, authorities at the Amistad National Recreation Area ― just a few miles from the border ― found Coleman’s vehicle, the note, and the raft ― they even found markings on the side of the raft indicating that Coleman had pushed one of the cement bricks off the side.

But now they believe it’s all an elaborate ruse.

Investigators said Friday that they’d interviewed another woman Coleman was in contact with, who revealed evidence that he never planned to hurt himself. In fact, Coleman sent her an email after sending his wife the suicide note. The IP address was traced to Mexico, Patch reports.

It’s unclear why he allegedly staged his death in the first place. The investigation is ongoing.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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Jesus, It's Only Been 100 Days

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Donald Trump said the presidency has been “more work than in my previous life — I thought it would be easier,” which is a sentiment typically expressed by newly made Mafia capos or teenaged parents. John Kasich said we need to “eradicate” North Korea’s leadership but refused to say anything more on the matter, presumably because he needed to go slather mud on his face, bite a combat knife with his teeth and slowly submerge himself into a lagoon near the DMZ. And Milo Yiannopoulos is starting an “ugly for-profit troll circus,” though considering the New York Times sent out a push notification today advertising an essay by a climate change denier, we’re pretty sure Milo’s late to the party. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Friday, April 28th, 2017:

CAN FIRMLY KICKED – Sources close to the road say the can has relocated a modest distance. Matt Fuller: “Still lacking an agreement on an omnibus spending deal to keep the government open, Congress passed a one-week funding measure on Friday so that Republicans and Democrats could continue negotiations…. Republicans were also hoping that passing an omnibus deal this week would allow President Donald Trump to tout the agreement as an accomplishment in his first 100 days, even if there are hardly any wins in the deal for Republicans. The House easily passed the bill by a vote of 382-30, and then the Senate passed it by voice vote later Friday afternoon. Now the stopgap bill moves to Trump’s desk for his signature before midnight to avoid a government shutdown. With the extra time gained and barring any unexpected hiccups, lawmakers sound confident they can come to an agreement next week on legislation that will fund the government until October.” [HuffPost]

TRUMP MARKS APPROACHING 100-DAY MARK BY NOT CHANGING A SINGLE THING – Then again, if you’re going to behave in a wildly unpresidential manner, you might as well do so in a room full of overly enthused gun nuts that you voluntarily chose to enter. Amanda Terkel: “President Donald Trump warned attendees at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention on Friday that they probably won’t like the Democrats running for president in 2020. He used a derogatory nickname to specifically call out Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). ‘I have a feeling that in the next election, you’re going to be swamped with candidates, but you’re not going to be wasting your time,’ said Trump, the first sitting president to address the NRA’s convention since Ronald Reagan. ‘You’ll have plenty of those Democrats coming over and you’re going to say, ‘No, sir. No, thank you. No, ma’am.’ Perhaps “ma’am.” It may be Pocahontas, remember that. And she is not big for the NRA, that I can tell you. But you came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.’ The crowd booed when he mentioned Warren.” [HuffPost]

Our data team took a look at Trump’s first 100 days. And HuffPost’s J.M. Rieger made a video  of what you see when you close your eyes at night in the Trump era.

At least we know Trump is capable of writing down his name. “On Day 89 of his presidency, Donald Trump set down his felt-tipped pen and did what he’s done most and best so far in his new job: held up a piece of paper he had just signed for news cameras to record for posterity. More than four dozen times since taking office, Trump has invited the media he regularly attacks to show off his distinctive cursive on a presidential document ―  a document that, the vast majority of the time, has been completely unnecessary to accomplish the stated goal. Previous presidents have signed executive orders and memoranda. None appeared to be compelled to hold them up and show off their penmanship.” [HuffPost’s S.V. Date]

