Friday, April 28, 2017

What Would Trump’s Immigrant Ancestors Say?

Pre-existing conditions drive moderates' concern over repeal bill

Moderate Republicans are largely withholding their support for the Obamacare repeal bill, arguing it would hurt people with pre-existing conditions

House Republican leaders hoped that the House Freedom Caucus’s endorsement of the latest Obamacare repeal bill would light a fire under enough moderates to get their whip count to the 216 votes needed to pass the measure. Instead, the holdouts are digging in, saying that the latest changes only moved the bill to the right and could put more Americans at risk of losing their health insurance.

“My concern has always been and what a lot of us talked about: people with pre-existing conditions, the elderly,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “How this makes the original bill better? Where is the part that is better for the folks I’m concerned about it? I’m not seeing it at this stage.”

Protections for people with pre-existing conditions have only been in effect for seven years, but proven to be one of the most popular and well-known features of the Affordable Care Act. Moderate Republicans are worried about stripping the safeguards without a reliable replacement. If the resistance from moderates holds, it would be enough to block Obamacare repeal in the House — or send the effort back to square one.

GOP leaders have been buttonholing moderates for two days, arguing that the latest changes — drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) with consultation from the House Freedom Caucus — would ensure people with pre-existing conditions wouldn't be priced out of a reconfigured market, pointing to high-risk pool requirements in state that choose to opt out of Obamacare provisions.  (Reality check. The bill would allow states to raise the rates so hight it would be unaffordable for seniors and people will pre-existing conditions.)

Seth Meyers on Trump’s NAFTA retreat: ‘This isn’t the first time Trump has had to pull out because of soft wood’

All Bark, No Bite: Trump Ain’t The Negotiator He Bragged About

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump marketed himself as an expert negotiator who would draw on his years of cutting deals in the boardroom to deliver the best terms for the American public.
“My Style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” Trump said in his 1987 (ghostwritten) bestseller “The Art of the Deal.” “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”
Almost 100 days into his Oval Office tenure, this high-stakes, take-no-prisoners style has proven to be more of a hindrance than a help for the President—and failed to secure a single legislative victory.
“The Trump folks don’t seem to play well in the sandbox,” Stan Collender, a former top staffer on both the Senate and House Budget Committees, told TPM in a recent interview.
Without “general, generic trust” between the White House and GOP-led Congress, he continued, “you get a situation where Republican lawmakers tend to go off on their own without the administration,” he said. “And this is a White House that doesn’t take kindly to being dissed.”
On critical issues from Obamacare repeal to NAFTA renegotiation, an identifiable pattern has emerged. Trump makes an outlandish ask late in the negotiating process; White House advisers and lawmakers struggling to adjust to this new reality release a wave of contradictory statements on where the administration stands; and, ultimately, the President backs down, issuing a vague promise to circle back to the issue or claiming he never intended to do what he initially said he wanted to do, anyway. Read full post here 

Lawmakers advance comptroller’s, not Cuomo’s, bill for reform

A bill that could address corruption in Albany is progressing in the state Legislature, but it might not be the measure that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to become law.

Several former Cuomo associates, including a former top aide, face federal corruption trials on charges of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with the contracts for some of the governor’s signature economic development projects, including the Buffalo Billion.

A bill proposed by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli would give the comptroller the power to oversee economic development contracts in the future and potentially flag any signs of illegal activities.

The comptroller had the authority to review the contracts until 2011, when that power was taken away in an agreement by Cuomo and the Legislature.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who is sponsoring the bill in that house, said he wants to correct what many now acknowledge was an error.

“This is the way things used to be,” said DeFrancisco, who added the comptroller was “mistakenly” taken out of the process because Cuomo convinced lawmakers that the extra scrutiny just slowed the projects down.

DeFrancisco said the bill reinstates more “transparency and checks and balances over the executive.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill and it’s ready to go to the floor for a vote, though no date has yet been set for debate.

In the Assembly, the measure also has a majority party sponsor. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was noncommittal, though, about the bill’s future, saying he wants to discuss it first with his Democratic members in conference.  Read full story here 

In 100 Days, Donald Trump Hasn’t Done Much Except Show Off His Signature

KENOSHA, Wisconsin – On Day 89 of his presidency, Donald Trump set down his felt-tipped pen and did what he’s done most and best so far in his new job: held up a piece of paper he had just signed for news cameras to record for posterity.

More than four dozen times since taking office, Trump has invited the media he regularly attacks to show off his distinctive cursive on a presidential document ― a document that, the vast majority of the time, has been completely unnecessary to accomplish the stated goal.

Previous presidents have signed executive orders and memoranda. None appeared to be compelled to hold them up and show off their penmanship.

“It’s show and tell,” Duke University historian William Chafe said. “It’s basically trying to create the impression of decisiveness.”

In Chafe’s view, it’s actually a misimpression, given the lack of a single significant piece of legislation to pass under Trump’s watch, including the 10 he specifically promised he would shepherd through Congress in his first 100 days.

“The executive orders are the only substantive things that he’s accomplished,” Chafe said, adding that even those have not been particularly substantial. All but a handful of the objectives described in the directives did not even need a formal presidential authorization for the agency heads to pursue them.  Read full story here 

Experts Just Uncovered A $500k Gift From Russia To Trump

A surprising $500,000 donation by the Venezuelan state oil company Citgo Petroleum to Trump’s inauguration in January is now being linked to Russia, through its state-owned oil company Rosneft.

It was a surprise because Venezuela is run by a dictator who is a sworn enemy of the United States, and Citgo had never before made a donation to a U.S. presidential inauguration. It came at a time people in Venezuela are starving and there have been riots over the disastrous economy and ‘the authoritarian regime’s brutality.

