THE BIG IDEA is by Matea Gold today. James will be back Monday.
President Trump is facing one of the clearest tests yet of his commitment to “drain the swamp,” a chant that echoed through his rallies in the final stretch of the 2016 race.
During the campaign, Trump railed against the influence of swamp-dwellers such as lobbyists, whom he accused of pulling the strings of his political rivals. He promised to curtail their influence and keep them from profiting from government.
But on Wednesday evening, the administration disclosed that it has granted ethics waivers to four former lobbyists now in the White House, allowing them to work on high-level policy issues of interest to their former clients. They are among 17 specific appointees who have been issued exemptions from conflict of interest rules in the first four months of the administration.
That’s the same number of ethics waivers that the Obama White House handed out — over eight years.
And there’s more to come: Before the week’s end, we should learn details about ethics waivers that have been given to former lobbyists and other appointees working across the federal government. The information — which the Office of Government Ethics requested from all federal agencies — will provide a window into how far the Trump administration is willing to bend on its promise to end business as usual in Washington.
Grizzled Beltway veterans may dismiss the lobbyist seepage as the inevitable result of the collision of campaign rhetoric with the practicalities of governing. Indeed, the Obama administration eventually found that its high-minded effort to keep lobbyists from serving in agencies they had recently lobbied had unintended consequences, such as a decrease in the number of people who would register as lobbyists.
But it’s worth remembering that “drain the swamp” is not just a hashtag for Trump. It was arguably one of the animating principles of his campaign, one that was embraced by his supporters with an enthusiasm that even surprised the then-candidate. (“I hated it,” Trump said at one point. “Somebody said, ‘Drain the swamp,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that is so hokey. That is so terrible.’”)
Since then, the call has been taken up by Republican candidates seeking to imbue themselves with the outsider credentials that helped propel Trump to victory.
"Tonight, Montanans are sending a wake-up call to the Washington, D.C., establishment," Greg Gianforte said last week when he won the state’s congressional special election, adding, “Montanans said, 'We're going to drain the swamp.' "
Despite its lasting power, the president often appears unconcerned about maintaining a clear principle behind the slogan. Since taking office, Trump and his aides have turned #draintheswamp into a cudgel against their political enemies and government bureaucrats.
Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
Meanwhile, Trump's decision to shrug off calls to divest his hotel and real-estate company have triggered a cascade of complaints related to the use of government resources to promote properties such as Mar-a-Lago, allegations that he is violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause and questions about how he is being used to promote Trump Organization projects abroad.
Still, there is some evidence that the administration is worried about Trump’s credibility on draining the swamp, at least when it comes to transparency.
Until last week, it was unclear that the Trump White House was going to follow its predecessors and publicly disclose information about the ethics waivers that have been granted. The administration was locked in an escalating standoff with the Office of Government Ethics, as Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, challenged the agency’s request for waiver details.
That raised the possibility that the administration would be handing out ethics waivers to lobbyists in secret for the course of Trump’s presidency.
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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
--The White House announced this morning that Trump will not move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the capital, Jerusalem, for the time being, Phil Rucker and Ann Gearan report, thus "reversing a campaign promise dear to some of his most conservative supporters. [Trump] signed a waiver to defer action on an embassy relocation mandated by Congress in 1995.... 'No one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance,” the White House said in a statement. 'President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.'"
--Friendly fire: An airstrike in the Philippines killed 11 of the country's own soldiers and injured seven others as the government struggled to take back the city of Marawi from Islamic State sympathizers. From the New York Times: "The deaths came more than a week after the military moved to capture an insurgent leader only to be surprised by heavily armed rebels who went on to seize much of the city, holding a Roman Catholic priest and several others hostage. Since then the government has been using airstrikes to try to drive out the rebels.... 'A group of our military army men were hit by our own airstrikes,' the defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, said in a text message to reporters.'The coordination was not properly done so we hit our own people,' he added, calling the soldiers’ deaths a result of 'the fog of war.'"
