Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:
An examination by The Intercept of lobbyist disclosures filed with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act shows that Saudi Arabia has greatly expanded its spending on influence peddling during the past two years. Since 2015 the Kingdom has expanded the number of foreign agents on retainer to 145 individuals, up from 25 registered agents during the previous two year period.
Perhaps not coincidentally, President Trump, who less than a year ago vilified Saudi Arabia’s influence over the American political establishment, is now marching to the Saudi lobbyists’ tune.
The selection of Saudi Arabia as the first foreign nation Trump will visit as president when he embarks on his maiden overseas trip is just the latest example of Trump changing his behavior to embrace a country responsible for widespread human rights violations, a growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and the export of an intolerant form of Islam.
Gone are the days when Trump mocked a prominent member of the Saudi royal family for wanting to “control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money,” openly alleged that the Kingdom was behind the September 11 terror attacks, and demanded that the U.S. receive free oil for protecting the Saudi elite. During his trip this week, Trump is expected to give an address that backs the Saudi government as a strong Muslim ally and a partner in
Madeline Conway reports for Politico:
Former President Barack Obama, speaking to an audience in Italy on Tuesday, urged citizens to participate in democracy and warned that “you get the politicians you deserve.”
“People have a tendency to blame politicians when things don’t work, but as I always tell people, you get the politicians you deserve,” Obama said, to loud applause. “And if you don’t vote and you don’t pay attention, you’ll get policies that don’t reflect your interest.”
Obama was speaking in Milan at a summit on food innovation. He has spoken broadly about the democratic process in a handful of public appearances since the end of his tenure, and he devoted his good-bye address in Chicago to democracy and urging Americans to engage in politics.
The former president has largely refrained from commenting on President Donald Trump at his post-White House engagements so far, but it is no secret that Obama’s worldview contrasts with Trump’s sharply, and during the campaign, Obama repeatedly argued that Trump was uniquely unqualified for the presidency.
Alex Roarty reports for McClatchy:
The first TV ad of Bill Peduto’s campaign was a 30-second address made directly to President Donald Trump, criticizing the Republican leader’s rhetoric and proposed budget cuts.
But Peduto isn’t running for a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate. In fact, he’s not seeking federal office of any kind. He’s a mayor, running for re-election in Pittsburgh, and his office has very little to do with the White House.
“Mr. President, if you keep trying to cut health care and after-school programs, even a Patriots fan like you should know that won’t play in Pittsburgh,” the Democratic candidate said. (The NFL’s New England Patriots are rivals to Pittsburgh’s football team, the Steelers.)
A local candidate running ads about the Leader of the Free World might seem odd. But even in the smallest races, Democratic strategists predict, it’s about to become commonplace.
The new president has such a grip on the Democratic Party’s psyche that candidates can’t ignore him – even if they’re running for positions such as mayor that are ostensibly more about local issues. That makes ads about the New York billionaire inevitable, as Democratic candidates try to prove to their base that they’ll do whatever they can to fight this president.
Jeremy Berke reports for Business Insider:
A Wednesday poll from Quinnipiac University showed President Donald Trump’s approval rating at near historic lows and suggested potential disaster for congressional Republicans in the 2018 midterms.
Trump’s approval rating stood at 36% in the poll, the second lowest approval rating the survey has measured during his presidency. On April 4, Quinnipiac found Trump’s approval rating at 35%.
The poll also painted potential disaster for congressional Republicans in the 2018 midterms: 54% of respondents said they wanted Democrats to win control of the House of Representatives, compared to 38% who want Republicans to maintain control.
David Rothkopf, author of Superclass, writes for Foreign Policy:
We have the tin-pot leader whose vanity knows no bounds. We have the rapacious family feathering their nests without regard for the law or common decency. We have utter disregard for values at home and abroad, the disdain for democracy, the hunger for constraining a free press, the admiration for thugs and strongmen worldwide.
We have all the makings of a banana republic. But worse, we are showing the telltale signs of a failing state. Our government has ceased to function. Party politics and gross self-interest has rendered the majority party oblivious to its responsibilities to its constituents and the Constitution of the United States. On a daily basis, Republicans watch their leader violate not only the traditions and standards of the high office he occupies, but through inaction they enable him to personally profit from the presidency, promote policies that benefit his cronies and his class to the detriment of the majority of the American people, and serially attack the principles on which the country was founded — from freedom of religion to the separation of powers.
