We didn’t have our usual “What Did I Miss?” post last Friday, but there’s so much news happening every week, I didn’t want to let an extra week go by without a roundup. So today we’re going to do a Monday version to get caught up . . . Mother Nature’s fury once again dominated the news last week, bringing earthquakes to our neighbors in Mexico, and yet another round of damaging hurricanes to the U.S., leaving Puerto Rico especially devastated.
The GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort was also back in the news, as the latest incarnation, known as Graham-Cassidy, appeared to be picking up steam. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel got in on the fun, engaging the country in perhaps the most in-depth discussion of health care reform that we’ve had since Trump became President.
Though the repeal effort appeared to die on Friday, when Senator John McCain announced he would vote against the bill, reporters & activists who are following the story closely warn that the bill is not dead yet. Republicans are pulling out all the stops to drag this thing over the finish line. In the meantime, Politico reported that our supposedly frugal Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has gotten into the habit of chartering private planes for his on-the-job travels, charging taxpayers at least $400,000 over the last few months.* And this is the man who will be responsible for determining what counts as “affordable” health insurance if Graham-Cassidy becomes law. So what else happened this week that you might have missed?
1. You’ll be shocked to hear that Tom Price may not be the only Trump cabinet member living it up on our dime. Remember that insane press conference Trump held last month in the lobby of Trump Tower, where he let loose with his true feelings about the events in Charlottesville? Social media had lots of fun trying to interpret the body language of the cabinet members who stood alongside Trump while he ranted. Well, we now learn that two of those cabinet members, Steve Mnuchin and Elaine Chao, traveled to or from that press conference via a U.S. Air Force Jet at a cost of $25,000 to the taxpayers. (Chao took the flight there, Mnuchin took it back).
It is extremely unusual for treasury and transportation secretaries to use this method of transportation for domestic business travel. Aside from the president and vice president, travel on military aircraft is typically reserved for cabinet members who deal directly with national security, such as the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security. Former officials with the treasury and transportation departments told ABC News it is exceedingly rare that their bosses used government travel, and that when it did happen, it was typically on overseas business flights.
Something tells me this story is just getting started.
2. Speaking of Charlottesville, you probably heard a couple weeks ago that Congress had passed a resolution condemning white supremacists. There was some speculation among pundits and on social media over whether Trump would sign it. I think most of us were relieved when it was reported that Trump signed the resolution, thinking “phew” at least he didn’t turn that into a spectacle. But it turns out, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Along with his signature, Trump added a “signing statement” to the resolution.
A signing statement is a written statement a President adds to a bill when he doesn’t want to veto the bill, but there’s some element of the bill he doesn’t agree with. The signing statement has no legal effect on the bill.
Notice I keep saying “bill,” and that’s because until now, no President has ever used a signing statement on a resolution:
The presidential signing statement has long been a controversial presidential tool that allows presidents to sign bills even as they attempt to reinterpret them. But Trump’s use of a signing statement on a non-binding sense-of-Congress resolution may break new ground, experts say.
“This is extraordinary,” said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University political scientist who has studied presidential signing statements. “It is one of the weirdest, rarest uses of a signing statement that I know of.”
And just what did Trump have to say that was so important it was worth making this unprecedented move? His signing statement said that Americans “oppose hatred, bigotry, and racism in all forms.” It appears that when it comes to this topic, Trump just can’t help himself – he has to equivocate. Now, the statement he added actually doesn’t even sound so bad, and if you didn’t know his history on this issue, it would seem completely innocuous. His supporters would surely argue that it is completely innocuous. But if that’s the case, why not just sign the document as it was written by Congress?
3. This Tuesday is the run-off election in the Alabama GOP primary. This race has turned into sort of a proxy war between the rebellious, outsider, Bannon-ite base and the insider, GOP establishment. And it perfectly represents the dilemma Trump finds himself now that he’s President, as he continues to play to and identify with the former group, while he has actually become the latter. Trump has endorsed the incumbent Senator, Luther Strange, who also has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Strange’s opponent, Roy Moore, is most definitely a rebellious outsider, and he has the backing of Steve Bannon and Breitbart. He also has the lead in all the polls.
DC Deciphered first told you about Roy Moore back in April, as soon as he announced he was getting into the race. I had a feeling it would turn into a big story, even though almost no one took it seriously at the time. Now it looks like he has a good chance of becoming the next Senator from Alabama. Michal Scherer of the Washington Post recently did a profile of Moore that gives a good sense of who he is as a candidate:
The central argument of Moore’s campaign is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. Among the prices he says this country has paid for denying God’s supremacy: the high murder rate in Chicago, crime on the streets of Washington, child abuse, rape and sodomy. It is a crisis he hopes to address next year from the floor of the Senate.
4. The Trump administration’s revised travel ban expired on Sunday, and the administration has issued a new ban to take its place. The new travel ban is similar to the previous one, but it drops Sudan from the list of restricted countries and adds three new ones: Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. (For Venezuela, the ban applies only to certain government officials and their families). You’ll notice that the latter two countries are not Muslim-majority countries. In a post about the original travel ban way back in February, I suggested (half-jokingly) that Trump would eventually add a couple non Muslim-majority countries to the list so he can point to them and say, “see, how can it be a Muslim ban?”
It’s not clear yet how this new order from the Trump administration will affect the pending Supreme Court case on the ban that just expired. The new ban has no expiration date.
5. And here’s some good news in the civil rights arena: In the case of a divorcing same-sex couple, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that same-sex spouses have the same parental rights as opposite sex spouses.