GET SMART FAST:
- Also in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte attacked Chelsea Clinton for her father’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, lashing out at the former first daughter after she criticized his recent joke about rape. Duterte responded, “When your father, the president of the United States, was screwing Lewinsky and the girls there in the White House, how did you feel? Did you slam your father?” (Vincent Bevins)
- Former NAACP president and outspoken progressive Ben Jealous officially launched his Maryland gubernatorial campaign on Wednesday — vowing to protect Obama’s legacy if elected, and share in a Bernie Sanders-inspired dream of fixing income inequality. (Ovetta Wiggins)
- A senior Interior Department official accused of sexually harassing six women who worked for or with him has retired — seeking to avoid discipline after investigators disclosed what it said was a “long pattern of inappropriate behavior” he showed toward female employees. (Lisa Rein)
- CNN fired Kathy Griffin as co-host of its annual New Year’s Eve program Wednesday, terminating its nearly 10-year contract with the comedian, after she posted photos holding a fake severed Trump head. (Variety)
- The n-word was spray-painted on LeBron James’s home in Los Angeles. The graffiti was discovered early Wednesday morning and then covered by property management. Because of the NBA Finals, James was not home at the time of the incident, which the LAPD is investigating as a possible hate crime. (Matt Bonesteel)
- The Obamas finally have a permanent home in D.C. After several months of renting a house in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood, the Obamas have bought the residence for $8.1 million. The price tag makes the former president’s home the second-most expensive in the neighborhood, behind Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos’s $23 million mansion. (Krissah Thompson, Kathy Orton and Emily Heil)
- A Swiss court has fined a man thousands of dollars for his Facebook “likes.” The defendant in the case had “liked” several third-party posts accusing an animal-rights activist of anti-Semitism, racism and fascism. When the man could not reasonably defend the factuality of the posts’ claims, he was fined 4,000 Swiss francs by the court. It's believed to be the first time a court interpreted a "like" as an explicit endorsement. (CNN)
- British radio stations have banned a song slamming Prime Minister Theresa May as a “liar” from their airwaves. The song is called “Liar Liar GE2017" and contains the lines, “She's a liar…. No, you can't trust her,” interspersed with sound bites of May. BBC radio argued that the song did not meet their editorial guidelines regarding political endorsements, particularly in light of the upcoming snap election. (Adam Taylor)
- New York City subway passengers held an impromptu graduation ceremony for a cap-and-gown-clad student this week, after an hours-long train delay caused him to miss his own commencement. One rider jumped up to play the “dean” — presenting him with a makeshift diploma — while another played graduation songs on his phone. (Samantha Schmidt)
THE LATEST ON THE RUSSIAN INVESTIGATION:
-- Congress is investigating whether Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia's ambassador to the United States last year during the presidential race. CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Jamie Gangel, Shimon Prokupecz and Marshall Cohen report: “Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others. … [Meanwhile], the FBI is looking into whether there was an additional private meeting at the Mayflower the same day, sources said. Neither Hill nor FBI investigators have yet concluded whether a private meeting took place — and acknowledge that it is possible any additional meeting was incidental.”
-- James Comey could testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee as soon as next week about his private conversations with Trump. Devlin Barrett reports: “Since his dismissal last month, Comey had been expected to testify at some point about his private interactions with the president, as well as the detailed memos he took describing the conversations. Before he could testify, however, Comey had to ensure that his appearance at a public hearing would not complicate the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller.… Public testimony by the former FBI director could mark another major development in the controversy engulfing the Trump administration about past contacts with Russian officials — and whether the president or White House officials took steps to try to squelch the investigation.” He is not expected to reveal any new details about the ongoing probe of Trump campaign officials.
Trump continued to insist in a tweet early this morning that the real story regarding Russia was the "unmasking" of names in intelligence reports.
The big story is the "unmasking and surveillance" of people that took place during the Obama Administration.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
This seems to be in sync with California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, who recused himself from the Russia probe even though he is the House Intelligence Committee's chairman because of communication with the White House on the issue. McClatchy tells us Nunes is pursuing his own probe related to the unmasking allegations: "On Wednesday, various news outlets reported that the intelligence committee had subpoenaed three former Obama administration officials to address Nunes’ allegations. The reports identified the three as former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan. But House Intelligence committee staff members would not confirm the reports, and one said whatever subpoenas might have been issued were not part of the committee’s Russia probe and had not been approved by the Democrats on the committee.