The size of the donation was also unusual, as it was larger than what was donated by any American oil company or even retail giant Walmart.

Here is what makes this whole question of Russian influence credible: To make a pending bond payment, Citgo mortgaged 49 percent of its equity to Rosneft, an oil company controlled by Putin’s Russia, that is currently under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department. Rosneft is run by Igor Sechin, who is very close to Russian President Putin.

The oil company under Sechin has been used in recent years as a way for Russia to exercise its geopolitical influence.  Read full story 

‘Truth matters, facts matter’: Watch Jake Tapper issue a powerful rebuke of fake news

A new poll released this week shows a “shockingly high number” of Americas believe President Donald Trump’s accusation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. The number was so shocking that CNN’s Jake Tapper ended his Wednesday show talking about the danger of the fake news industry.

Sean Spicer Blamed Obama For Failing To Vet Trump's Ex-National Security Adviser And People Are Confused

The investigation was revealed by House Democrats on Thursday.
Flynn, a former Army general, received the payment of $68,000 in 2015 for attending the 10-anniversary celebration of Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned media company. 
He allegedly did not cite this payment on his SF-86, a document included in the screening process for a security clearance. Flynn's lawyer has denied any wrongdoing, saying Flynn "briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of the Department of Defense, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip." 
Flynn resigned from his position in the Trump administration after just a few weeks when it emerged he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Russian officials.
His argument seemed to be that since the Obama administration last issued Flynn a security clearance in 2016, the Trump administration wasn't responsible for vetting him further than that. (Flynn served in the Obama administration as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012-2014 when he was eventually fired. He then worked as a foreign agent for Turkey during the 2016 campaign.)
"My only point is that when General Flynn came into the White House he had an active security clearance that was issued during the Obama administration, with all of the information that is being discussed that occurred in 2015," Spicer said, referring to the payment from Russia.  Read full full disturbing story 

Ex-national security director: Mike Flynn ‘is subject to a felony’ and ‘up to five years in prison’

CNN’s Tapper has to break it to GOP Rep that she hasn’t actually read the bill she’s ready to vote for

Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) didn’t seem to know that the latest round of legislation to repeal and replacement Obamacare was a new piece of legislation.

During a conversation with Jake Tapper, the CNN host was forced to explain to Black that there haven’t been any hearings on the Obamacare 3.0 bill and that the CBO hasn’t had time to score the legislation. Republicans previously complained that Obamacare was passed too quickly and that no one had the opportunity to read it. Obamacare actually spent a year working through Congress, including numerous committees, two full House votes, one Senate supermajority vote and multiple hearings.

The Obamacare 3.0 vote that is supposed to take place prior to President Donald Trump’s “First 100 Days” mark will have had none of these things other than a House majority vote, if it even makes it that far.

“I have to say, the public knows nothing — next to nothing about this legislation, and obviously it will impact tens, if not hundreds of millions of Americans,” Tapper told Black. “Would it not be better to have discussion and debate and hearings about this bill instead of what looks like rushing it through to meet this 100-day deadline?”

“Oh, my goodness, Jake. We had a lot of discussions,” Black claimed. “Our ways and means committee went until 4:00 a.m. I think we had something like 18 hours of debate, even more than that in the energy and commerce committee.” Read full story here 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pentagon Warned Michael Flynn Against Accepting Foreign Money In 2014; He Didn’t Listen

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, failed to heed warnings from the Pentagon about accepting foreign funds for a trip to Russia in 2015, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Thursday.

The Department of Defense sent classified documents to committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), said ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) at a news conference on Thursday. One of them, which is being prepared for public release, is a letter from the Defense Intelligence Agency to Flynn.

“This letter explicitly warned General Flynn, as he entered retirement, that the Constitution prohibited him from accepting any foreign government payments without advance permission,” Cummings said. “DIA did not locate any records of Lieutenant General Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source.”

But Flynn did accept the funds from Kremlin-backed news agency RT and failed to disclose them when he applied for a security clearance last year, Cummings and Chaffetz said Tuesday. He may have broken federal law.

Some of Flynn’s former staffers also warned him about accepting the $40,000 and participating in RT’s 10th anniversary gala. “Please, sir: don’t do this,” Simone Ledeen, who had worked with him in Afghanistan, said in an email at the time, according to The New Yorker. “It’s not just you. You’re a retired three-star general. It’s the Army. It’s all of the people who have been with you, all of these analysts known as ‘Flynn’s people.’”

A second letter revealed that “we have no evidence that he obtained permission from the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of State to accept any foreign government payments, as required under the law,” Cummings said.  Read full story here 

Key Industry Groups Blast Amended Obamacare Repeal Bill

Two advocacy groups for the health care industry on Thursday came out against the new proposed amendment to House Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, arguing that the amendment could still put many Americans’ health coverage at risk.

The American Hospital Association said in a statement that the amendment would actually make Republicans’ legislation worse for patients.

“The amendment proposed this week would dramatically worsen the bill. The changes included put consumer protections at greater risk by allowing states to waive the essential health benefit standards, which could leave patients without access to critical health services and increase out-of-pocket spending,” the group said in a statement. “This could allow plans to set premium prices based on individual risk for some consumers, which could significantly raise costs for those with pre-existing conditions.”
The group also noted that the Congressional Budget Office has not yet determined how many people would lose or gain coverage with the new amendment. The CBO projected that the AHCA in its initial form would cost 24 million people their health insurance by 2026, and the AHA said that it’s “unlikely this amendment would improve these coverage estimates.”  Read full story here 

Ben Carson Is Proving to Be the Bizarre and Incompetent Secretary of Housing and Urban Development We Expected Him to Be

Since neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was sworn in as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on March 2, we’ve barely heard a peep from him. Is it because he’s adjusting to his new position, for which he has no relevant experience? Probably. Is it because, as his surrogate said, that he’s not qualified to run a federal agency? Could be that, too.