It would be inconsistent with Obergefell (the U.S. Supreme Court ruling) to conclude that same-sex couples can legally marry but states can then deny them the same benefits of marriage afforded opposite-sex couples,” the judges said in their opinion. “Legal parent status is, undoubtedly, a benefit of marriage.
This outcome seems like it should be obvious after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergfell. But there are still courts in this country that find ways around abiding by that decision when it comes to granting same-sex couples all of the rights that should come with a legal marriage. Remember, just a couple months ago, the Texas Supreme Court said that same sex spouses of city employees are not necessarily entitled to the same health & life insurance benefits that opposite sex spouses are.
And here’s a little more background on the facts of the AZ case for those who are interested.
6. In the last “What Did I Miss?”, I told you that the Trump administration was considering reducing the number of refugees permitted in the United States next year. Of course, the administration needed a justification for that policy change, other than “Trump just doesn’t like ’em,” so they enlisted HHS to do a study on the costs and benefits of refugees in the country. But then this happened:
Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.
Unsurprisingly, the man who has helped engineer much of Trump’s nativist agenda played a big role in suppressing the information:
7. And the Republican Governors Association has started its own news site that looks like a real media outlet, is branded as a real media outlet, and is named like a real media outlet (its called The Free Telegraph). But of course, it’s not a real media outlet. Initially it did not disclose anywhere on the site that it was a partisan source with the goal of getting Republicans elected, as opposed to an actual news source. In other words, most people coming across the site would believe it was genuine news. Only after the Associated Press asked about it did the RGA add a disclosure.
Political communications expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied political advertising for four decades, said The Free Telegraph commits a form of “identity theft” by “appropriating the integrity of news” because “the form of news carries credibility” that blatantly partisan sites do not.
Jamieson was particularly critical of RGA’s initial failure to disclosure its involvement. “What we know about audiences is they factor in the source of information when judging that information,” she said. “If you are denying the reader, the listener or the viewer information you know the reader uses, the question is why do you feel the need to do this?”
8. DC Deciphered has told you previously about Sinclair Broadcast Group, a right wing media company that own local tv stations throughout the country and may soon own many more if a hoped-for merger is permitted to proceed. There had been reports in the past that Sinclair forces its local stations to air pre-packaged news segments that reflect Sinclair’s right wing views. Now we get the inside scoop from one station in Rhode Island that is experiencing the transformation into Sinclair world:
The company that owns WJAR-TV is mandating the broadcast of multiple programs favorable to President Donald Trump on the state’s most-watched television station.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, a rapidly growing media company that bought Channel 10 in 2014, produces “must-run” segments and distributes them to its local stations nationwide. They must air during daily news programming, Sinclair executives said.
Sinclair is poised to become the nation’s largest owner of TV stations and, with its recent hire of former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, viewers can expect to see more of the chain’s political programming.
The practice, which has infused a political flavor into the 68-year-old WJAR’s broadcasts, started quietly there at least a year ago.
Three of the segments have rattled viewers and WJAR’s own news reporters . . .
If you look at the last three items, you’ll see a pattern of conservatives creating their own closed information loop, presenting each other and their audiences with only information that pleases them, and simply rejecting any information that is inconvenient or displeasing. This of course fits with a pattern we’ve been seeing develop over the last couple decades, but really intensifying in the Trump era, with a perfect example being the debate over the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.
9. The Washington Post has learned that taxpayers picked up the tab for a two-night stay at Mar-a-Lago during one of Trump’s seven trips there since becoming President. The bill came to $1,092. It’s not clear who the room was for.
The receipt, which was obtained in recent days by the transparency advocacy group Property of the People and verified by The Post, offers one of the first concrete signs that Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago as the “Winter White House” has resulted in taxpayer funds flowing directly into the coffers of his private business.
Given the number of high-profile presidential events at Mar-a-Lago, questions about who pays for meals and rooms have generally gone unanswered. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited in February, the White House made a point of saying that Abe would stay at the club free of charge as a personal guest of Trump.
Property of the People obtained the invoice for the room through a Freedom of Information Act request.
10. And the Trump administration is refusing to turn over the bulk of its Mar-a-Lago visitor logs, despite an order from a judge instructing it to do so. The White House turned over 22 names from one weekend when Japanese Prime Minister Abe visited. Other than that, it is refusing to give any information from the logs.
Earlier this summer a federal judge in New York ordered Secret Service — a component of Homeland Security — to turn over all records for Mar-a-Lago from January 20, 2017, to March 8, 2017.
In a cover letter transmitting the 22 names to CREW on Friday, the Justice Department said that the remaining records would be withheld.
11. But you know who has a lot of information they’re willing to share? Hillary Clinton. Even though there were loads of people all over tv and social media telling her to just shut up and go away when she launched her latest book tour, it seems like there are lots more who want to hear what she has to say. In its first week out:
The book’s hardcover sales topped 168,000 copies, which marks the best opening sales for any nonfiction book in five years, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks most retail print sales.
12. And Time put together the entertaining video in the tweet below, which shows just how often Trump relies on his favorite dodge for avoiding questions he doesn’t want to answer: it’s called “what about-ism.”
And you know it’s gotten bad when Merriam-Webster is sub-tweeting the President about it:
*NOTE: This included a $25,000 flight from D.C. to Philly – a trip for which there are dozens of commercial flights available everyday for only a few hundred dollars. And in case you’re wondering, no, this is not standard practice. Both of Obama’s HHS Secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, flew commercial when they traveled around the United States for work.
And I can’t resist posting this video. I know there are plenty of people out there who think all politicians are hypocrites, but this is some seriously upper level hypocrite-ing: