THE BIG IDEA: It’s one thing to not “lecture” foreign governments who abuse human rights. It’s something else entirely to praise them for it. And that’s exactly what Donald Trump did last month when he called Rodrigo Duterte.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job (you’re doing) on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte at the start of their conversation, according to the document. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
“Thank you Mr. President,” replied Duterte. “This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”
Trump, who affectionately referred to Duterte as “Rodrigo” during their chat, then took an unsolicited dig at Barack Obama. “I … fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” the U.S. president said. “You are a good man … Keep up the good work. … You are doing an amazing job.”
With Breanne Deppisch
Duterte called Obama the “son of a whore” during a press conference last September. When he promised to curse out the then-president if he brought up his death squads, the White House canceled a bilateral sit-down that had been scheduled. When Obama later raised concerns about his human rights record, Duterte replied that he could “go to hell.” (He often uses unprintable profanity.)
-- The context of Trump’s comments matters: Duterte is an authoritarian thug. He has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. His abuses are well documented, including in reports by the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch.
Duterte has publicly compared his campaign to crack down on drugs to the Holocaust, saying he would like to "slaughter" millions of drug addicts just like Adolf Hitler “massacred” millions of Jewish people. "Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. ... I'd be happy to slaughter them," he told reporters last September. While Hitler (who actually killed closer to six million Jews) spoke of a “final solution,” Duterte says his campaign of mass killings is the only way to “finish the problem.”
He has said he would kill his own children if they ever took drugs.
One victim of Duterte’s crackdown was a 5-year-old girl, who was shot in the head last summer when armed men came to her house in search of her grandfather.
Eleven days before Trump phoned him, Duterte told a group of Filipino workers in the Middle East that if they lose their jobs because of the falling price of oil they can always come home to work for him. “If you lose your job, I’ll give you one: Kill all the drug addicts,” he said, according to the Philippine Star. “Help me kill addicts … Let’s kill addicts every day.”
A witness has testified that before Duterte became president, when he was a mayor of Davao City, he paid a squad of hit men to carry out summary executions that involved feeding a body to a crocodile, chopping up corpses and dumping slashed bodies into the sea.
Duterte has boasted to a group of Manila businessmen, on camera, about killing criminals in cold blood when he was mayor: “In Davao I used to do it personally, just to show the (cops) that if I can do it, why can’t you?”
He joked last year that the victim of a gang rape was “so beautiful” that he wishes he had “been first."
Yesterday he declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, as his security forces battled heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State.
-- Trump caught his own aides off guard during his phone call to Duterte by extending an open invitation for him to come visit the White House at any time, with no preconditions. “I will love to have you in the Oval Office,” Trump said, per the transcript. “Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know.”
-- A senior administration official, who confirmed that the quotes in the transcript produced by the Philippines government are accurate, said that the president was not condoning Duterte’s “individual tactics.” Rather, the official said, this was Trump’s “way of expressing solidarity over a common scourge.” But that’s not at all clear from the transcript, and it’s certainly not the impression any reasonable person on the other end of the line would have been left with.
-- Trying to advance our national interest, previous presidents of both parties have certainly looked the other way instead of confronting human rights abuses. But they felt they had no choice, especially during the Cold War, and none seemed to relish this dark side of realpolitik.
-- As part of his so-called “America First” agenda, Trump seems not just content but determined to have America abdicate its moral leadership in the world. It’s hard to claim American Exceptionalism when Trump praises Duterte this way. It’s hard to say we’re a shining city upon a hill when the American president consistently treats despotic strongmen with greater respect than democratically-elected allies.
-- The president’s sometimes over-the-top praise for totalitarian leaders has been covered extensively, from Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
-- Coincidentally, Duterte was meeting with Putin at the Kremlin yesterday around the time that the Post’s story about the transcript broke. He’s referred to the Russian president as his “favorite hero.” This is from the write-up by RT, the government-financed propaganda network: “Duterte, who called Russia a ‘reliable partner,’ also emphasized that Manila is ready to develop relations with Moscow and is looking forward to purchase Russian arms.” Putin also lavished him with praise.
-- Words matter: Autocrats have heard Trump loud and clear, and they’re emboldened. Abby Phillip and David Nakamura note that almost no attention was paid to the concerns that have made Saudi Arabia rank among the most repressive nations on Earth during the president’s visit this weekend. “Political protests in Saudi Arabia can be punishable by a death sentence and freedom of expression is severely limited. But Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross highlighted the absence of dissenters as a sign of the ‘genuinely good mood’ during Trump’s visit. ... And Sunday, a lone event on Trump’s schedule aimed at bolstering civil society in Saudi Arabia was scrapped.”
“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said during his Sunday speech in Riyadh, speaking to about 50 political leaders of Muslim nations, many of which are led by strongmen. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.”
-- The foreign policy establishment was collectively horrified by the transcript of the Trump-Duterte call.
