Trump the teetotaler forced to defend Kavanaugh’s drinking

President Donald Trump, a teetotaler who says he’s never even had a beer, finds himself in the awkward position of fiercely defending a Supreme Court nominee under harsh scrutiny for his past heavy drinking.

The more Trump embraces his embattled nominee and publicly comments on accounts that Kavanaugh drank to excess, the starker the contrast becomes — shedding light on what Trump on Monday called “one of my only good traits.”

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Trump denied that he was bothered by reports of Kavanaugh’s past drinking habits, which several former classmates have described as excessive.

“I remember my college days; everybody was drinking. It was, like, normal,” Trump said. “I was abnormal…. So I don’t see anything wrong.”

In booze-soaked Washington, where senators, lobbyists and White House staffers regularly drink stiff cocktails in wood-paneled downtown bars, Trump’s abstinence is a rarity — Continue reading “Trump the teetotaler forced to defend Kavanaugh’s drinking”

How the Kavanaugh fiasco may change vetting forever

The sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh may redefine high-level political background vetting for the #MeToo era, applying intense new scrutiny to even the teenage years of future Supreme Court picks and other top federal nominees.

High school keg parties, teenage love interests and college fraternities are all likely to be put under the microscope by government officials as a president weighs the next Supreme Court pick — especially when it comes to the dozens of well-credentialed middle-aged white males often touted as future justices who came of age before the #MeToo movement. The same likely applies to would-be cabinet officials and potential presidential running mates.

The Kavanaugh allegations could also force presidents to shy away from men with a history of heavy drinking or frat-house style antics, even if vetting teams don’t find evidence of troubling inappropriate behavior, according to a half-dozen veterans of past Supreme Court battles. The Continue reading “How the Kavanaugh fiasco may change vetting forever”

Frat boy vs. choir boy: Dueling versions of Kavanaugh raise credibility questions

Call them the two Brett Kavanaughs: One was a rowdy frat boy who once bragged about “100 kegs.” The other was a studious rule-follower who spent his free time going to church, volunteering and remaining chaste.

Making the contrast even stranger is the fact that both versions have been offered by Kavanaugh himself.

As the battle over Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination places his adolescence and young adulthood under the microscope, critics are asking which version of the man is real — and whether the conservative judge has represented himself to the public honestly.

The war over the nomination has produced neck-snapping moments of cognitive dissonance. When former high school classmates accused Kavanaugh of making a crude joke in his yearbook about having sex with a girl from a nearby high school, Kavanaugh’s lawyer countered that he was simply commemorating a “brief kiss good night.” When Kavanaugh insisted he Continue reading “Frat boy vs. choir boy: Dueling versions of Kavanaugh raise credibility questions”

White House, GOP point to Democratic ‘resistance’ behind Kavanaugh ‘smear’

At first, the Sunday night publication of a New Yorker article detailing a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh looked like a disaster for the White House.

But by Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump’s aides and allies argued it was not only survivable, but that they could turn an alleged “smear” into a political winner that might help rescue Kavanaugh’s nomination. The judge‘s accusers had overplayed their hand, they insisted of the mounting charges, and revealed the coordinated partisan attack on an honorable man.

Trump led the new offensive, telling reporters that the charges “could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything." The allegations are “starting to feel like a vast left-wing conspiracy,” counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told CBS. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh rejected the accusations as “smears, Continue reading “White House, GOP point to Democratic ‘resistance’ behind Kavanaugh ‘smear’”

Immigrants may be denied green cards if they’ve received welfare

The Trump administration proposed expanding its pre-election crackdown on immigration by denying green cards to legal immigrants if they or their dependents have received government assistance.

Under the new rule, which the Department of Homeland Security posted online Saturday, immigrants can be denied so-called "lawful permanent residency" if they’ve received certain government benefits–or if the government anticipates that they may do so in the future.

The measure represents the latest move by White House aide Stephen Miller to reduce drastically all immigration to the U.S., both legal and illegal, and reflects his strong conviction that doing so will improve congressional Republicans’ chances in the midterm elections. The benefit programs targeted include the the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare), Medicaid, and Medicare Part D (prescription drug subsidies).