"'If the reports are accurate, subpoenas related to the ‘unmasking’ issue would have been sent by Chairman Nunes acting separately from the committee’s Russia investigation,' the senior aide wrote in an email. 'This action would have been taken without the minority’s agreement. Any prior requests for information would have been undertaken without the minority’s knowledge.'"
This does not sound like it will end well. For whom, we're not sure.
-- Also, from Politico, "Benghazi investigators set for rematch on Trump-Russia scandal," by Kyle Cheney and Austin Wright: "The last time Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings oversaw a politically explosive investigation, the two congressmen ripped into each other on national TV, as a grimacing Hillary Clinton looked on. [Now], with Washington in the grip of a new scandal over [Trump] and his team's possible ties to Russia, Gowdy and Cummings appear set for a reunion that would test a deeply divided Congress' ability to hold the White House to account. The Gowdy-Cummings relationship, forged over two years as the leaders of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, is as complicated as it will be critical. The two men have squabbled publicly, but when the cameras are off, both profess respect for each other and an ability to work together, however haltingly."
From a former Justice Department spokesman under Obama:
But that didn't stop Nunes from sending subpoenas to intel agencies yesterday. The (side) show must go on. https://t.co/Ht9pY5v6Wp— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) June 1, 2017
-- Meanwhile, the Trump administration is moving to return two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were shut down by the Obama administration in December as retaliation for Moscow’s alleged election hacking. Karen DeYoung and Adam Entous report: “[Obama] said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being ‘used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes’ and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian ‘intelligence operatives.’ Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze … on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg. Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate …
- “In Moscow on Wednesday, [a Kremlin aide] said Russia was ‘taking into account the difficult internal political situation for the current administration’ but retained the option to reciprocate for what he called the ‘expropriation’ of Russian property ‘if these steps are not somehow adjusted by the U.S. side …’”
- Meanwhile, senior Tillerson adviser R.C. Hammond said the two countries have “reached no agreements.” (The next senior-level meeting will be held in St. Petersburg later this month, he added.)
“Before making a final decision on allowing the Russians to reoccupy the compounds, the administration is examining possible restrictions on Russian activities there, including removing the diplomatic immunity the properties previously enjoyed. Without immunity, the facilities would be treated as any other buildings in the United States and would not be barred to entry by U.S. law enforcement...."
DECISION ON PARIS IS COMING (AND COMING, AND COMING):
Actually, Trump tried to relieve — or stoke? — the suspense by tweeting last night that he would announce his decision on the international climate accord at 3 p.m. today:
I will be announcing my decision on Paris Accord, Thursday at 3:00 P.M. The White House Rose Garden. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
-- It seems like it's no secret that Trump has decided to withdraw (though there was lots of speculation that he could change his mind at the last-minute) — potentially breaking ranks with more than 190 other nations who have pledged commitment to the accord. Philip Rucker, Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report: “Although officials warned that Trump’s thinking could shift before he announces his decision Thursday, a U.S. exit from the climate pact could have severe ramifications internationally. It could raise doubts about the commitment of the world’s largest economy to curbing global warming and make it more difficult to hold other nations to their environmental commitments.
“Although the White House signaled that Trump was likely to announce an exit, nothing was announced publicly. The president has a history of changing his mind at the last minute [and] all day, senior administration officials cautioned that Trump had not yet made a final decision on the climate pact.…”
“All day [Wednesday], senior administration officials cautioned that Trump had not yet made a final decision on the climate pact — and the president himself seemed eager to maintain the suspense. ‘You’re going to find out very soon,’ Trump told reporters … in response to questions during a brief Oval Office appearance with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Asked whether he had been hearing from CEOs trying to persuade him, Trump said, ‘I’m hearing from a lot of people, both ways.’”
-- Meanwhile, reports that Trump was expected to withdraw from the pact sparked both condemnation and "urgent pleas" from a number of U.S. business leaders:
- Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly told Trump earlier this week that pulling out of the deal was “wrong for business, the economy and the environment.” (New York Times)
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened Wednesday that he will step down from his role on two White House advisory councils if Trump decides to withdraw.