Apparently there’s been “an atmosphere of paranoia and guardedness that has enveloped HUD since Trump’s inauguration,” according to a former HUD official under Barack Obama, as reported by Next City.

In his first public remarks as head of HUD in early March, Carson tragically stumbled by referring to slaves as “immigrants.” On March 15, Carson began a “listening tour,” dipping his toes into public scrutiny by traveling to cities in Florida, Michigan and Texas to visit buildings and programs that HUD played a hand in creating. In several awkward cases, Carson has praised an initiative only to find out that Donald Trump’s budget blueprint would eliminate the programs that funded those very projects.  Read full story here 

Ethics Experts Baffled By Report Of Ivanka Trump’s New Fund For Women

White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump is establishing a “massive fund” to “economically empower women” that will be funded by contributions from foreign countries and corporations, Axios reported in a vague, five-paragraph bombshell on Wednesday.

According to Axios founder Mike Allen, Trump told him directly that she has already started soliciting funds to support the fund, which will provide “working and growth capital to small- and medium-sized enterprises,” and that she has support from President Trump and World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim to pursue the project.

A spokesman for the World Bank confirmed to TPM that Kim and Ivanka Trump are currently in talks about how to finance it. The pair co-authored an op-ed for the Financial Times this week about the need for both the public and private sectors “to move decisively to invest in women worldwide.”
But what exactly Ivanka Trump’s fund will look like and how it will operate remains a giant question mark. Ethics experts told TPM that Axios’ description leaves it unclear if the fund will be a private, for-profit endeavor or if it will be run through a federal government agency.
“We just don’t know what this is: is it animal or mineral?” Kathleen Clark, an ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a phone interview.
“Some of the questions that need to be answered are: is it being done through governmental authority or not? Instead of private equity, is it intended as some sort of non-profit?” Clark said.  Read full story here 

5 Reasons Why Trump’s Corporate Tax Cut Is Totally Moronic

Trump wants to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, in order to “make the United States more competitive.” 

This is truly dumb, for 5 reasons:

1. The White House says the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Baloney. After corporate deductions and tax credits, the typical corporation pays an effective tax rate of 27.9 percent, only a tad higher than the average of 27.7 percent among advanced nations.

2. Trump’s corporate tax cut will bust the federal budget. According to the Congress’s own Join Committee on Taxation, it will reduce federal revenue by $2 trillion over 10 years. This will either require huge cuts in programs for the poor, or additional tax revenues from the rest of us.

3. The White House says the tax cuts will create a jump in economic growth that will generate enough new revenue to wipe out any increase in the budget deficit. This is supply-side nonsense. The Congressional Research Service reviewed tax cuts since 1945 and found no evidence they generate economic growth. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both cut taxes, and both ended their presidencies with huge budget deficits. Bill Clinton raised taxes, and the economy created more jobs than it did under Bush or Reagan.

4. American corporations don’t need a tax cut. They’re already hugely competitive as measured by their profits—which are at near record highs.

5. The White House says corporations will use the extra profits they get from the tax cut to invest in more capacity and jobs. Rubbish. They’re now using a large portion of their profits to buy back their shares of stock and to buy other companies, in order to raise their stock prices. There’s no reason to suppose they’ll do any different with even more profits.

Don’t fall for Trump’s corporate tax giveaway. It will be a huge windfall for corporations and a huge burden on ordinary Americans.  Read post 

Trump’s Tax Proposal Would Be Ridiculously Good For Rich People

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers on Wednesday proposed trillions of dollars in tax cuts for millionaires under a plan billed as the biggest tax reform in over 30 years.

In a one-page statement of “principles” for tax reform provided to reporters, the administration offered few specifics. They did insist on three major perks for the wealthy, however ― reducing the tax rate on stocks, bonds and real estate investments; eliminating inheritance taxes for millionaire heirs and heiresses; and bringing down the tax rate on the largest corporations to less than half of what it is now.

The inheritance tax ― disparaged by conservatives as a “death tax” ― only applies to millionaires. Magnates must will at least $5.49 million to their heirs ($11 million for couples) to qualify for the tax. Heirs and heiresses pay an average rate of 16.6 percent on these inheritances, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, generating about $275 billion for the government over 10 years.

Trump would also repeal the 3.8 percent tax on stocks, bonds and real estate investments that Obamacare imposed on individuals making at least $200,000 a year. A full 90 percent of this tax break would accrue to households making at least $700,000 a year, which would receive an average tax cut of $25,000 a year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Corporate tax cuts also disproportionately favor the wealthy, because corporate profits flow to the owners of corporate stocks, who tend to be rich. More than 92.8 percent of households making at least $250,000 a year own at least $10,000 in stock, according to research from New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, compared with just 19.1 percent of households that earn $25,000 to $49,999. Households in the top 1 percent receive an average of 36 percent of their income from capital gains (stocks, bonds and other financial investments), according to the Congressional Budget Office, while those in the lowest 20 percent receive an average of about 5 percent of their income this way.  Read full story here 

Trump resistance tries to channel its anger

In the middle of mass protests against Donald Trump’s travel ban in January, the crowds outside the White House chanted at the president: “We will not go away! Welcome to your ninth day!”