REPUBLICANS TRYING TO KEEP COAL COMPANIES FROM PAYING HEALTH CLAIMS – Hey, it looks like the GOP is finally down with government-sponsored health care! Laura Barrón-López: “Under a new measure being floated in the House, companies like Consol Energy would be able to shift their obligations to cover the health care costs of retired coal miners on to the federal government, which already pays for other retirees’ coverage. The measure, pushed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), could jeopardize efforts to finalize a separate provision that would permanently fund health benefits for retired United Mine Workers. Those benefits, which pertain only to mine workers who worked for now-bankrupt companies, are set to expire in a matter of days. There remains a dispute over how to pay for a permanent fix. But the Murphy text, lawmakers warn, could complicate those already difficult negotiations as Congress tries to keep the government funded this week.” [HuffPost]

GORKA ON THE WAY OUT: REPORT Just some news about that crypto-fascist who, you know, has been employed by the White House. Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng: “The Trump administration is actively exploring options to remove controversial national security aide Sebastian Gorka from the White House and place him at another federal agency, multiple sources tell The Daily Beast. Two senior administration officials familiar with the situation say it is exploring a new role for Gorka elsewhere in the administration. Another said he has been entirely excluded from day-to-day policy-making at the National Security Council in the meantime. Gorka’s looming departure from the White House, which one of the sources described as imminent, comes amid mounting controversy over his involvement with a far-right Hungarian group notorious for its collaboration with the Nazi regime during the second world war.” [Daily Beast]

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PRESIDENT REALIZES HE’S PRESIDENT – It’s a shame the “*freeze frame*” meme is kind of old now, because this whole article is one big version of it. Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland: “President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House. ‘I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,’ Trump told Reuters in an interview. ‘This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.’ … More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on Trump’s mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map. ‘Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,’ the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. ‘It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.’” [Reuters]

LEWANDOWSKI GRABBING WASHINGTON FIRMLY BY THE ARM – Kenneth Vogel and Josh Dawsey: “A firm co-founded by Donald Trump’s original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering not only policy and political advice, but also face time with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and senior members of their administration, according to documents and interviews. A document provided to an Eastern European politician by an international consulting firm that Lewandowski co-founded this year promises to arrange ‘meetings with well-established figures,’ including Trump, Pence, ‘key members of the U.S. Administration’ and outside Trump allies.”  [Politico]

BIPARTISAN GROUP WANTS TO TALK ABOUT WASHINGTON’S BEST ACRONYM: AUMF  Jennifer Bendery: “A bipartisan group of 46 lawmakers wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday, urging him to schedule a debate on Congress’ role in authorizing wars ― and on the need for President Donald Trump to get their approval before he takes any further military action overseas. ‘It’s long past time for Congress to take responsibility for the war against ISIS by finally holding a debate and vote on whether to authorize any future military action,’ said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a leading voice on the issue who signed Friday’s letter. ‘With his recent military strike against Syria, we are also declaring that President Trump must not undertake any new military operations without the approval of Congress,’ he said…. Today…Trump can use a 16-year-old war authorization to unilaterally take military action in Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East, if he can make the case that Islamic State or al Qaeda targets are there.” [HuffPost]

MEMBER OF CONGRESS DELIVERS 2017’S MOST INTENSE ‘NO HOMO’ – President Trump has had the effect of making us forget just how truly insane members of Congress can be. Curtis M. Wong: “A Texas congressman choked back tears at an event in Washington, D.C. this week as he begged God to forgive the U.S. for legalizing same-sex marriage. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) was one of 20 different members of Congress who spoke at the sixth annual ‘Washington ― A Man of Prayer’ event, held at the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, on Wednesday night. He opened his remarks with a politically charged slant on the Lord’s Prayer, before pleading with God to forgive the country for the ‘sins’ of marriage equality and abortion, Right Wing Watch reports.” [HuffPost]

YIKES, JOHN KASICH Philip Rucker: “In a discussion with reporters in Washington, Kasich evaluated the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and suggested that Trump devise a plan to swiftly eliminate North Korea’s leadership. ‘How do you deal with this? I think there might be a way, and that has to do with taking out the North Korean leadership,’ ‘Kasich said. He added, ‘I believe the best way to solve this problem is to eradicate the leadership. I’m talking about those who are closest to making the decisions that North Korea’s following now.’ Kasich stopped short of explicitly recommending that U.S. forces assassinate North Korea’s leaders, but what he described would be a military and intelligence exercise.” [WaPo]