- And Mitt Romney, who was briefly considered to lead the State Department earlier this year, tweeted, “Affirmation of the #ParisAgreement is not only about the climate: It is also about America remaining the global leader.”
“A party that has fully joined the accord, as the United States has, cannot formally withdraw for three years after the agreement was entered into force in 2016 — and that is capped by an extra year-long waiting period,” our colleagues write. “Under those rules, Trump could not complete a U.S. exit from the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020 — the day after the next presidential election. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he tried to explain to Trump during their climate discussions last week that withdrawing from the pact was no simple task. ‘Not everything in international agreements is ‘fake news,’’ Juncker said … [adding], ‘This notion, ‘I am Trump, I am American, ‘America First’ and I’m going to get out of it’ — that won’t happen.’”
-- HOW TRUMP GOT BOXED IN ON THE CLIMATE PACT: "[Trump's] chief strategist and EPA administrator maneuvered for months to get the president to exit the Paris climate accord, shrewdly playing to his populist instincts and publicly pressing the narrative that the nearly 200-nation deal was effectively dead — boxing in the president on one of his highest-profile decisions to date.” Politico’s Andrew Restuccia and Josh Dawsey report: "Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt have sought to outsmart the administration's pro-Paris group of advisers, including Trump's daughter Ivanka, who were hoping the president could be swayed by a global swell of support for the deal from major corporations, U.S. allies, Al Gore and even the pope. But some of that pro-Paris sentiment wound up being surprisingly tepid.… Those who want Trump to remain also faced an insurmountable hurdle: The president has long believed, rightly or wrongly, that the U.S. is getting a raw deal under the accord, and it proved nearly impossible to change his mind.
“If he withdraws, Paris’ foes will have Pruitt and Bannon to thank. One Republican … [calls it the] ‘classic split’ and said conservative activists had flooded the White House in recent weeks, after seeing increasing chatter that Trump may stay in. This person said Bannon and Pruitt worked quietly to make sure Trump was hearing their side and touched base occasionally on political strategy to woo him. ‘You had the New Yorkers against it, and all the campaign loyalists for it,’ this person said, referring to the push to withdraw. ‘When the New Yorkers get involved, it gets complicated for Trump and everyone else around him.’”
Want more about how a possible U.S. withdrawal will affect international relations? Read our colleague Dino Grandoni over at The Energy 202.
LAWMAKERS FACE THEIR CONSTITUENTS:
-- “Do Republicans who criticize Trump face peril? Jeff Flake is about to find out,” by Ed O’Keefe: “Sen. Jeff Flake delivered a stark warning to business leaders eager to learn more about GOP plans to remake the health-care system: It’s really hard, and Republicans might not succeed. ‘There are some still saying that we’ll vote before the August break. I have a hard time believing that,’ he told about 150 members of the local Chamber of Commerce … Similarly, when a hospital employee asked about how to save the Medicaid program, Flake said, ‘We’re trying to find that balance, and we aren’t close yet, frankly.’ Flake isn’t afraid to buck [Trump] — or to defy the Republican orthodoxy in Washington that the agenda is proceeding apace. He did it last year, refusing to support Trump for president, and he’s doing it again now by publicly doubting that the GOP can revamp the nation’s health-care system.
“Few congressional Republicans go as far as Flake, fearful that pro-Trump forces could derail their reelection campaigns next year. And Flake is already paying his own price, drawing a conservative primary opponent and probably earning him the distinction as the GOP incumbent most vulnerable to an intraparty challenge. ‘If I wanted an easier path through the primary, then I would line up more with where the president is,’ he said. ‘But I think if you’re an elected official, you’ve got to do what you know what’s right.’”
DEJA VU, 2016:
-- “Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that she has no plans to run for office again, but she plans to remain involved in civic life, particularly helping the Democrats' efforts to regain control of the House in 2018.” LA Times’ Seema Mehta reports: “’I’m not going anywhere,’ Clinton said at the annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes. ‘I have a big stake in what happens in this country. I am very unbowed and unbroken about what happened because I don’t want it to happen to anybody else. I don't want it to happen to the values and the institutions I care about in America.