The Trump resistance hasn’t gone away, but it has taken on a vastly different form since those frothy first days of his presidency. The millions-strong nationwide protests have given way to an array of smaller but still effective forms of opposition: packed town halls to warn Republican members of Congress against repealing Obamacare, a full-court pressure campaign that persuaded Senate Democrats to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and higher-than-expected turnout in a pair of special House elections that put solid red districts in play.

The first three months of the Trump administration have demonstrated that the energy and anger of the electorate has shifted unmistakably to the left as Democrats assume the role of opposition party after eight years of controlling the White House.

But the movement is decentralized and diffuse, lacking a singular leader and splintering into multiple fronts. Ask more than a dozen progressive activists to define the goals of the Trump resistance, as POLITICO did for this story, and receive almost as many different answers. The liberal revolt is being channeled through a variety of projects — from health care to climate change — and each tribe is “showing up for each other’s stuff,” as one activist put it. Trump isn’t necessarily their sole reason for being, but instead serves as a powerful motivator and a symbol of what they oppose.

These organizers and strategists, from groups like Indivisible,, and the American Civil Liberties Union, do agree on at least one thing: To fight on as much turf as possible. They may lose major battles under a Republican-controlled government — Gorsuch was ultimately confirmed and Democrats failed to win either House special election this month — but they say eventually their efforts will pay off.  Read full post 

Legal expert: Trump’s tweets attacking the courts will be ‘a record for his impeachment trial’

President Donald Trump’s Twitter tantrums make him his own worst enemy, especially with regards to the courts, said the Daily Beast’s legal affairs expert Jay Michaelson.

In a Wednesday column titled “President Trump’s Tantrums Sink Him in Court Again,”Michaelson said that to an attorney Trump is “the worst client in the world” because the president doesn’t have the self discipline to ever keep his thoughts to himself.

“Yet again,” Michaelson said, “this time in a case involving his threat to withhold funding from so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ Trump’s careless out-of-court statements have come to bite him in the behind, just as they did in the travel ban cases. You can almost hear his lawyers sigh with exasperation.”

He continued, “And yet, following the judge’s injunction against the sanctuary cities order, finding it overbroad and likely unconstitutional, Trump issued yet more outrageous statements, more lies, and more of a record for what would be the president’s ultimate court case: his impeachment trial.”

Michaelson pointed out that it’s ironic that Trump would object so strenuously to the 9th District Court of Appeals’ decision on ‘sanctuary cities’ in that it contains “a defense of federalism,” a concept near and dear to most conservative ideologues who resent anything that looks like overreach by the federal government.  Read full story here 

Upstate Democrats say the tide is turning in their favor

Democrats in upstate New York say they may be down from the losses they suffered in the 2016 election, but not out. Party officials hope the pushback to the Republican administration in Washington, D.C., will sweep local Democrats to victory later this year.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently rallied an enthusiastic crowd of Democrats in downtown Syracuse who were looking for inspiration and guidance after a tough election cycle. Gillibrand offered hope, saying the political climate today is reminiscent of 2006 when she and enough Democrats were elected to take control of Congress.

"This movement, this moment right now is unique," Gillibrand said. "It’s unique in our history. I have never seen the grassroots be more powerful or important in changing social outcomes. I can't tell you how inspiring it was for me to be part of that women's march - it was the most inspiring moment of my political life."

Gillibrand was addressing the annual convention of the New York State Rural Democratic Conference, which represents and supports Democrats in 47 upstate counties. Conference Vice Chair Judith Hunter says while President Donald Trump won most of the state's rural counties, the Democrats down ballot did not fare as poorly.

"The Democratic district attorney in my county won won by 6,000 votes. Now in my small county, that’s a landslide," Hunter said. "So it’s not like Democrats were rejected everywhere and at all levels."

But Hunter says upstate Democrats are benefiting from the energy and interest that's fueling activism and marches throughout the country, like the women's marches and Indivisible grassroots groups. They hope to capture that enthusiasm for the local elections this fall.  Read full post

Bill O’Reilly’s Downfall (And Trump’s, Too?)

CNN guest lays epic mic drop on Wall Street lackey: ‘This is a tax break for the wealthy… for Donald Trump’

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trump tax plan eliminates most popular deduction taken by New Yorkers

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's tax reform plan unveiled today would eliminate the state and local tax deduction, taking away from New Yorkers their single most popular federal tax deduction.

The loss of the deduction will cost New Yorkers an average of $4,500 per year for those who file itemized returns, totaling about $68 billion per year that state residents will no longer be allowed to deduct from their federal tax returns.  Read full story here

New ObamaCare replacement bill eliminates protections for people with pre-existing conditions

Moderate Republicans are facing a difficult decision on the House GOP’s ObamaCare replacement bill after a change to the plan increased conservative support.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday endorsed the revised version of the bill, leaving centrists as the GOP's sole obstacle to getting the votes needed to pass a bill fulfilling the party's longtime pledge to repeal Obamacare.

The Freedom Caucus's move came after a new amendment from centrist Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and conservative Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that would allow states to apply for waivers to opt out of core ObamaCare protection for people with pre-existing conditions, which conservatives say drives up premiums.

But so far, no moderates have moved from no to yes on the bill, and some centrists have said privately that MacArthur was not negotiating on their behalf.

Weakening ObamaCare protections for people with pre-existing conditions could even move some moderates even further away from the bill.

“Those are the kind of concerns that obviously make me have to think long and hard about it,” said moderate Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) on Wednesday. Read full story here 

Trump plan will slash taxes for rich people and corporations — and deliver a major boon to his own family

Among other things, the plan would completely eliminate both the alternative minimum tax and the inheritance tax — two taxes that were designed to stop rich people from gaming the system to avoid paying any taxes.