From a Brookings scholar:
Trump's reported comments to Duterte on his murderous drug war are just horrifying. https://t.co/jtfZYdq4pv— Tamara Cofman Wittes (@tcwittes) May 23, 2017
A former Obama National Security Council spokesman:
Duterte will (understandably) see this as tacit US approval of extra judicial killing. https://t.co/RlrPEXQLiO— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) May 24, 2017
The U.S. attorney who Trump fired called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his views on how Duterte is prosecuting the drug war:
A Politico editor, who used to cover foreign policy, thought it was odd that Trump asked Duterte for advice about dealing with North Korea:
Perhaps the weirdest thing about this call is that Duterte knows nothing about North Korea and is basically irrelevant to that situation— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) May 23, 2017
“Morning Joe” thinks Trump’s call was really all about the Benjamins:
SOME THOUGHTS ON CHARACTER:
-- Good morning from APPLE VALLEY, Minn. Last night I spoke at Eastview High School, my alma mater. Here is a short excerpt from my remarks to students during a National Honor Society induction ceremony:
It is often said that we have a government of laws, not of men. And that’s true. But the checks and balances you’ve learned about in civics class only work in practice when individuals within each institution uphold their assigned role. Institutions are guardrails meant to keep us on the road, but who is driving the car matters an awful lot. Because if you want to plow through the guardrail, you can. The guardrails slow you down; they may not stop you. That’s why these institutions you hear so much about only work when there are individuals with character behind the wheel.
The Constitution has been tested before, and it’s worked. Our system has endured because courageous individuals exhibited character when the moment called for it. That’s why some of our darkest hours as Americans have also been some of our finest…
Character means putting country first. Character means being guided by your moral compass, not the fickle tide of public opinion. Character means caring more about the next generation than the next election.
Just because something is legal does not make it right. Just because you probably won’t get caught doesn’t make it prudent. Character means recognizing this.
The insincerity in our politics today breeds cynicism. This cynicism fuels mistrust. This mistrust corrodes our system of self-rule.
Character doesn’t always mean being courageous, but sometimes that’s what it requires. And it is a price worth paying.
No matter how old you are or what your job is, you can be a role model by exhibiting character. Everything starts small. But if you can’t get the small stuff right, you won’t be able to do the big stuff when the stakes are higher and the stage is bigger.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
TERROR IN THE U.K.:
-- Britain’s domestic security chief said today that it is “likely” the Manchester bomber who killed 22 people at a concert venue Monday night was not acting alone. Griff Witte, Karla Adam and Souad Mekhennet report: “Home Secretary Amber Rudd did not provide details on possible associates of the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi. But she told the BBC that security services — which had been aware of Abedi ‘up to a point’ before the bombing — were focusing on his visits to Libya, at least one of which was very recent. Rudd’s French counterpart, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb … [said] Abedi — whose parents emigrated from Libya — may have also gone to Syria and had ‘proven’ links with Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Manchester blast and called Abedi a ‘soldier.’ A series of arrests since the Monday night attack have included Abedi’s brother, police said.”
-- Prime Minister Theresa May raised the nation’s threat level to its highest rating, “critical,” last night – deploying the military to guard concerts, sports matches and other public events as she warned another attack “may be imminent.”
-- “In suburban Manchester, a search for what might have motivated the attacker,” by Rick Noack and Souad Mekhennet: “With its red brick buildings, large villas and green lawns, the Fallowfield area of southern Manchester might appear to be an unlikely location ... But on Tuesday, police forces launched at least three operations (here) in connection with the devastating attack four miles away in the north of Manchester. In other communities at the center of recent terrorism investigations — such as the Molenbeek district of Brussels and some Parisian suburbs — authorities have openly acknowledged problems with Islamist extremism. Poverty, crime and high unemployment in these areas have long played into the hands of radicals, they say. Manchester is different. Suburbs such as Fallowfield are mostly culturally or ethnically diverse and wealthy, with little to suggest that neighborhoods there have dealt with extremism for years. ... More recently, however, authorities have largely lost the ability to monitor terrorism suspects during their visits to mosques or community centers. Instead, groups of friends or acquaintances are meeting in apartments, making it nearly impossible for Britain’s stretched security services to monitor suspects, a dynamic that could explain the seemingly sudden emergence of groups of radicalized individuals."
-- U.K. and European intelligence officials are expressing concern over the fact that much of the information that emerged in the wake of the Manchester bombing has been sourced back to U.S. officials. Buzzfeed News reports: “The information first came in the hours after the attack — including a U.S. official saying that the leading theory was that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber — and culminated in [reports that] cited U.S. officials claiming to identify the suspect." Even U.S. officials were frustrated by the leak, saying the decision to release information about an ally’s investigation was "unprofessional."
-- “Pope Francis welcomes Trump at the Vatican despite past disagreements,” by Karen DeYoung, Philip Rucker and Anthony Faiola: “The two men met in the pope’s private study for nearly half an hour, joined only by an interpreter. The pontiff, in white papal dress and a pectoral cross on a chain around his neck, sat behind a small desk while Trump, in a dark suit and navy striped tie, took the single chair across from him as if interviewing for a job. After some initial awkwardness — Trump looked somewhat uneasy as he was kept waiting for a few seconds in the Saint Ambrose room before shaking hands with Francis, who was stone-faced at first — the atmosphere soon warmed.”