The regulation could force millions of low-income families to choose between government assistance and permanent Continue reading “Immigrants may be denied green cards if they’ve received welfare”

‘The president had to step in’: White House shifts strategy on Kavanaugh defense

President Donald Trump for the first time directly challenged the woman who made a sexual assault allegation against his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, part of a strategic shift designed to reframe the scandal as a partisan attack on his administration.

The president, still in Las Vegas for a fundraiser before heading to Missouri for a rally, asserted on Twitter that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, or her family would have reported the episode to law enforcement at the time it happened — when she was still in high school — if it “was as bad as she says.” He also openly tied her claims to Senate Democrats, who he accused of trying to “Obstruct & Resist & Delay.”

One Republican close to the confirmation process said Trump, who has briefly commented on Ford’s allegations but had avoided directly questioning her credibility, led the decision to engage directly, Continue reading “‘The president had to step in’: White House shifts strategy on Kavanaugh defense”

Trump tries to rewrite history on Maria as Hurricane Florence approaches

Facing renewed criticism of his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump lashed out again on Wednesday, grousing about his administration’s “unappreciated great job” on the Puerto Rico recovery – despite the remoteness of the island, poor access to electricity and the “totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan.”

“We are ready for the big one that is coming!” an exuberant Trump concluded, as a new storm spun toward the East Coast.

The president’s tweets, posted as cable news flipped almost entirely to tracking preparations in the Carolinas for Hurricane Florence, followed Trump’s claims on Monday that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was an “incredible unsung success” despite the thousands who died – and the massive power failures that persisted for months after the storm, hobbling Puerto Rico’s already-struggling economy.

From the moment Trump ascended to the nation’s highest office, the former reality TV boardroom brawler has Continue reading “Trump tries to rewrite history on Maria as Hurricane Florence approaches”

Obama vs. Trump: The clash everyone’s waited for arrives

URBANA, Ill. — Barack Obama went hard. Donald Trump hardly responded.

Friday was the day Republicans and Democrats and pretty much every reporter and political obsessive has been dreaming of — the two presidents who couldn’t be more different, who are both the throbbing hearts of their own bases and the nightmare of the others’ — going head to head.

Six weeks before the midterms that are existential for both of their visions of the future, Obama unleashed for the first time with an indictment of Trump and Republicans that stopped just short of calling them traitors to the American ideal. Trump, who’s been swiping at Obama on Twitter and other appearances almost every chance he gets and months ago said Democrats who didn’t clap for his state of the union address had committed treason, made a joke about sleeping through it. A few hours later, he congratulated himself for Continue reading “Obama vs. Trump: The clash everyone’s waited for arrives”

Trump on congressman who assaulted reporter: ‘He is a fighter’

President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to make light of a Montana politician’s assault on a reporter.

During a rally in Billings, Montana, Trump praised Greg Gianforte, a current House Republican lawmaker who, as a congressional candidate, assaulted a reporter from The Guardian last year during an interview on the campaign trail.

“I’ll tell you what: This man has fought — in more ways than one — for your state. He has fought for your state,” the president said. “Greg Gianforte. He is a fighter and a winner.”

Gianforte, who nonetheless won his congressional bid, subsequently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has repeatedly criticized journalists, both during his campaign for president and throughout his time in office, calling the media “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” The president took jabs at the press Continue reading “Trump on congressman who assaulted reporter: ‘He is a fighter’”

Trump says he revoked Brennan’s security clearance — but Brennan says he may still have it

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders walked into the briefing room earlier this month and made an unprecedented declaration: President Donald Trump had decided to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

But in the 13 days since Sanders read Trump’s 571-word statement to the press, Brennan hasn’t heard anything from the White House, the CIA or any other representative of the administration. And he’s received no formal notification that his clearance has been pulled.

“Whether or not my clearances have been stripped, I’m still uncertain about,” Brennan said in an interview Tuesday with MSNBC.

Trump used the power of the presidency to override the long-standing government process for pulling security clearances. Whether he’s implemented a new process to replace the old one is anybody’s guess.