The plan would also slash the corporate tax rate down to just 15%, which would be lower than what millions of Americans pay on their individual taxes.

Additionally, the plan would condense the current seven income tax brackets down to just three brackets that would come in at 10%, 25% and 35%.

“Our basic premise here is to simplify the tax system, lower rates and make it easy,” said top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn.

The plan also says it will at least partially offset the drop in revenue from the elimination of “special interest” deductions — but it also didn’t list any specific deductions it would kill.

Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said during a press conference that President Trump will still not release his own taxes, despite the fact that critics have claimed that we need to see them to understand if Trump is crafting policy designed to maximize benefits. Full post here 

Trump Treasury Chief: Our Tax Cuts Will Pay For Themselves, Once We Figure Out What They Are

WASHINGTON ― Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to detail President Donald Trump’s tax plan at a conference on Wednesday, but vowed the administration would secure “the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.”

At an event organized by The Hill, Mnuchin said the Trump administration has been meeting regularly with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and will present a set of principles for tax policy later on Wednesday. He confirmed that Trump would propose cutting corporate taxes from the current rate of 35 percent to 15 percent and said the administration wanted to cut taxes for individuals, as well. Mnuchin did not present any plans to raise additional federal revenues. The Treasury secretary said economic growth of 3 percent would make up for any shortfall in tax revenue created by whatever the ultimate tax cuts may be.

Mnuchin said the growth in federal debt under former President Barack Obama was “highly concerning” and told attendees that infrastructure spending will not be part of the tax talks between the administration and Congress.

The Treasury secretary said the 15 percent business tax rate would apply to small firms and so-called “pass-through” companies, but insisted that the ultimate policy would not serve as a “loophole” for rich people to lower their tax rate. During the presidential campaign, Trump was dogged by questions surrounding his 15 percent business tax rate, which conflicted with his pledge to raise taxes on hedge funds and private equity firms. Many hedge funds are organized as pass-through corporations, as are many law firms. Many sources of income for the wealthy, such as book royalties, are often paid to pass-through corporations.  Read full story here 

It Sure Looks Like a Russian Cover-Up

Trump Tax Plan Would Slash Corporate Tax Rates, Offer Breaks On Overseas Profits

President Donald Trump is proposing to slash the corporate income tax rate and offer multinational businesses a steep tax break on overseas profits brought into the United States, officials said late on Tuesday.

With financial markets eagerly anticipating a White House tax plan, Trump will also call for a sharp cut in the top rate on pass-through businesses, including many small business partnerships and sole proprietorships, to 15 percent from 39.6 percent, an administration official said.

He will propose cutting the income tax rate paid by public corporations to 15 percent from 35 percent, and allowing multinationals to bring in overseas profits at a tax rate of 10 percent versus 35 percent now, the official said.

Trump’s proposal will not include a controversial “border-adjustment” tax on imports that was in earlier proposals floated by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives as a way to offset revenue losses resulting from tax cuts.

Trump’s tax blueprint will fall short of the kind of comprehensive tax reform that Republicans have long discussed, and serve chiefly as a guidepost for lawmakers in the House and Senate.

“We’re driving this a little bit more,” a senior White House official told a group of reporters late on Tuesday.

The plan is not expected by analysts to include any proposals for raising new revenue to offset that lost by the tax cuts, and so, if enacted, it would potentially add billions of dollars to the federal deficit. 

 Read full story here 

Cuomo’s National Profile Expands

Less than week after the legislative session in Albany is scheduled to end, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will attend a New York City fundraiser in his honor with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden and Cuomo have cultivated a public friendship in recent years, with the former veep touting the governor’s work on infrastructure spending in the state.

The fundraiser in June — benefitting Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign — surfaced the same day the governor announced new staff appointments in his office, including a former top aide to Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

With Maria Comella serving as chief staff, Cuomo now has a trio of women — Melissa DeRosa and Kelly Cummings included — at the helm of his administration to run the government and focus on big picture strategy.

He’s also turned to Republican staffers. Cummings worked as a communications director for the state Senate Republicans as did his budget director, Robert Mujica.

At the same time, Cuomo has retained a mix of former Obama and Clinton staffers in his office. And, perhaps not insignificantly, he took on a new speechwriter with an international affairs background.

Comella, however, was the hire that raised eyebrows, given her experience running a presidential campaign.

Cuomo has insisted he’s focused on being governor and has been planning a bid for a third term with fundraisers and moving his former top aide, Bill Mulrow, to chair the 2018 effort.  Post Link

A New York Republican Congressman Just Got Caught In A Major Corruption Scandal

Congressman Chris Collins is quite wealthy by just about any standard. Roll Call ranks the Upstate New York Republican the 19th richest Member of Congress, with an estimated net worth of approximately $24 million. As a wealthy investor, it’s not unusual for him to make multi-million dollar stock purchases.

In 2013, for example, he bought $2.2 million in stock as part of the initial public offering for Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian pharmaceutical company. Innate has developed a drug to treat Multiple Sclerosis in its advanced stages.

After the IPO, he bought even more stock. When the company needed a secondary round of funding, he encouraged his staff, his kids, and his close donors to buy as well. He even convinced over 10 of his fellow Republican congressmen buy in.

As of now, over 30 percent of Innate Immunotherapeutics has been purchased by Rep. Collins, his family, and the close associates he turned on to the stock.

If the story ended here we’d be writing about a savvy investor whose faith in this fledgling company helped bring a new treatment for a debilitating disease like MS to market. So what if he made a small fortune along the way?