The pope offered Trump copies of his writings on the topics of family, the joy of the gospel and “care of our common home, the environment.” “Well, I’ll be reading them,” the president replied.
GET SMART FAST:
- The U.S. Army failed to properly keep track of more than $1 billion in weapons and equipment sent to Iraq, including hundreds of humvees, tens of thousands of rifles and other pieces of military equipment used in the highly volatile region. The newly-published government audit comes as Trump announced a decision to equip Kurdish forces in Syria with even more weapons – raising the question of whether the U.S. has learned from any of its previous mistakes in the area. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
- The much-anticipated CBO score for the health-care bill that the House passed will come out this afternoon. It will impact Senate deliberations. (Paige Cunningham has a preview in The Health 202.)
- The Justice Department filed a civil complaint against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that the car company installed emissions-masking software in more than 100,000 diesel vehicles, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The complaint exposes Fiat to up to $4.6 billion in fines and echoes DOJ's emissions suit against Volkswagen – which resulted in one of the costliest corporate criminal convictions ever. (Thomas Heath)
- The U.N. Security Council held an emergency strategy session on North Korea, inching closer to imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of the country’s recent missile tests. A statement from the council – which includes China – denounced the latest test as “flagrant and provocative defiance.” (Anne Gearan)
- A Taiwan court ruled in favor of gay marriage, a milestone decision that paves the way for the country to become the first in Asia to recognize same-sex unions. (Emily Rauhala)
- A U.S. appeals court revived a lawsuit challenging National Security Administration surveillance, allowing a complaint filed by “Wikimedia” to advance. At issue is an alleged NSA program called Upstream, which Wikimedia says collects communications on Americans as they travel in or out of the country through the Internet. (Rachel Weiner)
- Uber admitted to underpaying tens of thousands of New York City drivers over a three-year span, vowing to reimburse “every penny” to the shortchanged employees, including interest on the lost earnings. It’s the latest in a string of setbacks for the embattled ride-hailing company. (Faiz Siddiqui)
- An 18-year-old neo-Nazi who converted to Islam has been accused of killing his two roommates because they “disrespected” his new faith. Cops said they also found bomb-making equipment, explosive substances and neo-Nazi propaganda in his Florida apartment. (Amy B Wang)
- A lawsuit filed by black parents and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Mississippi is using a Civil War-era law to challenge the state’s “inequitable” schools, alleging that poor academic outcomes for some students are a direct result of Mississippi’s failure to live up to the terms of its re-admission to the Union in 1870. (Emma Brown)
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put an additional $2 million behind Jon Ossoff’s congressional campaign in Georgia, an11th-hour push that reemphasizes Democratic optimism in the June 20 runoff. (Dave Weigel)
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- The CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year, former agency director John Brennan testified on Tuesday, shedding new light on the origin of a criminal probe that now reaches into the White House. From Greg Miller: “In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Brennan said he became increasingly concerned that Trump associates were being manipulated by Russian intelligence services as part of a broader covert influence campaign that sought to … deliver the presidency to Trump.”
“It should be clear to everyone that Russia brazenly interfered in our 2016 presidential election process,” Brennan said, one of several lines that seemed aimed at the president. “I know what the Russians try to do. They try to suborn individuals and they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons, to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.”
Because Russia uses intermediaries and other measures to disguise its hand, “many times, [U.S. individuals] do not know that the individual they are interacting with is a Russian,” Brennan said.
He added that Russian agencies routinely seek to gather compromising information, or “kompromat,” to coerce treason from U.S. officials who “do not even realize they are on that path until it gets too late.”
Brennan testified yesterday that he confronted a senior member of the Russian government on the matter last August. In a phone conversation with the head of Russia’s security service, the FSB, the then-CIA director warned the meddling would backfire. Brennan said FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told him he would carry the message to Putin.
-- The Senate Intelligence Committee is issuing two new subpoenas for information from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's businesses while challenging his attorney’s refusal to comply with an existing subpoena for documents detailing his contacts with Russian officials. Karoun Demirjian reports: “‘A business does not have the right to take the Fifth,’ [ranking Democrat Mark Warner] told reporters as he and chairman Richard Burr pledged to ‘keep all options on the table.’ Burr and Warner announced they would subpoena documents from the two Flynn businesses they were aware of [and] are sending a letter to Flynn’s lawyers challenging them on ‘whether Flynn can take the Fifth as it relates to document production,’ and itemizing more specifically what documents they want Flynn to furnish. The moves stop short of seeking a citation of contempt against Flynn for failing to comply with the committee’s subpoena — for now. ‘We’ve taken actions that we feel are appropriate right now,’ Burr (R-N.C.) said. ‘If in fact there’s not a response, we’ll seek additional counsel on how to proceed … at the end of that option, there’s a contempt charge.’”
COATS DOES NOT DISPUTE WAPO BOMBSHELL:
-- The nation’s top intelligence official declined to comment on The Post’s report that Trump urged him to deny publicly the existence of any evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign. From Ellen Nakashima: “Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, noting that he is the president’s principal intelligence adviser, said, ‘I have always believed that . . . it’s not appropriate for me to comment publicly on any of that.’ He added, ‘So on this topic, as well as other topics, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize discussions with the president.’ Coats spoke at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.” Note that this is NOT a denial. If you missed it, Nakashima and Adam Entous reported on Monday night that Trump made the request of Coats after then-FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed in March that the bureau was investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Asked “hypothetically” by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether it would be appropriate for a president to make such a request, Coats replied, “Any political shaping of . . . intelligence would not be appropriate.” He said, “I have made my position clear on that to this administration, and I intend to maintain that position.”
Coats also indicated that he would cooperate with Mueller’s probe. Under questioning by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Coats said that if asked, he would provide details of his conversation with Trump to Mueller. He also said that if he is called before an investigative committee, such as the Senate Intelligence Committee, “I certainly will provide them with what I know and what I don’t know.”
THE PRESIDENT LAWYERS UP:
-- Trump has retained the services of longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and Russian interference. John Wagner and Ashley Parker report: “Kasowitz, who has known Trump for decades, has represented Trump in numerous cases, including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University. He is a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York. In recent days, Trump has been looking at pulling together a unit of lawyers outside the White House to guide him as he responds both to the ongoing federal probe and congressional investigations. One potential complication, however: Former senator Joseph Lieberman, among Trump’s leading candidates to head the FBI, is currently a senior counsel at his firm. “Were Lieberman officially chosen to run the FBI, and Kasowitz chosen to help with Trump’s legal advice, both men — the one leading the organization investigating possible Russian collusion and the one offering Trump legal counsel on that very issue — would hail from the same firm, a likely conflict of interest.”
MUELLER GETS HIS WAIVER:
-- Justice Department ethics experts have cleared newly-appointed special counsel Bob Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation. From Matt Zapotosky and Matea Gold: “Mueller, a former FBI director, had worked for the past three years in the Washington office of WilmerHale, a prominent law firm whose lawyers represent President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mueller resigned from the firm after Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed him last week to oversee the investigation of Russian meddling in the election. … Under a federal ethics regulation, government officials are barred from participating in matters involving their former employers for a year, unless they receive a waiver to do so. In addition, professional responsibility rules prohibit lawyers from representing a client and then later using information they have learned through that work against the client.”
-- Nugget: Mueller and his team are going to run their investigation out of the Patrick Henry Building on D Street N.W. We’re still unclear to what extent he will keep current FBI investigators and DOJ prosecutors on the case or replace them with his own team.
A NEW FRONT:
-- A member of the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton during last fall’s campaign. From Politico’s Ken Vogel: “I think there is potential there for finding a violation, but I don’t want to suggest that I have prejudged anything that could potentially come before me,” said FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee to the commission. “Her assertion comes as agency staff is already moving to investigate a related complaint filed in December by a pair of watchdog groups against Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The prospect of an escalating inquiry from the quasi-independent election watchdog agency could represent an intriguing new front in the battalion of investigations being pursued by various parts of the federal government. … One Republican campaign finance lawyer said that if it could be proven that Russia bought Facebook ads with the intent of boosting Trump, ‘it would be a serious DOJ criminal issue, and not an FEC administrative issue.’ Still, the lawyer added, ‘I would not want to be the test case with an unsympathetic client in the gray area of foreign money.’”
-- Senate Democrats accuse the White House of purposely ignoring hundreds of requests for information, including on the ongoing Russia investigation. From Ed O’Keefe: “At issue are the routine requests that members of Congress make to federal agencies in pursuit of information about policy changes or the individual concerns of constituents. Each federal agency is staffed with personnel responsible for fielding inquiries and following up with lawmakers. But Democratic senators (say) the administration has instructed federal agencies to ‘refuse requests for information from Democratic members of Congress’ … Aides have compiled roughly 200 written requests from Democratic senators that have gone unanswered since Trump took office in late January, including questions about the official role of Jared Kushner. … In the House, Democrats have made hundreds of similar requests.” This is a departure from tradition. The Obama and Bush 43 administrations responded to requests for information from the opposition.
-- “America First, Except When It Involves Russia," Walter Pincus writes on The Cipher Brief: “The infamous May 10 Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak provided another example of the odd way Trump avoids being critical of Moscow. … Meanwhile, Russia has continued its operations in Ukraine, including recognizing breakaway provinces; support for Assad and Iranian fighters in Syria; and attempts to manipulate elections in France and Germany.”
PROFILE IN COURAGE:
-- “Echoes of 1973: One longtime Republican lawmaker recalls the challenge of bucking his own party’s president,” by Paul Kane: “On a Saturday night in Lewiston, Maine, in the fall of 1973, a first-term Republican was seeking a moment of refuge from congressional duties. But during the intermission of the hockey game then-Rep. William Cohen was watching, a local reporter showed up to ask about the resignation of the U.S. attorney general. After realizing the news was true, Cohen also realized something else: that his life in Congress, and the nation’s history, were about to take a sharp turn. ‘I knew at that moment that this was going to be one of the most serious challenges I, and the nation, would ever face,’ Cohen recalled of Nixon’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre … Long before he became the secretary of defense, well before his 18 years in the Senate, Cohen was a 33-year-old freshman on the House Judiciary Committee grappling with the impeachment of then-President Nixon. Cohen believes that today’s members of Congress must dedicate themselves in similar fashion to the task of learning what happened in the 2016 election … ‘You have a higher duty,’ said Cohen, who one of just seven Republicans to cast votes supporting Nixon’s impeachment, said. ‘Just follow the facts.’”