And Clinton lashed out at outside forces as the reason she lost the race to Trump, saying she was a "victim" of expectations, a hollowed-out Democratic National Committee and media bias (at least regarding her email server).
“[In a wide-ranging interview, the Democratic presidential nominee] said she woke up on election day expecting to win. Clinton told the gathering that she was responsible for every decision the campaign made, though she did not believe they caused her surprise loss. ‘I was the victim of a very broad assumption I was going to win,’ she said, adding that she always expected the race to be close.”
“The more than hour-long question-and-answer event marked the latest in a series of public appearances for Clinton in which she explicitly took on the actions of those around her and other external circumstances in explaining why she lost on Election Day, CNN’s MJ Lee reports. "‘I take responsibility for every decision I make -- but that's not why I lost,’ Clinton said."
“Perhaps Clinton's most fresh and savage criticism on Wednesday was directed at the [DNC]. She went as far as to say that when she became her party's presidential nominee, she inherited ‘nothing’ from the committee. ‘It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it -- the DNC -- to keep it going,’ [she said]. And while she repeated that it was a ‘mistake’ to use a private email server … she also said that plenty of others -- including the media -- were complicit in fanning the flames.” At another point in the conversation, she specifically called out the New York Times for its coverage of the story. They covered it “like it was Pearl Harbor,” she said.
HRC also took a jab at Trump:
People in covfefe houses shouldn't throw covfefe. https://t.co/M7oK5Z6qwF— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 1, 2017
Trump counter-punched, of course:
Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself, refuses to say she was a terrible candidate. Hits Facebook & even Dems & DNC.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2017
Reince was happy though:
-- Meanwhile, Joe Biden is slated to launch a new political action committee today – a move certain to raise speculation that the former vice president will run for president in 2020. John Wagner reports: “The new PAC, dubbed American Possibilities, is being set up to help elect candidates who, like Biden, still believe in a nation ‘of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,’ according to an email the Democrat plans to send to supporters. ‘That’s who we still are,’ Biden says in the email, in which he relays that the PAC will also support groups and causes that embody the same spirit of thinking big.” The announcement comes as Biden, 74, continues to publicly insist he has no plans to run for office in 2020 – though he notably paid a visit to New Hampshire last month.“When I got asked to speak, I knew it was going to cause speculation," Biden said, speaking at a benefit for the state’s Democratic party. "Guys, I'm not running.”
-- “Can the new social secretary make the Trump White House more ‘presidential’?” by Roxanne Roberts: “Before Rickie Niceta became White House social secretary, she had never met either Donald or Melania Trump. Never, in fact, even seen an episode of ‘The Apprentice.’ By her own admission, she’s not political and certainly not partisan. But like everyone else in America, she’d heard all the stories. And here’s what happened: When she sat down with the first lady, she decided within minutes that she wanted to work for her. And as she got to know the president, she says, she found him to be patriotic, loyal and gracious … So the past few months have been challenging and, well, kind of weird. Traditionally, the role of social secretary is the least controversial in the White House. But in an administration plagued by controversy, she has been criticized merely for accepting the job …
“The job of social secretary, which comes with a salary of $119,723 and the title of special assistant to the president, was hard at first. [And] the stream of negative press hasn’t helped, such as the stories about the Easter Egg Roll that questioned whether the White House could pull it together in time. In fact, the first lady discussed it in January, telling Niceta that she wanted to scale back to be ‘much more special by being smaller, and I want a lot of military.’ Niceta was working on the event when headlines like ‘Does the White House even know there’s an Easter Egg Roll?’ started popping up. ‘Of course we know,’ she says. ‘That’s the painful part about the job. You read things that are absolutely not true.’”