Jamiles Lartey reports for The Guardian:
A jury in Washington has convicted a woman who was arrested after laughing during a confirmation hearing for the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
Desiree Fairooz, an activist with the leftwing NGO Code Pink, was found guilty of engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings, as well as “parading, demonstrating or picketing”.
The charges stem from the hearing on 10 January, when Sessions’ then colleague, fellow Alabama Republicansenator Richard Shelby, said Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented”.
Fairooz laughed out loud twice at this claim, and according to the charges filed by the prosecutor, “grew loud and more disruptive” as an officer attempted to remove her from the room.
The AARP called the health bill that House Republicans narrowly approved Thursday “deeply flawed” because it would weaken Medicare and lead to higher insurance premiums for older Americans.
The American Medical Association said it would undo health insurance coverage gains and hurt public health efforts to fight disease. The American Hospital Association said the bill would destroy Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that expanded mightily under the Affordable Care Act and buoyed hospitals’ bottom lines.
Normally, that would spell failure.
But in today’s Washington, despite vocal opposition from nearly every major constituency affected by the bill, the vote produced the opposite result. The chorus of nays was not enough to stop the Republican-controlled House from approving the American Health Care Act, which repeals many critical parts of Affordable Care Act — the 2010 law known as Obamacare that has dropped uninsured rates in the United States to historic lows but, despite its lofty name, did little to rein in rising health costs. The AHCA will now move to the Senate, where GOP senators are expected to demand many changes.
Andrew Sullivan writes for New York Magazine:
A word on Obamacare. I relied on it until just recently when I joined New York’s staff and went on an employer’s plan, and, to tell the truth, part of me didn’t even want to make the change — even though it will obviously save me a lot of money. What Obamacare did for me, living with the preexisting condition of HIV, was, first of all, give me far more independence and freedom. It gave me the confidence to quit a previous job and start my own little media company — my blog, the Dish. It gave me peace of mind when I subsequently shut that business down and was able to stay on the same plan. It allowed me to be a freelance writer without fear of personal bankruptcy. I got no subsidy, but I was glad to pay the premiums for me and my husband because it gave me a sense of control over our finances and our future. I knew I wouldn’t suddenly find myself facing soaring health-care costs or no health care at all — and the premium actually went down a smidgen last year.
You might think Obamacare would violate my generally conservative principles, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to me to be an effective marriage of conservative principles and, well, human decency. The decency part comes from not blaming or punishing the sick for their condition. The conservative part comes from the incremental nature of the reform, and its reliance on the private sector to provide a public good. For good measure, it actually saved the government money, and it slowed soaring health-care costs. The exchanges, with predictable early hiccups, largely worked — a case study in the benefits of market competition. The law allowed for experiments to test how efficient health care could be. It even insisted on personal responsibility by mandating individual coverage. And the concept of insurance is not socialism; it’s a matter simply of pooling risk as widely as possible. If any European conservative party were to propose such a system, it would be pilloried as a far-right plot. And yet the Republican Party opposed it with a passion that became very hard for me to disentangle from hatred of Obama himself.
The Trump GOP’s attempt to abolish it is therefore, to my mind, neither conservative nor decent. It’s reactionary and callous. Its effective abandonment of 95 percent of us with preexisting conditions will strike real terror in a lot of people’s hearts. Its gutting of Medicaid will force millions of the poor to lose health care almost altogether. It will bankrupt the struggling members of the working and middle classes who find themselves in a serious health crisis. It could hurt Republicans in the midterms —though that will be cold comfort for the countless forced into penury or sickness because of Trump’s desire for a “win.” But it’s clarifying for me. It forces me to back a Democratic Party I don’t particularly care for. And it destroys any notion I might have had that American conservatism gives a damn about the vulnerable. It really is a deal-breaker for me. I hope many others feel exactly the same way.
Michelle Goldberg writes for The New York Times:
Shortly before President Trump’s swearing-in, I spoke to Steve Cohen, a liberal congressman from Tennessee, about his decision to skip the ceremony. Mr. Cohen said his horror of Mr. Trump almost made him understand how Tea Partyers might have felt under President Barack Obama. “I want my country back!” he said, echoing the right’s rallying cry.