THE NITTY GRITTY OF TRUMP'S BUDGET:
-- reporters actually took the time to read through the proposal that was released yesterday. Here are 10 of the most notable things that they found:
- The State Department would make deep cuts to long-term development aid, humanitarian food assistance, and peacekeeping missions around the world. It proposes eliminating all funding for climate-change programs, and includes reductions to health programs that fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and polio. (Carol Morello)
- Rural Americans would lose billions in federal assistance to support infrastructure and economic development in their communities. (Jose DelReal)
- Lower-income children would have their federal health benefits cut sharply, a shift which analysts say could reverse gains that have pushed uninsured rates for this vulnerable population below 5 percent. (Juliet Eilperin)
- Poor families would be penalized for having too many kids. Trump’s plan would cap the maximum monthly benefits for all families at the current threshold for a family of six – which effectively means additional family members would be indiscriminately booted from the program. (Caitlin Dewey)
- Planned Parenthood and all other abortion providers would be barred from receiving federal funds, which provide health-care services for millions of Americans. (Lindsey Bever)
- The Justice Department asked in its proposal to change federal law so cities could be forced to detain undocumented immigrants. (Matt Zapotosky)
- It would become harder to investigate banks that received taxpayer bailouts. The budget proposal would reduce by half the amount of funding for the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, established to monitor the $700 billion taxpayer bailout effort following the 2008 financial crisis. (Renae Merle)
- Funding for the nation’s rail system and long-distance Amtrak routes would be slashed. (Katherine Shaver and Lori Aratani)
- So much for federalism: D.C. would be barred from spending its own money to implement a new assisted suicide law. (Fenit Nirappil
- Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding – supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the Mid-Atlantic – would be eliminated. (Jenna Portnoy)
DEAD ON ARRIVAL:
-- While some fiscally conservative lawmakers, particularly in the House, found a lot to praise in Trump’s plan to balance the budget within 10 years, most Republicans flatly rejected the White House’s proposal as unserious. From Kelsey Snell, Damian Paletta and Mike DeBonis: “This is kind of the game,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.). “We know that the president’s budget won’t pass as proposed.” Cornyn said working with Democrats on spending is “the only way” to get anything done: “It would be good to get that done so we can get the Appropriations Committee to get to work.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said such spending talks would be inevitable. “We’ll have to negotiate the top line with Senate Democrats, we know that,” the Kentuckian told reporters Tuesday.
-- The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 State Department budget proposal irresponsibly cuts diplomacy and diplomatic security in a way that could cause “A LOT OF BENGHAZIS,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the State Department and foreign operations. He promised that Congress would reject the cuts. “If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk,” Graham told Josh Rogin. “A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”
WALL STREET SEES FUZZY MATH:
-- The news coverage of Trump’s budget across the financial press is overwhelmingly negative. Here is a taste of the headlines:
- Wall Street Journal: “Trump’s Balanced Budget Goal Rests on Questionable Assumptions. President says budget would erase the deficit in 10 years; some economists cry foul.”
- Bloomberg: “Trump's Path to a Balanced Budget Paved With Accounting Gimmicks. GOP budget experts cite fake cuts, overly rosy growth estimate. White House gives no details on how tax cuts will be paid for.”
- Financial Times: “Trump budget under attack over growth claims and accounting.”
- CNBC: “Trump's proposed budget is 'DOA,' says expert Jared Bernstein. ‘We shouldn't be constrained by pessimism — but we should be constrained by arithmetic,’ Bernstein said.”
-- “The Trump administration, determined to overhaul and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, is drafting plans to privatize some public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities,” Michael Laris reports. “In his proposed budget ... (the president) called for spending $200 billion over 10 years to ‘incentivize’ private, state and local spending on infrastructure. Trump advisers said that to entice state and local governments to sell some of their assets, the administration is considering paying them a bonus. The proceeds of the sales would then go to other infrastructure projects. Officials are crafting Trump’s initiative, and he has yet to decide which ideas will make the final cut. But two driving themes are clear: Government practices are stalling the nation’s progress; and private companies should fund, build and run more of the basic infrastructure of American life."
-- But, but, but: Senate Democrats say Trump’s budget actually cuts more in infrastructure spending than it adds. John Wagner explains: “An analysis released by the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, however, cites $206 billion in cuts to an array of existing infrastructure programs included in Trump’s budget document over the coming decade.”
-- Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) stepped down from his position as co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group, citing fallout over his role in brokering the compromise that allowed the politically-perilous health care bill to pass the House. Mike DeBonis reports: “MacArthur, a former insurance executive, announced his resignation [at] a luncheon meeting of the group, telling colleagues that some members ‘have different objectives and a different sense of governing than I do.' ‘You cannot lead people where they don’t want to go,’ MacArthur said [in an interview]. ‘What I foresaw was, the next time I want to negotiate with the Freedom Caucus on an issue or with any other group here, it was going to rankle some people, and I’m not looking to be a divisive figure.’”