But the story doesn’t end here. In fact, this is just where it begins.

Last year, Rep. Collins, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had language inserted into a the ’21st Century Cures Act,’ a bill signed into law by President Obama that, among other things, will fast-track foreign-made drugs like Innate’s MS treatment for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Trump's First National Security Adviser Is In Even More Trouble Over His Russia Payments

The leaders of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday said that former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn appears to have not properly disclosed payments he received from Russia to the US government.

Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings, the chair and ranking member of the committee, told reporters Tuesday that following a briefing with the Defense Intelligence Agency (which Flynn once headed), they believed that the former general had not properly listed income he received in 2015 from Moscow.

"Personally, I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law, and that is, he was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment but to engage in that activity," Chaffetz said. "I see no evidence that he actually did that."

Flynn — who was fired in February, just 24 days into President Donald Trump's term — had traveled to Russia to attend the 10th anniversary gala for Russia Today, a state-owned media company. That he was paid nearly $68,000 for this trip and others that year was a fact that should have been noted on his SF-86, the screening document necessary for the background check run prior to receiving a security clearance. Flynn was forced in March to register as a foreign agent for previously undisclosed lobbying work on behalf of Turkish clients during the waning days of the election and into the transition.

Chaffetz and Cummings alike dodged answering whether they believed Flynn had committed a crime, noting that the House Intelligence Committee was currently the lead investigative committee on matters related to Russia, though they did express interest in a hearing with Flynn. Cummings did note the fact that lying on an SF-86 can draw up to five years in prison, but Chaffetz chose instead to focus on the possibility of the money Flynn did not disclose being seized.

"If that money was received by General Flynn, and we believe that it was, that money needs to be recovered," Chaffetz said. "That final determination, again, will have to come from the Department of the Army as well as the Department of Defense, but as a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey, or anybody else."  Read full story here 

It looks like the White House is trying to ‘cover up’ the ‘unprecedented’ Flynn scandal

Fox News host Shepard Smith on Tuesday said the White House’s actions made it look like it was engaged in a “cover up.”

The leaders of the House Oversight Committee said earlier in the day that former national security adviser Mike Flynn appeared to have violated federal law by receiving payments from Russian organizations and the government of Turkey.

“The situation is unprecedented,” Smith said. “Never in American history has a man so close to the president, on his cabinet, the national security advisor no less, been accused of committing a crime by taking money from a foreign entity, much less one connected to the Russians.”

The White House has refused to provide the House Oversight Committee with documents related to Flynn. The congressional panel is investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including potential collusion between the Trump campaign and foreign operatives.

“At the core of all this is the Russians interfered with our elections,” Smith said. “General Flynn received money through an entity that was from the Russians. And what they want to know is was there collusion? The White House at least is giving the appearance, according to these congressional leaders, of a lack of cooperation, which could give an overall appearance that they’re trying to cover something up. Why not quit with all the semantic juggling and stuff and get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible?”  Read full story here 

Federal judge blocks Trump’s executive order cutting off federal funds for sanctuary cities

A federal judge in California on Tuesday blocked Donald Trump’s executive order cutting off federal funding to sanctuary cities.

The judge in San Francisco v. Donald J. Trump granted a preliminary injunction against the order, and in doing so called out “the Government’s flawed interpretation of the order.”

The injunction, the Court states, “[prohibits] the Government from exercising” the order “in a way that violated the Constitution.”  Read full post 

Betraying 'Hire American' Pledge, Trump Rewards Companies Offshoring US Jobs

In yet another reminder of how corporate-friendly the Trump administration has been—despite campaign pledges to defend American workers and "buy American, hire American" rhetoric—a new study out Tuesday reveals that the president continues to reward U.S. companies who ship jobs overseas.
According to the analysis (pdf), conducted by Good Jobs Nation along with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, "the flow of federal contract awards to major offshorers has continued unabated since Trump's inauguration."
"Even though he's signed over 60 executive orders during his first 100 days, he has yet to use the power of the pen to stop corporations that receive taxpayer dollars from shipping American jobs overseas."
—Joseph Geevarghese, Good Jobs Nation
The outsourcing of American jobs to other countries is a major issue for American voters, and helped propel President Donald Trump's victory in a number of economically distressed rust-belt states.
Despite this, as many as "56 percent of the top U.S. firms awarded the largest taxpayer-funded contracts in fiscal year (FY) 2016 engage in offshoring," the report notes. Further, 41 of the top 100 federal contractors—which in 2016 received a combined $176 billion in taxpayer dollars—have shipped jobs overseas and "many continue to do so today."
And while the president has not hesitated to wield his authority on a host of other matters, he has yet to take substantive action to bring back these jobs.
"Even though he's signed over 60 executive orders during his first 100 days, he has yet to use the power of the pen to stop corporations that receive taxpayer dollars from shipping American jobs overseas," said Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation.   
Moreover, the analysis notes that Trump's "highly publicized intervention against United Technolo. Readgies' plans to offshore more than 2,000 jobs to Mexico from the Indiana-based manufacturing plants of its subsidiary Carrier," still ultimately led to the offshoring of more than 1,000 jobs.  Read full story here 

‘It’s not going to be a pleasant day’ for Trump: CNN panel relishes anticipated Sally Yates testimony

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is scheduled to testify about Russiabefore the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 8th — and a CNN panel on Tuesday morning predicted there would be fireworks.