The White House has said little about how it made the determination to revoke Brennan’s clearance other than pointing to what Trump Continue reading “Trump says he revoked Brennan’s security clearance — but Brennan says he may still have it”

‘We owe these people’: Trump loyalists find soft landings after getting ousted

When Carl Higbie’s degrading comments about African Americans, women, gays, and Muslims surfaced in January, he resigned from his job in the Trump administration. Yet just two months later, the former Navy SEAL landed at the pro-Trump group America First Policies, earning roughly the same amount as his White House salary, he says.

Higbie, who worked on advocacy issues and tax events for America First, said he never intended to stay at the group forever. But he acknowledges it gave him a soft landing among sympathetic peers at a low point in his career.

“Trumpworld is still very small, and people within Trumpworld generally try to stay within it. Because of my profile, I could never go to a company like Deloitte or McKinsey,” Higbie told POLITICO. “When you are publicly supporting Trump you close a significant number of doors, given how adamantly some people hate the president. Once you’re Continue reading “‘We owe these people’: Trump loyalists find soft landings after getting ousted”

Trump tried to ban top aides from penning tell-all books

Long before Omarosa Manigault Newman lodged explosive claims against her former boss, President Donald Trump’s White House foresaw the potential problems with ex-staffers’ tell-all books.

Embedded in the White House’s two-page non-disclosure agreement was a seemingly innocuous clause that prohibited top aides from disclosing confidential information in any form including books, without the express permission of the president, according to a former administration official and an official familiar with the document.

And if aides violated those terms, the non-disclosure agreement stipulated they would have to forfeit to the U.S. government any royalties, advances or book earnings. It’s not unusual for former administration officials to negotiate with the White House over the anecdotes and insider details of their books. But the terms of the White House’s NDA — and even the decision to compel government officials sign an NDA at all — are unprecedented.

NDAs are not typically used for Continue reading “Trump tried to ban top aides from penning tell-all books”

Trump’s inner circle gets whiter

The West Wing is expected to lose one of its most prominent minority aides in the coming months, opening President Donald Trump’s inner circle up to new scrutiny as he continues to stoke racial tensions.

Deputy press secretary Raj Shah, an Indian-American, is expected to step down following the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to multiple people familiar with his plans. He has told associates that he only planned to stay in the White House for 18 months, but extended his tenure to lead communications on the Kavanaugh nomination. Shah declined to comment.

Shah, who is among the dwindling number of original staffers remaining in the West Wing, is widely seen as a stabilizing presence in an administration known for chaos.

His resignation would follow the departure of two other minority White House aides: communications staffer Steven Cheung, who was one of the last remaining veterans of Continue reading “Trump’s inner circle gets whiter”

Trump pivots to border wall, China and ‘Manafort this, Manafort that’

President Donald Trump has spent his week at his Bedminster retreat fine-tuning an aggressive fall agenda that could benefit his reelection chances in 2020 but imperil Republican congressional candidates in the midterms.

While keeping a light golf schedule, the president is using his “working vacation” – which has included rallies, fundraisers and dinners with donors and business executives – to test lines about potentially shutting down the government to get a border wall and turning up the trade war with China.

Trump’s frenetic campaign schedule picks up immediately next week, when he’s set to travel to upstate New York to raise money for a vulnerable congresswoman. But interviews with a dozen administration officials, outside advisers and Bedminster visitors offered a portrait of a president continuing to grapple with balancing his responsibility to help Republicans hold onto a tenuous majority with his instinct to rile up the base with populist rhetoric Continue reading “Trump pivots to border wall, China and ‘Manafort this, Manafort that’”

How Judicial Watch became Trump’s favorite Mueller attack dog

Tom Fitton, the head of conservative group Judicial Watch, has made a career of suing the federal government over suspected bureaucratic corruption, irritating every president since Bill Clinton.

But in Donald Trump, Fitton has found an enthusiastic booster — a president who, rather than bristling at Judicial Watch’s frequent accusations of malfeasance throughout the government he oversees, welcomes the group’s efforts to hold the “deep state” accountable.

The broadsides that have come to define Trump’s presidency — from his attacks on Hillary Clinton’s email habits to his assertion that the Mueller investigation is a “rigged witch hunt” controlled by a pack of angry Democrats — have been shaped at least in part by documents obtained by Judicial Watch and blasted into the conservative media sphere.