One hundred days into his administration, President Trump has few legislative achievements to his name. But he has forced liberals to experience the near-apocalyptic revulsion that conservatives have often felt toward Democratic presidents. In doing so, he has unwittingly created a new movement in American politics, as Democrats channel the sort of all-encompassing outrage that has long fueled grass-roots conservatism.
For decades, Democrats have envied the Republicans’ passionate, locally attuned base. It turns out that what Democrats were missing was a sense of existential emergency. Mr. Trump has provided it.
Amy Goodman recently spoke with Noam Chomsky about comments he made regarding the Republican Party’s committment to the destruction of life and being “the most dangerous organisation on on earth”. (Noam Chomsky)
Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:
In every type of government, nothing unites people behind the leader more quickly, reflexively or reliably than war. Donald Trump now sees how true that is, as the same establishment leaders in U.S. politics and media who have spent months denouncing him as a mentally unstable and inept authoritarian and unprecedented threat to democracy are standing and applauding him as he launches bombs at Syrian government targets.
Trump, on Thursday night, ordered an attack that the Pentagon said included the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles which “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” The governor of Homs, the Syrian province where the attack occurred, said early this morning that the bombs killed seven civilians and wounded nine.
The Pentagon’s statement said the attack was “in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.” Both Syria and Russia vehemently deny that the Syrian military used chemical weapons.
When asked about this yesterday by the Globe and Mail’s Joanna Slater, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged an investigation to determine what actually happened before any action was contemplated, citing what he called “continuing questions about who is responsible”.
But U.S. war fever waits for nothing. Once the tidal wave of American war frenzy is unleashed, questioning the casus belli is impermissible. Wanting conclusive evidence before bombing commences is vilified as sympathy with and support for the foreign villain (the same way that asking for evidence of claims against Russia instantly converts one into a “Kremlin agent” or “stooge”).
Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura challenges on his support for Trump and the electoral college, as well as his views on marijuana legalisation and climate change. (Reich Wing Watch)
Travis J. Tritten reports for Stars and Stripes:
The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House armed services committees said Monday that President Donald Trump‘s proposal to boost defense spending by $54 billion for fiscal year 2018 is not enough.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, are pushing for a $640-billion base defense budget and said the $603-billion proposal unveiled by the White House will not reverse the decline in recent years in spending and military readiness.
The White House released a spending cap-busting, top-line figure following pledges by Trump for a major defense buildup but declined to provide details of how the additional money will be used. It plans to release a fully detailed defense budget in May and that must be passed by Congress.
“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President [Barack] Obama’s budget. We can and must do better,” McCain said in a released statement.
Marcus Weisgerber reports for Defense One:
President Donald Trump has proposed to return Pentagon spending to levels originally proposed by then-President Barack Obama in 2013.
The move has drawn fire from Republicans who say it doesn’t increase defense spending enough and Democrats who decry the cuts it entails for the rest of the federal government.
The proposal was revealed in the top-level spending targets sent by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget to federal departments on Monday. The Pentagon’s share of Trump’s 2018 budget plan is $603 billion, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
The figure happens to be near the same amount envisioned for 2018 in a multiyear spending plan approved by the last administration. But Obama’s plan ran afoul of the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, or BCA. That’s also a problem for Trump, who is proposing to spend $54 billion more, or about 10 percent, than the $549 billion cap allows.
Jonathan Martin reports for The New York Times:
Former Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, narrowly defeating Representative of Minnesota to take the helm of a still-divided party stunned by President Trump’s victory but hopeful that it can ride the backlash against his presidency to revival.
The balloting, which carried a measure of suspense not seen in the party in decades, revealed that Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from last year’s presidential primary campaign. Mr. Perez, buoyed by activists most loyal to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, won with 235 votes out of 435 cast on the second ballot.
Mr. Ellison, who was lifted primarily by the liberal enthusiasts of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, captured the remaining 200 votes. But that was only after he had pushed the voting to a second round after Mr. Perez fell a single vote short of winning on the first ballot.