DEMINT DEFIRED – Okay, not yet, but still. Nancy Cook, Kenneth P. Vogel and Eliana Johnson: “The controversial president of The Heritage Foundation, former Sen. Jim DeMint, may soon be out of a job, following a dispute with board members about the direction of conservative think tank, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.” [Politico]

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE LEGISLATURE IS THE REDDIT OF LEGISLATURES – This is almost too on the nose. Bonnie Bacarisse: “Last November, voters in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region re-elected to the state house of representatives a man who appears to be one of the secret architects of the internet’s misogynistic ‘Manosphere.’ The homegrown son of a preacher, 31-year-old Robert Fisher is a Republican who represents New Hampshire’s Belknap County District 9…. An investigation into Fisher’s online aliases found a trail of posts linking the lawmaker to the username Pk_atheist, the creator of The Red Pill — an online Reddit community of nearly 200,000 subscribers that promotes itself as a ‘discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.’” [Daily Beast]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR – Here are a bunch of kittens.

MILO TO START FOR-PROFIT TROLL ENTERPRISE, THOUGH WE’RE PRETTY SURE THAT’S JUICERO – America’s foremost Alt-Right troll has a new business. Tina Nguyen: “Milo Inc., according to a press release, will be based in Miami, with a planned staff of 30. It will be in the business of what can be best described as corporatized trolling via live entertainment, with Yiannopoulos and his investors hosting events featuring right-wing talent. ‘The business of Madonna became touring,’ said Yiannopoulos in a phone interview, citing the artist’s deal with Live Nation. ‘I’m doing the same thing, but instead of signing up with Live Nation, I’m building one. I’m building it for libertarian and conservative comedians, writers, stand-up comics, intellectuals, you name it.’” [Vanity Fair]

COMFORT FOOD

– America’s 50 best independent bookstores.

– What it’s like to be the last player chosen in the NFL draft.

– Wow, this guy really wants to sell his ‘96 Suzuki Vitara.

TWITTERAMA

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Source: Huff Politics

Ethics Chief: Some Trump Nominees Push Back On Ethics Rules With 'Ferocity'

WASHINGTON ― Some of the Trump administration’s nominees have pushed back against the government’s ethics requirements with “a ferocity we’ve not previously seen,” Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, told a top White House lawyer in an email this week.

Shaub was responding to Reince Priebus, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, who, when asked on Fox News Wednesday why the White House has been slow to fill key positions, claimed that many nominees were “sitting and waiting for OGE.” 

“That’s not the case,” Shaub wrote in an email sent to Stefan Passantino, the White House deputy counsel, on the same day, and subsequently obtained by HuffPost.

In addition to alleging pushback from some nominees, Shaub shared an OGE document illustrating that in its first 100 days, the Trump administration has lagged far behind the Obama administration in terms of sending nominee reports to OGE. The document also showed that OGE is clearing the reports for the Trump administration at a faster rate than it did during the Obama administration, even though these reports are more complex.

Shaub asked Passantino to share the document with Priebus “on the chance he is just misinformed.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)

Before the White House can fill senior-level jobs, it must send nominees’ financial disclosure reports to OGE and the applicable agency to ensure completeness, and to identify and resolve potential conflicts of interest consistent with ethics laws.

By April 25, 2009, OGE had received 100 percent of the nominee reports it needed from the Obama administration, compared to 46 percent from the Trump administration by April 25, 2017, according to the OGE document.

There are about 92 nominee reports that OGE has received but not finished going through. The office said it received 75 percent of those reports within the past 30 days.

“When we geared up for the Obama transition, everybody knew that they needed to get that paperwork in and ready to go,” Virginia Canter, who served as White House associate counsel to former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, told HuffPost. But emails show that when OGE tried early on to make contact with the Trump transition team, aides were unresponsive.

On top of that, “we’ve been clearing nominees faster than we did in the last administration, which has been quite an accomplishment given how much more complex these nominees reports are,” Shaub wrote in his email on Wednesday.

Trump ― who has set the tone for his administration by refusing to divest his own business interests or release his complete tax returns ― has nominated billionaires with enormously complex holdings to key Cabinet positions. A nominee, particularly one with complicated holdings, will often go through multiple rounds of questioning before they are cleared by OGE.

The “primary factor” that determines how fast OGE can clear a nominee is the person’s “responsiveness,” Shaub wrote in his letter. 

If a nominee is reluctant to agree to the legally required steps to resolve a conflict of interest, that can hold up the process. An OGE spokesperson did not respond to a request for examples of how nominees may be pushing back. But there are a few public examples of nominees whose holdings could have caused problems with OGE. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has kept his stake in a shipping firm that has ties in China. And Trump’s pick for deputy secretary of commerce, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, withdrew after reportedly failing to unravel financial holdings to OGE’s satisfaction.

Shaub acknowledged that some nominees have been “very responsive.” And he told Passantino that OGE has “appreciated the help you’ve personally given us in pushing a few of the nominees who have been the slowest to respond to questions about their disclosures.”

But, he added, “the last thing we need for the morale of our nominee reviewers is to have the Chief of Staff to the President smearing them with false information.”

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Source: Huff Politics

Lawmakers Warn Saudi Ambassador Military Operation In Yemen Could Cause Famine

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WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan group of senators urged the Saudi ambassador to have his government avoid bombing a port in Yemen that serves as the main entry point for humanitarian aid in a country that is on the brink of famine.

In a letter sent to Ambassador Khalid bin Salman on Thursday, the nine lawmakers asked the Saudi government to refrain from bombing the port of Hodeidah and called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire around the port.

The majority of food, fuel and medical supplies enters Yemen through the Hodeidah port, the lawmakers wrote. If the port is closed, they warned, parts of the Hodeidah, Taiz, Sa’ada and Hajjah governorates could slip into famine within three months or less.

“In short, a military campaign against Hodeidah would make a horrible humanitarian situation in Yemen catastrophic,” lawmakers wrote.

The letter, signed by Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), comes amid reports that a Saudi-led coalition is preparing an offensive military operation to retake Hodeidah from Houthi rebel fighters who currently control the port city.

The Saudi-led coalition, allied with the nominal Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, launched an air war against the Houthis in Yemen in 2015. The bombing campaign dramatically worsened an already bleak humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Hodeidah is one of the last places through which food is entering the county, relief workers told HuffPost in February. The Saudi-led coalition wants to retake the port from the Houthis, but humanitarian aid workers warn that fighting in Hodeidah could choke off a key lifeline for the country. Food imports into Hodeidah have already declined amid rumors of a coalition offensive, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

Both sides accuse the other of blocking and diverting food aid in Yemen. But Jamie McGoldrick, a humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations, told HuffPost in February that he has not seen any “mass diversion” of humanitarian aid by the Houthis.

“A lot of our inability to bring goods in through Hodeidah has been blocked by the Saudi coalition,” McGoldrick said. “They control the shipping lines. They control what boats come in.”

The U.S. has provided military support for the Saudi bombing campaign ― but former President Barack Obama’s administration urged the coalition against attacking Hodeidah. The previous administration feared that fighting in the port city would shutter the access point for humanitarian aid and tip the country into a famine.

President Donald Trump’s administration, which views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, is considering reversing that policy and assisting the coalition in its effort to retake Hodeidah. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wrote in a memo in March that “limited support” for the coalition’s operations ― including the Hodeidah offensive ― would help fight a “common threat,” the Washington Post reported.

The Trump administration’s shift on Yemen puts it at odds with a small but growing contingent of lawmakers who are uncomfortable with the U.S. role in the Saudi-led intervention. Despite targeting assistance from the U.S., the coalition has bombed schools, hospitals and funerals, killing scores of civilians.

Murphy and Durbin, two of the signatories on Thursday’s letter, introduced legislation earlier this month with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would place stricter conditions on U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia.

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Source: Huff Politics

GOP Lawmakers Team Up With Anti-Islam Activist To Launch Israel Victory Caucus

WASHINGTON ― A pair of Republican lawmakers launched a caucus on Thursday aimed at ensuring the “victory of Israel in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” The legislators seek to replace peace talks with a policy that could be seen as greenlighting Israeli aggression towards Palestinians.

“Israel Victory Caucus” co-chairs Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) are partnering with Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has described Pipes as an “anti-Muslim activist.”

In various writings over the years, Pipes has encouraged law enforcement to profile Muslims; called for the banning of burqas and niqabs, coverings worn by some religious Muslim women; argued that Obama was “born and raised a Muslim,” and opposed the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, warning that “this initiative carries the unmistakable odor of Islamic triumphalism” and was lead by “unsavory Islamists.”

Pipes has also blogged for the Center for Security Policy, a group headed by fellow anti-Islam extremist Frank Gaffney, who was seated in the audience on Thursday.  

The presence of figures like Pipes and Gaffney on Capitol Hill highlights the increasing role that far-right figures playing in the policy world under President Donald Trump. The speakers on Thursday’s panel praised the president’s campaign promise to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but their recommendation to abandon efforts to reach a peace deal between the two parties goes far beyond any policy statement by the Trump administration.

DeSantis, Johnson, and Pipes made no mention of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, now reaching its 50th year. They described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the result of Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. (Palestinian leadership has vocalized acceptance of Israel’s right to exist at various times over the years and it is widely accepted that this type of recognition would be included in any two-state solution.) 

The definition of Israeli victory and how it should be achieved, according to the caucus, was vague. “Victory means imposing your will on your enemy so he no longer wants to continue to fight,” Pipes said. “What I want the U.S. government to do is say, ‘Israel, do what you need to do to win your war.’”

Victory means imposing your will on your enemy so he no longer wants to continue to fight.
Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum

This scenario, according to Pipes, would benefit the Palestinians, much in the way Germany benefited from the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. “They became a normal country. Well, Palestinians need to become a normal people and this is the way to do it,” he added.

When a pair of protesters from the anti-war group CodePink entered the room, Middle East Forum Director Gregg Roman ordered them out before they could speak. They squeezed in a few calls for justice for Palestinians as they were escorted out, but were partially drowned out by an audience member who yelled, “Terrorist supporters out!”

Throughout Thursday’s launch event, members of the Israel Victory Caucus invoked religious references to explain their policy in the region. DeSantis talked about the “shared Judeo-Christian” values between the U.S. and Israel. “I don’t know who man thinks we are to refute the deed that God put in place, but I can tell you I believe that Israel’s homeland is the land that God set aside for her,” Johnson said.

I don’t know who man thinks we are to refute the deed that God put in place, but I can tell you I believe that Israel’s homeland is the land that God set aside for her.
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio)

Neither lawmaker discussed the territorial boundaries they believe would constitute an Israeli victory ― but Johnson appears to view areas in the occupied Palestinian territories as part of the land God “set aside for Israel.” Recalling his first trip to Israel, Johnson said the hair on the back of his neck stood up when he zip lined over the Hebron Valley and realized he was traveling the same path as the biblical figures Abraham and Isaac.

Today Hebron is a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank with a significant population of Israeli settlers. It is a flashpoint for violence between the two parties and human rights groups have documented Israeli authorities’ failure to hold settlers responsible for attacks on Palestinians.

DeSantis and Johnson’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which run counter to decades of Republican support for negotiated peace for a two-state solution, do not appear to be attracting widespread support. Only three other House Republicans ― Reps. Keith Rothfus (Pa.), Alex Mooney (W.V.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.) ―  appeared at the launch event on Thursday. Asked for a full list of caucus members, a DeSantis spokeswoman said she could only confirm her boss and Johnson as co-chairs.

Dylan Williams, the vice president of government affairs at J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel group, warned against dismissing what he described as a “small fringe of the Republican party.”

“They are small, but increasingly influential ― and we saw their impact when all mention of two states was removed from the GOP platform last summer,” Williams said in a statement.

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Source: Huff Politics