Friday, January 19, 2018

Hispanic Caucus Leaves Post-Shithole Talk With John Kelly Confused, Defiant

By Alice Ollstein | January 17, 2018 1:18 pm

The fact that President Trump referred to certain nations as “shithole countries” last week did not come up once during Wednesday morning’s meeting between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I’m sure some people expected sparks to go off, but we just left that alone, because we didn’t see that as moving the agenda of the DREAMers forward,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said when he emerged from the meeting.

But the reported slur hung over the meeting like a cloud, and the Latino members were additionally frustrated that Kelly gave them no clear indication of what the White House is willing to support on an immigration deal, and did not himself know the details of the bipartisan plans put forward in the House and the Senate. Other members present said while no s-bombs were dropped, Kelly used other terms they found offensive to refer to certain immigrants and immigration mechanisms.

With a potential government shutdown just a few days away, and many Democrats vowing to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for DACA recipients stripped of protections by the Trump administration, the lawmakers said Wednesday’s meeting was an opportunity for Democrats to “stand tall” and make sure the administration is not only listening to anti-immigrant hardliners.

“As you know, the President changes his mind quite often,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). “So what we want to do is make sure that the last person he hears is somebody who has heard from us.”

Murky demands
In a sign of the new low bar set for policy talks in Washington, several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus insisted to TPM that their meeting with Kelly never became heated or devolved into profanity. But neither did it give them a clear path forward on eleventh-hour negotiations around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“The problem is not the ability to have a cordial conversation, the problem is having a substantive conversation where we learn what the administration wants in return for saving the DREAMers,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) complained in Spanish as he exited the meaning. “I didn’t get a sense that the administration has a clear bottom line.”

Menendez added that, while unclear, the White House’s demands seemed to be “way beyond” what is realistic.

“What they want in return [for DACA] is a continuously moving target, and it continuously expands,” he said, in English. “Interior enforcement, more border patrol, a wall, asylum reform—these are the type of things we talked about for a comprehensive immigration package that covered broader 11 million undocumented people. The administration continues to seem to want everything Democrats were willing to give in the process of considering comprehensive reform just for these 700,000 young people [under DACA]. But holding them hostage to that type of view is simply not acceptable.”

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At Briefing, Press Blasts ‘Misleading’ Trump Admin. Terrorism Stats

By Sam Thielman | January 17, 2018 2:37 pm

On Tuesday, the Trump administration released a report filled with heavily gamed statistics that aimed to link immigration with international terrorism. At a White House briefing Wednesday, reporters said they weren’t fooled.

As TPM reported, the joint Department of Justice-Department of Homeland Security report found that nearly three in four people convicted of international terrorism in U.S, courts since 9/11 were foreign-born. The report was framed as offering support for President Trump’s strict immigration policies. But to get to the three in four number, it included foreigners who committed crimes on foreign soil before being extradited to the U.S. — cases which have no bearing on immigration issues.

Justice Department official Ed O’Callaghan appeared at the White House briefing Wednesday to discuss the report.

“A lot of the crimes that you’re using as examples to justify changing the immigration system are crimes that were attempted crimes or would have taken place outside the United States,” one reporter observed. “Can you give maybe better examples that fit what you’re trying to say?”

O’Callaghan responded that this was just “the first iteration of this report in response to the executive order’s directives.” He said the government would “have more statistics and address some of this issues we weren’t able to address” in later versions.

The reporter appeared unconvinced. “It seems like the focus there should be on things that people did in the United States, to people in the United States,” he followed up.

As O’Callaghan spoke, a CNN chyron flatly called the report “misleading.”

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Lindsey Graham Thought He Had Trump Tamed—but Got Played Instead

Graham and Dick Durbin thought that they had a DACA deal with Trump—classic case of smart men, foolish choices.

By Heather Digby Parton / Salon January 18, 2018, 9:28 AM GMT

Poor Lindsey Graham. The "maverick" senator from South Carolina had spent the last two years expressing his scorn for Donald Trump,  calling him "unfit" and "a kook." Then, sometime in the late summer, Graham apparently reconciled himself to the fact that Trump wasn't capable of growing or "pivoting" into the job, so he took it upon himself to cultivate the mercurial manchild, perhaps in the vainglorious belief he could influence Trump to become a mainstream conservative and stamp out the rapidly burning fuse that was going to blow up the presidency and likely the entire Republican Party.

Graham played golf with his president, he complimented him on his swing, he flattered his intelligence and he even agreed to throw some red meat at the base on Trump's behalf by taking up the ridiculous crusade to jail Hillary Clinton. He cajoled and he petted and he whispered the sweet nothings that the president needs to hear to make him feel powerful. Graham thought Trump trusted him and looked to him for guidance. He thought he could speak for the president in negotiations.

He was wrong -- and it was proven in classic Trump fashion last week. Like so many of Trump's close confidantes before him, Graham was stabbed in the back by the man he thought he was guiding. He was outmaneuvered by other "guides" who understand the dark impulses that drive their leader much better than Graham ever will.

Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., along with a few others, have been working for months on a bipartisan immigration deal that would save the young DACA recipients from being deported by Trump's ICE agents after his abrupt cancellation of their program. In a televised meeting last Tuesday, this group all believed they had received guidelines from the president. By Thursday, they came up with a tentative compromise deal. Graham and Durbin called Trump at 10 a.m. He sounded enthusiastic and told the two senators to come up to the White House at noon to talk about it.

When the bipartisan duo got there, the room had been stacked with hardline anti-immigration right-wingers, led by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, whom staffers had hurriedly called to get to the meeting and help run interference.

According to The Washington Post, Chief of Staff John Kelly (a well-known anti-immigrant zealot from way back) got in the president's ear and worked him up so much that when Graham and Durbin showed up to find they'd been sandbagged, he was already fuming. That's when he went off about not wanting any more immigrants from "shithole" countries. Graham and Durbin tried to fight for their deal, but they had been outplayed.

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U.S. ‘approaching important turning points’ in democracy under Trump, per report

Such a deterioration in a single year is rare for an established democracy.

JAN 17, 2018, 11:05 AM

Political rights and civil liberties in the United States have experienced the fastest deterioration in decades under the administration of President Donald Trump, according to a new Freedom House report on the state of freedom and democracy in the world.

While the United States has seen a slow decline over the past several years, 2017 saw the biggest drop in the more than 40 years since Freedom House has tracked global freedom trends.

The report, released Tuesday, lists numerous developments that have weakened democracy in the United States, including evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the Trump administration’s violations of ethical standards like the president’s failure to divest from his businesses and the hiring of his daughter and son-in-law as senior advisers, dwindling government transparency, and false statements by the president.

Overall, the United States’ score decreased by three points on the 100-point scale — a significant decline that is rare for an established democracy. The United States now holds a score of 86, putting it below France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

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Trump's clash with the emoluments clause

Robert Reich

Trump's hotels are booming with business from Republican politicians, corporate lobbyists, and foreign governments. I can't imagine why. Could it be that every penny that's spent at these properties goes directly into Trump's personal trust fund?

According to a new report, the list of guests at Trump properties last year included:

1) Representatives of 4 foreign governments -- Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The Saudi group spent over $270,000 for at Trump's Washington hotel during a lobbying visit.

2) More than 30 Republican candidates and committees fundraisers. Trump's re-election campaign has already spent $630,000 at his own properties.

3) 18 companies and special interest groups, including several with federal contracts. For example, the GEO Group, a for-profit prison conglomerate which has already benefited from the Trump administration's policy changes, held its annual conference at Trump National Doral in Florida.

All of these conflicts of interests are completely unacceptable. Indeed by continuing to accept payments from foreign governments Trump is in violation of the Constitution's foreign bribery clause (or Emoluments Clause), an impeachable offense. Folks, as Trump approaches a full year in office, we cannot normalize this behavior. Under any other president, these blatant ethics violations would be a major scandal. If we become desensitized to them, faith in our democracy will continue to erode. Your thoughts?


Jared Kushner needs lawyers and money ... guns optional

By Mark Sumner 
Tuesday Jan 16, 2018 · 4:30 PM EST

After multiple instances in which Jared Kusher’s family attempted to trade on his role in the Trump White House to sell United State visas and a failed multibillion-dollar deal to bring a Chinese company in to save Kushner’s 666 Fifth Avenue disaster comes word Kushner was warned that one of his friends was using him as a tool for the Chinese government.

U.S. counterintelligence officials in early 2017 warned Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, that Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent Chinese-American businesswoman, could be using her close friendship with Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to further the interests of the Chinese government, according to people familiar with the matter.

Kushner’s pal was promoting a project that installed a 70-foot tall tower on high ground overlooking the heart of Washington, D.C.  It doesn’t seem that Kushner was concerned by the briefing. But then, Kushner is just a bit desperate.

Jared Kushner’s $7.5 billion plan to transform a Manhattan skyscraper into a mix of high-end residences and retail has been deemed “not feasible” by the project’s partner, putting the future of the property — saddled with $1.2 billion in debt — in doubt.

The 666 Fifth Avenue purchase is one of the greatest white elephants in real estate history. Unable to unload the property, Kushner has been beating the world’s bushes in an increasingly hopeless search for funds.

It’s just the kind of pressure that makes Kushner an excellent target for anyone who needs an in with Trump.

Jared Kushner is the man who was going to do everything—but has done nothing. Nothing, that is, except hang out with a Saudi prince and give tacit approval to a brutal consolidation of power. The opioid crisis? It seems Kushner hasn’t had a chance to look into that. Remaking the federal government? Thankfully unconsidered. Middle East peace? He doesn’t have to worry about that one so much, since Trump has decided that people who aren’t nice to him don’t deserve to live.

But it’s hard to worry about getting things done when you’re facing a kind of personal Armageddon.

Bloomberg sources say that Vornado chairman and CEO Steve Roth is now signaling investors to prepare for more modest renovations than expected. Depending on how plans are refinanced and renegotiated, the Kushner Co. could lose control of the building.

Or, putting that a little less gently ...

Jared Kushner’s family is screwed, and it’s all boy wonder’s fault …

In fact, Roth, who has said 666 Fifth “would be worth a lot more if it was just dirt,” is reportedly so disenchanted that he’s sending a message to anyone who might still be interested in the Kushners’ plan to “back off.”

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