After Mr. Perez’s victory was announced, Mr. Ellison’s supporters exploded in anger and drowned out the interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, with a chant of “Party for the people, not big money!” When Mr. Perez was able to speak, he immediately called for Mr. Ellison to be named deputy chairman, delighting Mr. Ellison’s supporters.
Taking the microphone from Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison pleaded with his fervent backers: “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited “states’ rights” on Tuesday in defending the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama administration’s federal protections for transgender students.
“The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government,” he said. “All you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in. This is a states’ rights issue.”
But on Thursday, asked about federal marijuana enforcement, it was like the states had no rights at all. Arkansas-based reporter Roby Brock asked Spicer about the administration’s posture towards Arkansas’s new medical marijuana law.
Spicer suggested that the Trump administration would respect state laws related to medical marijuana — but not offer the same respect for recreational marijuana.
Darius Tahir reports for Politico:
Former House Speaker John Boehner predicted on Thursday that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not what’s going to happen” and that Republicans will instead just make some fixes to the health care law.
Boehner, who retired in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando healthcare conference that GOP lawmakers were too optimistic in their talk of quickly repealing and then replacing Obamacare.
“They’ll fix Obamacare, and I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” Boehner said.
The former speaker’s frank comments capture the conundrum that many Republicans find themselves in as they try to deliver on pledges to axe Obamacare but struggle to coalesce around an alternative.
Amy Goodman speaks to former Department of Homeland Security attorney Margo Schlanger and attorney Cesar Vargas, co-director of DREAM Action Coalition, about how the White House is moving to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of immigration and Border Patrol agents by 15,000. President Obama’s deportation practices set the stage for today’s new crackdown. During his time in office, Obama deported a record 2.7 million people. In 2014, the head of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguía, called Obama the nation’s “deporter-in-chief”. (Democracy Now!)
Brad Plumer reports for Vox:
On the same day the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as Donald Trump’s secretary of state, the House voted to kill a transparency rule for oil companies that Tillerson once lobbied against while CEO of Exxon Mobil.
So all in all, a good day for America’s largest oil and gas firm.
Using the little-known Congressional Review Act, the House GOP voted on Wednesday to kill an Obama-era regulation that would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose any payments that they made to foreign governments, including taxes and royalties.
The rule itself dates back to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act — when senators from both parties included a provision requiring greater disclosure from mining and drilling companies working abroad. The hope was to cut down on corruption in resource-rich developing countries by increasing transparency.
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speak to Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post, about Democrats beginning to push back Trump’s nominees after facing public pressure to do more. Grim recently wrote an article titled ‘After Trying Everything Else, Democrats Have Decided To Listen To Their Voters‘. (Democracy Now!)
Jordan Smith reports for The Intercept:
At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.
The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.
If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.
[…] The good news, such as it is, is that the executive branch is only supposed to execute the law, not make it. This means that some of Trump’s executive orders are more symbolic nods to his base than a real change in governance.
For instance, Trump has loudly celebrated his Wednesday executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” But presidents can only spend money that’s been appropriated by Congress, for the purposes Congress directed.
So if you read deep into the executive order, you’ll find that it merely instructs the secretary of homeland security to “identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all sources of federal funds for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall.” This means the secretary will look at money already appropriated by Congress and try to find some designated for a purpose that could somehow be interpreted as “build the wall.”
In other words, Trump’s order sets his administration looking under the federal budget’s sofa cushions for spare change, which is not going to add up to anything like the $20-$40 billion the wall would cost.
When Trump excitedly tweeted that “we will build the wall!” it actually just meant “we will build the wall if someday Congress gives me money for it!” — something that was true before he signed the executive order.
Fourteen Senate Democrats joined all but one Senate Republican in confirming Rep. Mike Pompeo as the new CIA director on Monday evening, failing a crucial first test of whether Democrats would present a united front to defend human rights and civil liberties in the Trump era.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the lone member of his party to vote against his confirmation.
Pompeo is a far-right Kansas Republican who has in the past defended CIA officials who engaged in torture, calling them “patriots.” Last week, he left the door open to torture by acknowledging in his written responses to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would be open to altering a 2015 law prohibiting the government from using techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual.
As a member of Congress, he repeatedly appeared on the radio program hosted by anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney, and has portrayed the war on terror as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. He has also claimed that “Islamic leaders across America [are] potentially complicit” in terrorism because they supposedly don’t speak out against it, which is not true.