People close to the president say he’s come to see Fitton as one of the most effective critics of the Mueller probe. The president, who Continue reading “How Judicial Watch became Trump’s favorite Mueller attack dog”

Melania’s policy director leaves White House

First Lady Melania Trump’s top policy aide has left the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

Reagan Hedlund, a former executive assistant at the National Security Council who joined the first lady’s staff in January as policy director, left the role last week.

Hedlund, who went by Reagan Thompson until she took her husband’s last name after their April wedding, told POLITICO that she plans to work on foreign policy issues, but declined to provide more details.

“I am very grateful to the first lady for the opportunity to help launch her policy initiative,” Hedlund said. “It was a rare opportunity to contribute at such a high level. It was a difficult decision to leave, however I have decided to return to my roots in the foreign policy world.”

Melania Trump’s small staff is tight-knit and has a reputation for avoiding leaks. Indeed, multiple West Continue reading “Melania’s policy director leaves White House”

How drug companies are beating Trump at his own game

A July tweet from President Donald Trump sent panic through the C-suites of some of the world’s biggest drug companies, prompting Pfizer and nine other companies to roll back or freeze prices.

But there’s less to those announcements than meets the eye. The gestures turned out to be largely symbolic — efforts to beat Trump at his own game by giving him headlines he wants without making substantive changes in how they do business.

The token concessions are “a calculated risk,” said one drug lobbyist. “Take these nothing-burger steps and give the administration things they can take credit for.”

Of the few companies that actually cut prices, for instance, most targeted old products that no longer produce much revenue — such as Merck’s 60 percent discount to a hepatitis C medicine that had no U.S. revenues in the first quarter.

Others volunteered to halt price increases for six Continue reading “How drug companies are beating Trump at his own game”

Bolton: Trump ‘will not tolerate interference’ in U.S. elections

National security adviser John Bolton said in a letter to Senate Democrats Thursday that President Donald Trump is doing more to defend U.S. elections from foreign influence than any previous administration, and he offered to hold classified briefings for Congress on the White House’s efforts.

“President Trump has not and will not tolerate interference in America’s system of representative government,” Bolton wrote in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats. “He has directed a vast, government-wide effort to protect electoral procedures and processes while investigating, prosecuting, and holding accountable those who illegally attempt to interfere.”

The letter comes after Trump faced intense criticism for appearing to question his own intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia is continuing to target the United States ahead of the November midterms. After senior intelligence officials across the government publicly underscored the threat, Trump and his senior advisers have Continue reading “Bolton: Trump ‘will not tolerate interference’ in U.S. elections”

Trump takes his hard sell to the heartland

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Donald Trump traveled to the American heartland to greet workers Thursday, but he never left familiar territory — portraying another policy climb-down as a victory.

Trump touched down here amid rising concerns over the economic impact of several rounds of tariffs on the farmers and rural voters who make up his political base, and immediately went into sales mode.

There was no talk of the administration’s pledge Tuesday to provide $12 billion in relief aid to farmers hit by the trade war — a trade war of his choosing. Nor was there an acknowledgment of the deep anxiety surrounding the impact of his trade policies on the local economy. What voters got instead was a hard sell about a newly announced agreement with Europe that would serve as a potential boon to the Midwest agricultural economy.

The moment was trademark Trump: Claim victory for digging out of Continue reading “Trump takes his hard sell to the heartland”

In abrupt shift, Trump makes nice with EU, gets tough on Russia

Over the course of just 11 days, President Donald Trump went from calling the European Union a “foe” and publicly questioning his own intelligence agencies to palling around with a top EU official in the Rose Garden and scheduling a meeting with his senior advisers to discuss election security.

It was an abrupt tonal shift for the president — and it underscored the growing pressure on Trump from fellow Republicans to toughen his public stance against Russia and to limit the fallout of the escalating global trade wars.

Few people close to the president believe he has changed much, and they expect the president to continue bashing long-time U.S. allies and cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin whenever he gets the chance. Still, the announcements on trade and Russia appeared to serve as high-profile messaging after a week of chaos that Trump is on the same page as Continue reading “In abrupt shift, Trump makes nice with EU, gets tough on Russia”