INSIDE TRUMP’S WHITE HOUSE:
-- New York Times, “Chinese Maker of Ivanka Trump’s Shoes Looks for Cheaper Labor,” by Keith Bradsher: “The Chinese factory workers who make shoes for Ivanka Trump and other designers gather at 7:40 every morning to sing songs. Sometimes, they extol worker solidarity. Usually, they trumpet ties between China and Africa, the theme of their employer’s corporate anthem. That’s no accident. With many workers here complaining about excessive hours and seeking higher pay, the factory owner wants to send their jobs to Ethiopia … Ms. Trump’s father campaigned for the United States presidency on a platform of bringing back overseas manufacturing jobs. But deep economic and demographic shifts mean a lot of low-end work — like making shoes — doesn’t offer huge profit in China. [Now], as President Trump accuses China of stealing jobs, those jobs are now leaving for other shores …
“Such tensions are fueling the drive of Huajian’s founder, Mr. Zhang, to move work to Ethiopia. A former drill sergeant in the Chinese military … [he says work] like making shoes will never return to the United States and is increasingly difficult in China as well.” “Do Americans really like to work, to do these simple and repetitive tasks?” said Mr. Zhang, in the December interview. “Young Chinese also don’t want to do this after they graduate from college.”
-- “How Jared Kushner built a luxury skyscraper using loans meant for job-starved areas,” by Shawn Boburg: “Jared Kushner and his real estate partners wanted to take advantage of a federal program in 2015 that would save them millions of dollars as they built an opulent, 50-story residential tower in this city’s booming waterfront district, just across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. There was just one problem: The program was designed to benefit projects in poor, job-starved areas. So the project’s consultants got creative…The tactic — critics liken it to the gerrymandering of legislative districts — made it appear that the luxury tower was in an area with extraordinarily high unemployment, allowing Kushner Companies and its partners to get $50 million in low-cost financing.”
-- “A draft of the Trump administration’s new birth-control coverage exemption has leaked, and it is far more wide-reaching than had been predicted.” HuffPost’s Laura Bassett reports: “The new rule amends the Obama administration’s coverage requirement to allow any employer, school or insurance company to opt out of covering contraception due to any moral or religious objection ... Even massive for-profit companies with no religious affiliation will be able to deny birth control coverage to their female employees …. In the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration deemed birth control an essential health service and required most employers to cover the full range of contraceptives in their insurance plans at no cost to women.” Read Paige Winfield Cunningham in The Health 202 for more.
-- Sean Spicer scaled back his interaction with the news media even further during Wednesday’s news briefing – which barred the use of cameras and lasted just 12 minutes. CNN’s Dylan Byers has more: “For two days in a row … the White House press secretary has held uncharacteristically short press briefings in which he claimed not to know the answer to questions, outsourced questions to other officials or dismissed the premise of questions entirely. Both briefings included less than 20 minutes for questions -- far less than most prior briefings -- and ended with Spicer abruptly exiting the room to the consternation of reporters. At Wednesday's briefing, which was off-camera, one reporter could be heard shouting after the departing press secretary, ‘How short are these gonna be!?'’”
- But the strangest moment was Spicer's response to "covfefe" -- the late-night Trump tweet that is widely assumed to be a typo. Instead, Spicer insisted Trump had sent the baffling and half-finished tweet on purpose: “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant," Spicer said.
From the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times:
What did Trump mean by covfefe tweet? @PressSec hints that it was some kind of code. President and small group know what it means, he says.— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) May 31, 2017
POPULISM ACROSS THE POND:
-- “For Britain’s populist right, Brexit success comes with a poisoned pill,” by Griff Witte: “What happens to far-right populist movements when their fondest dreams come true? If the [post-Brexit] experience of UKIP is any guide, the answer is that they fall apart. A year after achieving its most sacred ambition, the party long led by [Trump’s] favorite European politician, Nigel Farage, is in disarray, scarred by prominent defections and by vicious feuding — some of it physical — among its remaining members. An election on June 8 in which the party’s share of the vote is expected to crater may be UKIP’s death blow. The arc of UKIP’s story — years of obscurity followed by one astonishing success and now a rapid and possibly terminal decline — illustrates one way of blunting the appeal of populist movements: Give them exactly what they want. But UKIP’s sudden decline also demonstrates the degree to which right-wing populists have shifted the European policy debate toward their turf. If UKIP is losing support, it is not because the party’s ideas have lost favor[:] It is because mainstream parties have co-opted their causes and adopted their rhetoric.
“'We’re happy that the UKIP vote is going down. But we’re not celebrating,’ said Nick Lowles, [who leads a London-based anti-extremism group]. ‘If anything, it’s the worst of all outcomes, because we’ve seen the mainstreaming of these views that were once considered beyond the pale.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Everyone was still happily working to keep the hashtag #covfefe trending early Wednesday:
Wakes up.— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) May 31, 2017
📈 Lookups fo...
Regrets checking Twitter.
Goes back to bed.
If it was, Mr. President, I'd implore you to "Covfefe, already -- for goodness sake."— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) May 31, 2017
"Covfefe" is Russian for "please don't release those Kompromat tapes!" https://t.co/w7D33Nq0Pb— Rep. Jared Huffman (@JaredHuffman) May 31, 2017
Commentators reacted to Kathy Griffin’s dismissal from CNN. Some rejoiced:
CNN dumps her;Squatty Potty flushes her;Kathy Griffin makes her own pile of it and causes a stink. Even the left wiped her off their shoes.— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) May 31, 2017
Indecent behavior should be condemned -- including not just faux presidential beheadings but, say, mocking the disabled or denigrating POWs— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) May 31, 2017
And at least one person simply reveled in the absurdity:
I'd like to think someone just woke up from a 15-year coma and the first thing they saw was this tweet https://t.co/8kMtV6z7fG— Logan Dobson (@LoganDobson) May 31, 2017
From Trump supporter Jeanine Pirro:
On Capitol Hill, Democrats reacted to rumors of Trump's exit from the Paris agreement:
We'd join Syria&Nicaragua! Really!? If US left climate agreement, we'd be 1of 3 countries in world not participating https://t.co/jAoOS0oq2u— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) June 1, 2017
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
-- The Daily Beast, “Roger Ailes Approached Steve Bannon to Create ‘Bannon TV.’ Bannon Stuck with Trump,” by Asawin Suebsaeng: “Up until the moment he died, Roger Ailes wanted to stage a grand comeback—and he wanted Steve Bannon’s help in doing it. Shortly before the disgraced and ousted Fox News founder and CEO passed away earlier this month, he had reached out to [Trump’s] chief strategist to join him in launching what he hoped would be the next right-wing media empire …But Bannon had ‘no desire to leave the White House. So Ailes' last big idea remained just that ….’ According to one source familiar with the preliminary plans, Ailes had wished for Bannon to join him as an equal partner—or at least one of his top lieutenants—in getting the potential comeback and dream project off the ground. To an extent, Ailes wanted Bannon to also serve in some capacity as a news director of the right-wing media entity, which Ailes envisioned as a TV, radio, online, and multimedia empire shortly before his death. Another source jokingly referred to the unrealized project as what could have been ‘Bannon TV.’ ‘It would have been wild,’ the source added.”
---- Politico, “Russia escalates spy games after years of U.S. neglect,” by Ali Watkins: “In the throes of the 2016 campaign, the FBI found itself with an escalating problem: Russian diplomats, whose travel was supposed to be tracked by the State Department, were going missing. The diplomats, widely assumed to be intelligence operatives, would eventually turn up in odd places, often in middle-of-nowhere USA. One was found on a beach, nowhere near where he was supposed to be. In one particularly bizarre case, relayed by a U.S. intelligence official, another turned up wandering around in the middle of the desert.Interestingly, both seemed to be lingering where underground fiber optics cables tend to run. According to another U.S. intelligence official, ‘They find these guys driving around in circles in Kansas. It’s a pretty aggressive effort.’