-- Trey Gowdy is poised to assume the gavel of the House Oversight Committee after Jason Chaffetz leaves Congress next month. DeBonis reports: “Gowdy, who led the two-year House Benghazi probe, has secured near-unanimous support among members of the House Republican Steering Committee — the 36-member body that selects committee chairmen — and one key potential rival said Monday that he would not seek the Oversight gavel. 'I have not been making a play, and I’m not going to,' said Rep. Jim Jordan. 'Look, you guys know how this works: The establishment’s not going to put the anti-establishment guy in charge of the committee whose job it is to go after the establishment.'"
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN:
-- New York Times/ProPublica, “The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville,’” by Alec MacGillis: “When Americans were introduced last year to [Jared Kushner] … it was as the preternaturally poised, Harvard-educated scion of a real-estate empire whose glittering ambitions resembled [Trump’s] own. But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared ... in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. Tenants in more than a dozen Baltimore-area rental complexes complain about a property owner who they say leaves their homes in disrepair, humiliates late-paying renters and often sues them when they try to move out. Few of them know that their landlord is the president’s son-in-law.”
-- David Clarke, the controversial Milwaukee sheriff, said the revelations that he plagiarized his master's thesis could prevent him from getting a top job at DHS. CNN’s Nathan McDermott and Andrew Kaczynski report: “In an interview with radio host Joe Pags … Clarke responded to the report by saying ‘time will tell’ if he will still be welcome in the administration. ‘This is about weakening, like I said, the support that I give and that I have with [Trump] and Secretary Kelly, it's to weaken their resolve to hang in there with me,’ Clarke said. ‘Will it be successful? It might, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over that.’ He also pushed back on the allegations, calling the reporter who broke the story a 'hack.' 'They're saying certain words and phrases I should have put quotation marks around. OK, alright, fine,' he said. 'Maybe from a formatting standpoint the thesis isn't perfect, but the content is there.'"
-- Speaking of DHS, the wife of Trump’s super controversial anti-terror adviser Sebastian Gorka has been hired as an "adviser" to the department's chief of staff. The Hill’s John Bowden reports: "Katherine Gorka has criticized the DHS extensively in her work in the private sector, and, during the Obama administration, blasted the agency for teaching employees that Islam is a religion of peace. 'Not only is the war against the Islamist threat not being won, it is not even being fought,' she wrote at the time."
-- “Race dominates fraught jury selection in Bill Cosby sexual-assault trial,” by Manuel Roig-Franzia: “The delicate issue of race has percolated beneath the surface of the Cosby jury selection process, present but unspoken, ever since 100 citizens filed into a grand old downtown courthouse early Monday morning. It was impossible to miss that nearly half the black potential jurors settled into the same row together at the back of a large courtroom where the pool first met. Once individual questioning began, prosecutors used their first of seven possible strikes to block a black juror from being seated. But on Tuesday, the issue of race was catapulted to the center of the trial. Defense attorneys sharply accused the Montgomery County, Pa., District Attorney’s office of engaging in the ‘systematic exclusion of African Americans’ from the jury, an explosive charge that prosecutors vigorously disputed ... The late-afternoon showdown over race underscored one of the more complex challenges in the early stages of a case in which every detail, every nuance, every fact is under intense scrutiny."
-- “Google now knows when its users go to the store and buy stuff,” by Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg: “Google has begun using billions of credit-card transaction records to prove that its online ads are prompting people to make purchases – even when they happen offline in brick-and-mortar stores, the company said Tuesday. The advance allows Google to determine how many sales have been generated by digital ad campaigns, a goal that industry insiders have long described as ‘the holy grail’ of online advertising. But the announcement also renewed long-standing privacy complaints about how the company uses personal information. To power its multibillion-dollar advertising juggernaut, Google already analyzes users’ Web browsing, search history and geographic locations, using data from popular Google-owned apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play store. [Now], the credit-card data enables the tech giant to connect these digital trails to real-world purchase records in a far more extensive way than was possible before.”
THREE GOOD READS ON VIRGINIA POLITICS:
-- Republicans have a three-way race for lieutenant governor, but much of it is overshadowed by a two-way soap opera. Laura Vozzella reports: “For months, a pair of state senators competing for the nomination have waged a deeply personal war, one that will find its way to a courtroom just days before the June 13 primary. Sen. [Bryce Reeves] has accused Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of sending an email under a fake name to spread false rumors that he was having an affair. Subpoenaed Internet records link the emails to Vogel’s home IP address and to her husband’s cellphone. She has denied any responsibility and suggested that the family’s electronics had been hacked. Reeves filed a defamation lawsuit in Stafford County Circuit Court and has subpoenaed Vogel and her husband. The Vogels have filed a motion to quash the subpoenas … A hearing on that motion is scheduled for June 9.”