While Pompeo’s confirmation was opposed by Human Rights Watch, it netted votes from a variety of Senate Democrats, including the caucus’ leader: Chuck Schumer of New York.
Spencer Woodman reports for The Intercept:
On Saturday, the Women’s March on Washington will kick off what opponents of the incoming administration hope will be a new era of demonstrations against the Republican agenda. But in some states, nonviolent demonstrating may soon carry increased legal risks — including punishing fines and significant prison terms — for people who participate in protests involving civil disobedience. Over the past few weeks, Republican legislators across the country have quietly introduced a number of proposals to criminalize and discourage peaceful protest.
The proposals, which strengthen or supplement existing laws addressing the blocking or obstructing of traffic, come in response to a string of high-profile highway closures and other actions led by Black Lives Matter activists and opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Republicans reasonably expect an invigorated protest movement during the Trump years.
In North Dakota, for instance, Republicans introduced a bill last week that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally. In Minnesota, a bill introduced by Republicans last week seeks to dramatically stiffen fines for freeway protests and would allow prosecutors to seek a full year of jail time for protesters blocking a highway. Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism.” Republicans in Michigan introduced and then last month shelved an anti-picketing law that would increase penalties against protestors and would make it easier for businesses to sue individual protestors for their actions. And in Iowa a Republican lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation to crack down on highway protests.
Francine Kiefer writes for The Christian Science Monitor:
You could dub them the “roll-back cabinet” – Donald Trump’s nominees who are hostile to the very government agencies that they have been selected to lead.
In confirmation hearings this week, Democrats have decried and Republicans have rallied behind an Environmental Protection Agency appointee who has sued the agency 14 times (Scott Pruitt); a proposed Health secretary who promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Tom Price); and a billionaire who would be the nation’s top public educator but who supports vouchers to help kids leave public schools for private ones (Betsy DeVos).
Then there’s the designated Labor secretary who opposes significant increases in the minimum wage (Andy Puzder) and the proposed Energy secretary who, as a presidential candidate, called for the department’s abolishment (Rick Perry). Mr. Perry, however, walked back those comments during his confirmation hearing Thursday, saying, “after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
As a nation, America has been here before. Historians point to 1981, when Ronald Reagan also appointed cabinet secretaries who wanted to dismantle policies and programs in the departments they led.
The Washington Times:
Senator John McCain called Monday for a massive boost in defense spending totaling more than $85 billion per year over the next half-decade, saying that is just the beginning of what it will take to restore the U.S. military to a dominant role.
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman’s plans, detailed in a white paper, are an important marker, laying out defense hawks’ wish list as Congress prepares to debate budget priorities under the Trump administration.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said that after years of bleeding, the Pentagon will struggle to fight the war on terrorism while preparing to engage emerging threats in Russia and China.
Amy Goodman speaks to Craig Holman of Public Citizen who says that the Trump administration is a scandal in waiting because of the vast number of conflicts of interest he brings: “If steps are not taken to manage these conflicts, the Trump administration is likely to become one of the most scandal-ridden in memory.” You can watch the full of interview with former George W. Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter, which was shown at the start of this interview, here. (Democracy Now!)
Matthew Rozsa reports for Salon:
Senate Republicans plan on helping President-elect Donald Trump confirm some of his more controversial cabinet appointments by holding a marathon session of hearings on Wednesday and through Thursday — a procedure that Democrats claim is intended to help the picks avoid serious scrutiny.
On the same day that Trump has scheduled a news conference (which could also distract attention from the confirmation hearings), the Senate is scheduled to hear from a number of Trump’s potential appointments — some of whom have baggage — on Wednesday and Thursday, according to The Hill on Wednesday.
BBC News reports:
Republicans are to drop a plan to gut the independent body that investigates political misconduct, after an outcry.
President-elect Donald Trump had criticised Republicans after they voted to strip the Office of Congressional Ethics of its independence.
“Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!” Mr Trump said in a tweet.
The proposal was dropped in an emergency meeting at the new Congress, unnamed lawmakers told the US media.
Mr Trump made cleaning up corruption in Washington a key theme of his campaign, and he ended his tweet with “#DTS”, an acronym for “drain the swamp”.