--The Wall Street Journal, "CIA Chief Under Clinton Says Mike Flynn Offered Him the Job Again," by James V. Grimaldi: "Six days after [Trump] was elected president, his soon-to-be national security adviser Mike Flynn offered the job of [CIA director] to James Woolsey, who had served in that position in Bill Clinton’s administration ... In an interview, Mr. Woolsey said he turned the job down when it was offered to him on Nov. 14 because it came with a caveat: He would report directly to Mr. Flynn, the former Army lieutenant general who [Obama] fired from the post of defense intelligence chief. ‘Flynn offered me the CIA job,’ Mr. Woolsey said. ‘I turned it down, partially because I didn’t want to work for him, partially because I didn’t think the structure was set up right.’Mr. Woolsey also said he didn’t believe Mr. Flynn had the authority to offer him the job. The offer draws attention to Mr. Flynn’s early efforts to reshape and consolidate power inside of the National Security Council …”
-- New York Times, “A 2016 Review: Why Key State Polls Were Wrong About Trump,” by Nate Cohn: “Nearly seven months after the presidential election, pollsters are still trying to answer a question that has rattled trust in their profession: Why did pre-election polls show Hillary Clinton leading [Trump] in the battleground states that decided the presidency? Is political polling fundamentally broken? Or were the errors understandable and correctable? At their annual conference in New Orleans this month, polling experts were inching toward the latter …”
-- Slate, “Will We Ever Have a Woman as President?,” by Michelle Goldberg: “In politics, identifying misogyny risks reinforcing it. It can be hard to describe the dangers of running for office while female without instantiating those dangers; to speculate about what kind of slurs might be thrown at a candidate is to put those slurs out there in the first place. Feminists know this, yet layered on top of the trauma of Clinton’s loss is the dread of repeating it. ‘Although a lot of people are very enthusiastic about Elizabeth Warren, I think that were she to become a real contender, all of the responses to extremely competent, forceful women would start to work against her,’ says feminist historian Susan Bordo … ‘We’d be hearing, ‘She’s shrill. She’s schoolmarmish.’ [And] people perceive women differently when they’re contending for executive office than when they’re running for a collaborative body, like the Senate, or serving below a powerful man. ‘All the ancient clichés about women … come into play,’ says [former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin]. ’If you’re too tough, you’re not feminine. If you’re too feminine, you’re not tough enough. There’s a very small space between those two that is safe territory.’”
-- The New Yorker, “Trump’s ‘Good Job’ Call to Roger Stone,” by Ryan Lizza: “On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President. Just a night earlier, Trump claimed that he was no longer in touch with Stone. In the weeks and months ahead, the relationship between Trump and Stone is expected to be a significant focus of investigators, and their call raises an important question: Why is the President still reaching out to figures in the middle of the Russia investigations?”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“GOP Congressman: God Will ‘Take Care Of’ Climate Change If It Exists,” from HuffPost: “[Republican candidate] Rep. Tim Walberg told a constituent last week that God can solve the problem of climate change if the global phenomenon truly exists. The 66-year-old Republican, who is a climate change skeptic, made the remark at a town hall in Coldwater, Michigan, on Friday. ‘I believe there’s climate change,’ Walberg said, according to a video of the exchange obtained by HuffPost. ‘I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No.’ … ‘Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.’”
HOT ON THE RIGHT
“All Aboard: 33 states join Trump's war on illegal immigration, sanctuaries,” from the Washington Examiner: “Two thirds of the nation's states have taken action to join in [Trump's] bid to crackdown on illegal immigration and ‘sanctuary cities’ … The Migration Policy Institute reports that 33 states have moved to choke off illegal immigration, led by Texas which OK'd a law to block cities from giving ‘sanctuary’ to illegals. ‘While Texas was the first state to pass a sweeping law focused on illegal immigration since the presidential election, at least 32 other states have introduced immigration enforcement bills,’ said the Institute. Trump has focused on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records or who are facing criminal charges. States, meanwhile, are looking mostly at restricting the ability of cities to become sanctuaries for illegals, even those with criminal records. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of May 8, 2017, 24 states were considering anti-sanctuary bills …”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “As a mother, a wife, and a human being, that photo is very disturbing. When you consider some of the atrocities happening in the world today, a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it," Melania Trump on Kathy Griffin's image of Trump.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
-- The month of JUNE appears to be getting off to a delightfully dry start, per today’s Capital Weather Gang forecast: “A few clouds could be lingering at daybreak but dry air is moving in on light west winds. Even pop-up afternoon clouds will be in short supply given the lowering humidity. Shade shouldn’t be too necessary as highs top out only in the upper 70s to lower 80s.”
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