-- On the other side, three Democrats who have never held office before are vying for the LG nomination. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Attorney and former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax, who narrowly lost the 2013 Democratic primary for attorney general, leads in endorsements and campaign cash. Lobbyist and former Democratic operative Susan Platt launched a late campaign focused on resisting [Trump] and electing women to higher office. And Gene Rossi is running a largely self-financed underdog bid after retiring from a 27-year career as a federal prosecutor. The race, although a low-key affair so far, could make history. Fairfax would be the first African American to hold statewide office since Gov. [Douglas] Wilder in the early 1990s. Platt would be the first woman elected to one of the state’s top two offices.”
-- Call it The Trump Effect: A potentially record-setting number of women are running for the Virginia state House this year. Gregory S. Schneider shares one woman's story: “Kelly Fowler’s daughter was born on the day [Obama] was inaugurated in 2009, but this year’s birthday was a downer. Fowler and her daughter, Tessa Anne, had been enthusiastic [Clinton] supporters, and they couldn’t bear to see [Trump] sworn in on her big day. So Fowler took her little girl to the Women’s March in Washington to salvage their spirits. And in the process, she decided something about herself: She was going to run for office. Fowler is now seeking to become the Democratic candidate for her House of Delegates race … [joining] a wave of women candidates in this year’s elections for 100 House seats. With primary elections coming on June 13, 61 women are seeking a seat in the Virginia legislature - about 30 percent of the field. The overall crop of 206 candidates is far bigger than usual, and the number of women may be a record. The 50 women running as Democrats are the most for that party in at least a decade and probably ever.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Democrats had fun with the Trump budget:
This window is the only thing Trump's budget supports. pic.twitter.com/LJTS88VIo7— Ruben Gallego (@RepRubenGallego) May 23, 2017
The president's budget gets an F grade from rural America. North Dakotans deserve better & I'll fight to make sure they get it. pic.twitter.com/2P5GsTGaRx— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (@SenatorHeitkamp) May 23, 2017
From a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush adviser:
From the AFL-CIO president:
President Trump’s budget is the most significant betrayal yet of the working people he claims to support #TrumpBudget— Richard L. Trumka (@RichardTrumka) May 23, 2017
From the former secretary of Labor:
Never has a president's budget taken so much from so many needy Americans to line the pockets of Americans who are wealthier than ever.— Robert Reich (@RBReich) May 23, 2017
Dubai stood with Manchester:
-- Sean Hannity told viewers last night that he would stop talking about a conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, but “only because Rich’s family asked him to” – underscoring the fine line he is walking in attempt to stay in good graces with both his fan base and his bosses at Fox News. Callum Borchers reports: “Hannity has entertained the unsubstantiated notion that Rich was not killed in a robbery gone bad, as D.C. police claim, but rather was assassinated because he, not Russian operatives, provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The news division of Fox News lent credence to the theory in a report on its website last week, but the network retracted the story on Tuesday afternoon, saying that ‘the article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.’ That put Hannity at odds with his employer, and he sounded ready for conflict on his radio program shortly after the retraction. ‘I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com,’ he said on the air. ‘I retracted nothing.’”
-- Rich's parents pleaded with people to stop pushing the fake story. "We are asking you to please consider our feelings and words. There are people who are using our beloved Seth’s memory and legacy for their own political goals, and they are using your outrage to perpetuate our nightmare. We ask those purveying falsehoods to give us peace, and to give law enforcement the time and space to do the investigation they need to solve our son’s murder," Mary and Joel Rich wrote in an op-ed for The Post.
--Read David Weigel's full accounting of the Rich conspiracy theory, out this morning.
IMPORTANT! Mediamatters is trying to silence me, get me fired, pressure my advertising on radio & TV. Liberal Fascism. I need your help!!— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 23, 2017
I said publicly over and over to the Rich Family they are in my thoughts and prayers. I m trying to find the truth as the Mom Dad bro asked https://t.co/op11hVRlWW— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 23, 2017
In the uplifting department:
Lawmakers, they're just like us:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- As the world struggled to respond to the horror of the Manchester attack, many reverted to a widely-shared Mister Rogers quote advising people to look for the “helpers." But this time, another heartwarming essay also went viral – in which journalist Anthony Breznican remembered his once-in-a-lifetime encounter in Pittsburgh with everyone's favorite “neighbor” during a time of need after his grandfather had died. “Mr. Rogers was there for me then,” Breznican wrote, “So here’s this story … for anyone who needs him now.” (Read the whole thing here. It's touching.)
-- New York Times Magazine, “Is It Possible to Resist Deportation in Trump’s America?,” by Marcela Valdes: “Living under draconian state laws, Arizona activists honed an effective strategy for keeping undocumented immigrants in the country. Can the same tools still work today?”
-- New York Times Magazine, “Aleppo After the Fall,” by Robert F. Worth: “The man gazed around for a moment as if baffled, his eyes filling with tears. [Assad’s regime] had just recaptured the city after years of bombing and urban warfare … and this frail-looking man had survived at the war’s geographic center entirely alone, an urban Robinson Crusoe, living on stocks of dry food and whatever he could grow in his small inner courtyard. Now, as he stumbled through an alley full of twisted metal and rubble, he saw for the first time that the front lines, marked by a wall of sandbags, were barely 20 yards from his house. Three months later, [he sat with me] in his courtyard and described how he barricaded himself in when the fighting started. There was no water, no electric light … [and he] would go six months or more without seeing another human face. I asked Abu Sami why he never left. He gave the same answer that so many others gave me: because it was his house. And because day after day, year after year, he kept thinking, Surely this war is about to end.”