CNN’s David Chalian predicted that Yates’ testimony next month would not “be a pleasant day” for the Trump White House, as he expected that she will deliver a scathing assessment of the administration’s reaction to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“She was the one, as acting attorney general, that went running to the White House counsel to say, ‘Hey, Michael Flynn wasn’t truthful,'” he said, referring to the former national security adviser who was fired from the Trump White House for making misleading statements about his communications with Russian government officials. “Now she’s going to detail… what she learned. And I don’t think this administration is going to want to revisit Michael Flynn, whom they jettisoned.”  Read full post here

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Trump created a 100-day contract with voters. We scored how he's done

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John Oliver Wonders What Justifies Jared Kushner and Ivanka's Massive Policy Portfolios in the White House

Even Rush Limbaugh Thinks Trump Is 'Caving' On Funding For His Border Wall

Talk radio host and conservative tastemaker Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday lamented what he described as President Donald Trump “caving” on his demands for funding for a border wall.
“I’m not happy to have to pass this on,” Limbaugh said, according to the show’s transcript. “I’m very, very troubled to have to pass this on. And I want to say at the outset that I hope my interpretation is wrong, and I hope this is not the case. But it looks like, from here, right here, right now, it looks like President Trump is caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico.”  Post here 
Remember Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall NOT American taxpayers. 

Ivanka Trump Gets Chilly Reception For Touting Dad's Record At Women's Summit

Ivanka Trump got a chilly reception at an international summit to promote women’s economic empowerment on Tuesday when she tried to promote her father as a great advocate for women and families.
“I’m very, very proud of my father’s advocacy, long before he came to the presidency but during the campaign, including in the primaries,” Trump said on a panel at the Women20 summit in Berlin. “He’s been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive in the new reality of—”
The crowd responded to her comments with muttering and grumbling.
“You hear the reaction from the audience, so I need to address one more point,” the panel’s moderator, Miriam Meckel, cut in. “Some attitudes toward women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women.”
“I certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that’s been perpetuated,” Trump replied.
She cited “the thousands of women who have worked with and for” her father as a “testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women.”
Meckel did not specify which of President Donald Trump’s comments might call his attitudes toward women into question, though one example might be the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about how his fame enabled him to grab women “by the pussy” and forcibly kiss them.  Read full story here 

‘This is a major problem’: Cummings says Flynn appears to have committed a felony

Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) held a press conference on Tuesday to knock the Trump administration for denying their requests for documents related to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

“We received a response from the White House refusing to provide any of the documents we requested,” Cummings said at the press conference. “The White House has refused to offer a single piece of paper in response to this committee’s bipartisan request.”

Cummings also said Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, might have committed a felony by not disclosing payments he received from foreign governments before he assumed the role of national security adviser.

“This is a major problem,” Cummings said.

Classified military documents appear to show Flynn did not seek permission from the U.S. government to receive payments from Russian organizations and Turkey, the congressman said.

“I believe these documents should be declassified to the fullest extent possible without compromising sources or methods,” Cummings added.

During the press conference, both Cummings and Chaffetz — who are the senior members of the House Oversight Committee — said that they had seen no evidence so far that Flynn had complied with the law requiring that he get permission from the U.S. government before he took payments from foreign governments.  Read full story 

Trump Tax Push Raises Questions About Scope Of His ‘Reform’

President Donald Trump’s zeal to unveil a tax plan before his 100th day in office is raising questions about just how thorough his “tax reform” plans will be, amid signals that his focus for now is on slashing tax rates.

Trump has directed aides to move quickly on a plan to cut the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, a Trump administration official said on Monday.

With his 100th day nearing on April 29, Trump has been ordering studies and signing executive orders. But he has yet to introduce a major bill to the Republican-controlled Congress on any topic or win passage of someone else’s that he supports.

He has promised a “big tax reform and tax reduction” announcement on Wednesday. Some analysts said this may consist of a proposal to cut the corporate rate to 15 percent, cap the individual tax rate at 33 percent, repeal the estate and alternative minimum taxes and cut taxes for the middle class.

In earlier days, Trump vowed to oversee the biggest “tax reform” since President Ronald Reagan’s in 1986, a legislative feat that has since defied every president.

Wall Street analysts say Trump may instead offer a package of rate reductions, like those backed by Reagan in 1981 and President George W. Bush in 2001, which left the tax system intact.

If that is the case, it “is not tax reform. It is a tax cut,” Chris Krueger, analyst at financial firm Cowen & Co, said in a research note.

On Wednesday, Krueger said, “We will get some vague benchmarks about rate levels... with likely no detail on how to finance those reductions except for the assurance that the growth projections will take care of it.”  Read full story 

Chuck Schumer Still Talks To Trump. But He Doesn’t See A Detente Coming

WASHINGTON ― As Donald Trump approaches the end of his first 100 days in office, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate says he’s been surprised by the failure of the White House to splinter the Democratic Party.

In an interview with HuffPost, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) didn’t close the door on bipartisan collaboration with the president. But he criticized Trump for what he said was “erraticness and lack of real competence” in pursuing bills that could have flown through Congress, from trade reform to infrastructure investments. He said he told the president as much when the two talked last week over Canadian dairy policy (yes, Canadian dairy policy).

“Trump, when he ran ― and I’ve said this to him four times now ― when he ran, he ran anti-establishment against both the Democratic and Republican establishments. But he immediately, when he was elected president, made a deal with the hard-right and let them run the show,” said Schumer. “It would have made sense for them to have focused on infrastructure early. But here is what I think they’re afraid of. They are afraid of the hard-right. They have not made a decision that they will work with Democrats on anything.”   Read full story here 

There’s No Strategy Behind Trump’s Wars—Only Brute Force

These are awesome days for headline writers. So many global settings, such an abundance of weapons, such a wealth of choices!

On the morning of April 14, the New York Times led with “A Giant U.S. Bomb Strikes ISIS Caves in Afghanistan,” matched by CNN’s “US Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs.'” The Washington Post chose Syria, where “Errant U.S. Strike Kills 18: Victims in Syria Were Allied Forces.” By mid-afternoon that same day, the Associated Press had shifted to the horn of Africa, where the “U.S. Sends Dozens of Troops to Somalia, 1st Time in Decades.”

And as the Friday rush hour began in Washington, Fox News opted to head to the north Pacific, leading with an aircraft carrier: “The ‘Powerful’ USS Carl Vinson Steams Towards North Korea.”

A few days earlier the most popular choices were various versions of CNN’s “U.S. Launches Military Strike Against Syria.” (That headline described something new only because the strike officially targeted a Syrian government military site, while ignoring the not-so-new reality that the U.S. has been attacking alleged ISIS targets in Syria with drones, bombing raids, and special forces for almost three years.) Full story here 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trump demands his wall, Republicans are afraid to fund it, and media will want to blame Democrats

If the government shuts down over funding for Donald Trump’s precious border wall, who will be to blame? Be prepared for an avalanche of “both sides” claims from journalists—even where their own reporting doesn’t back that up. Take this self-contradictory three-reporter effort from Politico. According to the lede:

(Remember Trump promised to have Mexico pay for the wall not the American taxpayer)

President Donald Trump and Congress are on a collision course over government funding this week, as the White House demands money for a border wall with Mexico and Democrats vow it will never see a penny.

Democrats vow? Good for them, and it’s a crucial piece of blocking border wall billions, but that’s not all that’s going on here.

Even Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former Homeland Security Committee chairman who wrote the 2006 law authorizing the wall’s construction, said the White House should push for it later in the year.

“There’s going to be compromises going on,” King said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “Once the government is up and running, and stays open and running, then we have to fight this out over the next year.”

Sen. Marco Rubio echoed those sentiments:

“We cannot shut down the government right now,” Rubio said on CBS' "Face the Nation," later adding that the border fight is “worth having for 2018” funding rather than for the current fiscal year. “The last thing we can afford is to send a message to the world is that the United States government, by the way, is partially functioning.”

Democratic opposition to the Trump border wall is a necessary but not a sufficient condition here, so any “both sides” reporting—and this article literally contains the claim that “both sides are puffing up their chests”—is just silly, because there are at a minimum three sides here: the Trump side, Democrats, and congressional Republicans. And congressional Republicans may have embraced Trump as the best way for them to pass their hateful agenda, but that doesn’t mean they have the nerve to actually pass his agenda. Post 

Report: Senate Intel's Understaffed Russia Probe Is Moving At Snail’s Pace

After deep partisan divides threatened the integrity of the House investigation into Russia’s election meddling, all eyes turned to the Senate. Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice-Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) in March committed to providing the public with a thorough, bipartisan probe into the extent of Russia’s interference and whether President Donald Trump’s staffers colluded with Kremlin actors.
But little progress has yet been made, three sources close to the committee told the Daily Beast. Three months after agreeing on the breadth of its investigation, the sources said, the panel has assigned no full-time staffers to dig through evidence and conducted no interviews with key Trump allies with ties to Russia.
Their efforts to date have been devoted to reviewing “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” a report put out by the intelligence community and released in declassified form in January, according to the Daily Beast.
Burr and Warner noted in a March press conference that the seven staffers assigned to the probe had access to far more classified information than they did for previous investigations, like the one into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Yet the Daily Beast reported that none of the staffers, a mix of Democratic and Republican senior aides with top security clearances, are working on the probe full-time, have any prosecutorial or investigative experience, or even much expertise on Russia.  Read full story here 

Welcome Back! GOP Congress Returns To Resume Kabuki Dance Of Governance..SHUT DOWN

After a two-weeks of being berated by their constituents at raucous town halls—and watching Democrats come close to flipping two solidly red districts in Kansas and Georgia—members of Congress return to DC Monday. With few legislative accomplishments under their belts so far, they now face a government funding deadline, a debt ceiling increase, demands from the White House to take another swing at repealing Obamacare, and the daunting, likely impossible task of overhauling the tax code by August.
Though Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, deep divisions on all these issues remain, exacerbated by weeks of finger-pointing and inter-party threats in the wake of the health care bill’s embarrassing demise. And the closer it gets to the 2018 midterm elections, the more cautious members in swing districts will become about sticking their neck out to vote for controversial or unpopular bills.
“They have a lot to accomplish, but it’s a big question mark whether they’ll be able to do it,” said Dan Scandling, who worked as a senior staffer for GOP lawmakers for nearly 25 years. “At some point the Republicans have to start delivering, or their base will start showing up at their town halls saying, ‘Hey, you for years said if we gave you a Republican House and Senate you’d get things done. What’s the holdup?'”
Because members face enormous pressure to at least appear that they are making progress on the people’s business, we can expect to see a great deal of stalling, finger-pointing, earnest press conferences, bouts of secret negotiations, and other forms of political theater in the months ahead. For Republicans, the show must go on.

Government shutdown posturing

The government’s funding will expire at midnight on April 28, giving Congress less than a week to pass either a temporary or long-term budget in order to keep the lights on.
Under President Obama, each government funding and debt ceiling deadline offered Republicans a fresh opportunity to engage in brinksmanship and win concessions on red-meat issues like private school vouchers and abortion. This practice peaked in 2013, when Republicans triggered a two-week government shutdown over the implementation of Affordable Care Act.  Read full story here