-- Buzzfeed News, “While You Were Watching Trump, The Democratic Party Changed,” by Ben Smith: “I know, it’s been a distracting month. So you’re forgiven if you missed the big development on the Democratic Party policy front: the call for ‘a large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment’ … [And] that plan came not from Bernie Sanders but from the Center for American Progress, the Clintonite Washington think tank John Podesta led. While the president has merely reduced his own party into a panicked mess, the Democrats’ trajectory seems to have moved subtly and decisively away from the center-left Clinton liberalism toward a politics whose planks make [Obama] look like Al Gore.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“DC Bar Will No Longer Serve ‘Pill Cosby’ Cocktail,” from the Washingtonian: “New DC pop-up bar/store Diet Starts Monday sparked outrage with a controversial cocktail: the ‘Pill Cosby,’ a tequila drink garnished with empty pill capsules. Bill Cosby, whom the cocktail was named after, is currently standing trial for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting one of possibly 60 women. ‘It lets people be a little more aware,’ co-founder Davin Gentry told Washingtonian of the drink, which was also designed to play into the bar/restaurant/retail shop’s diet theme. ‘We took it at first as a funny name.’ Twitter users disagreed, [responding with outrage and statistics on rape and sexual assault]. Within a few hours, Diet Starts Monday removed the drink and offered an apology over Twitter. ‘The allegations against Mister Cosby are serious and we in no way intended to make light of the pain surrounding his behavior,’” the owners said in a statement.
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“University Of Michigan Student Who Insists Wood Paneling Is Racist Gets It All Backwards,” from The Federalist: “Anna Wibbelman thinks wood paneling is sexist. And racist. And all-around bad. That’s why she wants it torn out of the Student Union Building at the University of Michigan. [Wibbelman reportedly] … told a student-government meeting this spring that ‘minority students felt marginalized by [the] quiet, imposing masculine paneling’ of the old union building. The former head of ‘Building a Better Michigan,’ a college organization for improving student life, she wants the paneling removed during a proposed $85 million renovation of the historic landmark on the Michigan campus. Not that she has anything against wood, exactly. But the history of wood is a history of oppression. Rich, white, privileged classes had wood paneling. Poor, minority, excluded classes had to make do with painted walls. Now, Wibbelman thinks, the sheer existence of wood makes students feel the weight of their old marginalization.”
Trump is in Rome: Donald and Melania will arrive at the Vatican before participating in an audience with Pope Francis. Trump will then meet with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and join Melania to tour the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. In the afternoon, Trump will meet with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy. Trump and Melania will then depart Rome en route to Brussels. Upon arriving, Trump will meet with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Pence is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: He will meet with small business owners before joining CMS Administrator Seema Verma and Rep. Garret Graves for a listening session to hear first-person stories about health care. The V.P. will then give a speech.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“You have to understand that I like Ted Cruz probably more than my colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.” -- Al Franken to USA Today
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- Possible morning showers followed by another mostly-cloudy afternoon. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “After the chance of a lingering early-morning shower, we get a break in the rain today, but not so much in the clouds. We’ll call it mostly cloudy, with highs reaching the mid-60s to near 70.”
-- The Nationals beat the Mariners 10-1.
-- The National Zoo’s giant female panda is finally in heat. From Dana Hedgpeth: “Mei Xiang, who is 18 years old and has birthed three cubs at the zoo, has been showing signs over the past few weeks of being in estrus. Instead of eating bamboo or climbing trees, the giant panda has been more restless and pacing around her enclosure. … Giant pandas have a yearly peak estrus period that runs between 24 and 72 hours. … That’s the only time her egg is released for a whole year. … Once scientists determine that she is in peak estrus, they’ll watch her behavior to see how she is acting toward Tian Tian, the zoo’s male panda. ‘If they are both acting interested in one another, the keepers will give them an opportunity to breed naturally,’ said Jen Zoon, a zoo spokeswoman. ‘Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have never bred naturally successfully, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.’ If they don’t show signs of interacting, Mei Xiang will be artificially inseminated.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
-- PBS "Frontline" aired a fascinating 55-minute documentary about Steve Bannon last night: "The inside story of Bannon's war — with radical Islam, Washington and White House rivals." (Watch the whole thing here.)
President Trump and Melania can't get that hand-holding thing down:
The Pope asks FLOTUS what she feeds The Donald:
Bono talks about what he thinks of Trump:
Seth Meyers checks in on "draining the swamp:"
Stephen Colbert stages a Trump Twitter-vention:
And says God thinks Trump is getting needy:
Kevin Spacey says "House of Cards" has better writers than Trump:
This isn't a flash flood, it's rocks pouring down a mountainside:
This homeless man ran toward the concert hall in Manchester to help victims: