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Fact Checks, Politics / By Kim LaCapria / January 31, 2020

On January 31 2020, the page “Labor 311” shared the following screenshot of tweets from anchor Soledad O’Brien and United States President Donald Trump, in which he vows to “protect Social Security,” while she claims that his 2020 budget proposes $25 billion in cuts to the program: Proposed Social Security cuts once again came to issue in January 2020 following Trump’s tweet. In addition, around the same time, Trump said he was “open” to Social Security cuts. In response, O’Brien and others pointed to Trump’s proposed FY2020 Budget. In short, it is true that Trump’s initial proposed budget for FY2020 included deep cuts to Social Security, a fact in direct conflict with his claim on Twitter that he “totally left it alone, as promised.”

By Brendan Cole

CNN host Chris Cuomo used a famous line from an Oscar-winning film from the 1970s to rail against the Senate vote which decided that witnesses would not be called in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Only two Republicans, Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah), backed the Democrat motion on Friday calling for evidence and witnesses The 51-49 defeat is likely to hasten the acquittal of Trump. Cuomo appeared to be angry and started his monologue on Friday night with an appeal to his viewers. "You should be mad as hell and you need to show these people you will not take it any more," he started, using a line from the 1976 film Network, in which a TV news anchor calls on people to fight against the political system. Cuomo said he could see there may have been a case for an acquittal for Trump, but that the American people had been denied a fair trial now that it would be the first in history where the public would not hear from witnesses. He criticized the Republican senators Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Marco Rubio (Florida), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who voted along party lines despite indicating they had misgivings about Trump and the charges that he abused his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

By Tom O'Connor

Iraq and Syria, two Middle Eastern powers where U.S. troops are deployed in active combat zones, have come out against President Donald Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, further raising questions about Washington's foreign policies at a time of heightened tensions across the region. The political side to Trump's "Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future" that was introduced Tuesday envisages giving Israel control over internationally-unrecognized Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem along with the Jordan Valley eastern border region in exchange for some new Palestinian desert territories in the southwest and a tunnel linking the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians would also be given a path to potential statehood with a prospective capital in East Jerusalem, but—particularly controversially—on the outskirts of the holy city, almost all of which would remain under Israeli control. The proposal was immediately rejected by Palestinian leadership, which did not participate in formulating the roadmap, and it received mixed reviews across the region, including among close U.S. partners. On Wednesday, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry issued its own opposition. "Iraq stands with its Palestinian brothers in their legitimate rights guaranteed by international legitimacy, Security Council resolutions and their right to return to their homes and lands," the ministry said, arguing that Jerusalem and its holy sites were "still under occupation" and calling for a Palestinian capital there, along with "the restoration of all occupied lands to Syria and Lebanon." Across the border, the Syrian Foreign Ministry expressed on Wednesday its "strong condemnation and absolute rejection of the so-called 'deal of the century,' which represents a prescription to surrender to the usurping Israeli occupation." Like Baghdad, Damascus called for international support in "guaranteeing the legitimate rights for the Palestinian people, above all, the right to return and to establish an independent sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."

By Dahlia Lithwick

Last year, I wrote that the United States is suffering from a collective action problem. The full extent of that problem should now be much clearer. One version of the Senate impeachment circus that has transpired these past two weeks holds that the greatest deliberative body in the world has now duly aired and considered the impeachment case against Donald J. Trump, and stands poised to issue a final decision on the merits. The better characterization of this whole sad spectacle is that in the world’s saddest game of constitutional chicken, nearly every single important player failed utterly to show up. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton will say that he offered to testify before the Senate, but the Senate refused to call him. According to leaked details of his book that has been climbing up the Amazon charts, Bolton has material evidence of the conspiracy to withhold aid from Ukraine to bolster the president’s electoral fortunes, information the Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to hear. Bolton will enjoy very much his book tour, royalties, and talk show circuit this spring—if the White House’s efforts to cover up Trump’s high crimes don’t extend to blocking publication of that book, as the administration has suggested it will. Former chief of staff John F. Kelly, who now says he believes Bolton’s account of the conspiracy, will continue to live large off child detention policies he no longer oversees. Chief Justice John Roberts, who might have inserted himself into the proceedings to chide breaches of truth as opposed to lapses in civil discourse, will have a fun story to tell on the D.C. cocktail party circuit about the time he narrowly avoided having to break a tie or otherwise allow the stink of the political branches to sully his robes. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who was briefly held out to be the last independent-thinking, old guard institutionalist, could have held out for witness testimony, as opposed to proclaiming that nobody needed to hear from witnesses to know that the president had engaged in misconduct that isn’t impeachable. Sen. Lisa Murkowski courageously grounds her refusal to stand up for the proposition that trials ought to have witnesses in the fact that John Roberts should not have to courageously stand up for the proposition that trials ought to have witnesses. All of this chatter for the goal of producing a trial unrecognizable as such, with even Murkowski herself acknowledging “there will be no fair trial in the Senate.”

By Elliot Hannon

Welcome to the absolute dumbness of it all. This is what happens when reality gets retrofitted to accommodate a bad idea. You end up with this, the Trump border wall, which apparently will need, essentially, to be left open for months at a time to accommodate flash flooding during the summer “monsoon season.” This episode of reality bites, the Washington Post reports, is brought to us by in-the-know border officials, agents, and engineers. Here’s the most maddening part from the Post: Along the more remote portions of the Southern border, large unmanned gates that need to be manually raised ahead of the seasonal flooding, and then left open for months to accommodate the large amounts of debris carried with it, are already being waltzed through by smugglers and undocumented migrants. Put more simply: The wall is already not working, so let’s build more! The flooding risks are not new, but they represent one of the most significant engineering hurdles to President Donald Trump’s campaign promise of a “big, beautiful wall” on the Mexican border. The Trump administration has been largely silent on how it intends to cope with the diverse environmental realities of the border region that spans desert, canyons, and mountains. “The border is so diverse,” Roy Villareal, chief of Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, told the Post. “You have to plan for water flow. … People think it’s just this monolithic wall, sort of like the Great Wall of China, where you drop it into place and that’s all there is to it. And that’s not the reality at all.” On the upside, Villareal said the wall, even with gaps, narrowed the area that required human-monitoring.

Crimes, conspiracies, and off-the-book ops—that’s just a taste of what an impeachment acquittal could usher in, U.S. officials and Senate Democrats fear.
By Sam Brodey - Congressional Reporter, Erin Banco - National Security Reporter

Late into Wednesday’s session of the Senate impeachment trial, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asked a question of President Trump’s defense team: did they think foreign involvement in U.S. elections was illegal? The Trump team’s reply: nope. “Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws,” responded White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin. “The idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake,” Philbin calmly suggested. The question was asked with a focus on Trump’s open encouragement of Russian help in the 2016 election. And it was answered against the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power—his attempts to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating his political rival by withholding U.S. aid. The Government Accountability Office recently found that such withholding was illegal. And federal law prohibits U.S. political campaigns from taking a “contribution or donation of money or anything of value” from foreign entities. The information Trump sought in Ukraine would seem to be quite valuable indeed. To many senators listening, these arguments flung open the doors for Trump, or any future president or candidate for office, to engage in that kind of behavior again, knowing that it had been defended by White House lawyers on the Senate floor. Earlier that day, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz had already gone even further, arguing that Trump could justify his actions with the reasonable belief that his re-election would be in the country’s interest.

By Dana Milbank

In the end, they didn’t even pretend to take their oaths seriously. Senators were instructed “to be in attendance at all times” during President Trump’s impeachment trial. But as the Democratic House managers made their last, fruitless appeals Friday for the Senate to bring witnesses and documents, several of the body’s 53 Republican senators didn’t even bother to show up. “A trial is supposed to be a quest for the truth,” lead manager Adam Schiff (N.Y.) pleaded. Thirteen GOP senators were missing as he said this. Sens. Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) chewed gum. Manager Val Demings (Fla.) reminded them that this would be the “only time in history” that an impeachment trial was held without witnesses or relevant documents. Twelve Republican senators were missing. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) joined in the chewing. “The American people deserve to hear the truth,” insisted manager Sylvia Garcia (Tex.). By now, 15 Republican senators were missing. Manager Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) spoke from the well. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), wearing cotton chinos for the occasion, perused a magazine. “Please don’t give up,” manager Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) urged. “This is too important.” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) stuck a finger in his left nostril. Johnson waved a hand dismissively and shared a chuckle with Cramer. Fully 20 Republican senators were missing. At the start of the impeachment trial, Trump’s Senate allies limited media coverage to hide from public scrutiny. Then they made sure the trial would end without a single witness called or a single document requested. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the clinching vote against witnesses, declared before Friday’s session began, “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

By Colin Dwyer

The Trump administration has lifted a ban on the U.S. military's use of anti-personnel land mines outside of the Korean Peninsula. In a statement released Friday, the White House said the ban — implemented under the Obama administration — interfered with the president's "steadfast commitment to ensuring our forces are able to defend against any and all threats." "The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama Administration's policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries," said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. "The President is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops." In its statement, the administration said a new Defense Department policy will lay out how and when, "in exceptional circumstances," U.S. military commanders can deploy land mines equipped with self-destruct/self-deactivation mechanisms. The announcement represents a break with the scores of countries around the world that have banned the weapon's use. More than 160 countries, including NATO allies the U.K. and France, are party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction — better known as the Mine Ban Treaty, agreed on in 1997 and implemented in 1999. But the U.S. has never been among them. Despite President Clinton's 1994 call for the weapon's elimination, and despite the Obama administration's 2014 decision to largely ban their use, Washington has been reluctant to attach itself to the agreement.

By Marty Johnson

Lev Parnas's attorney penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Friday detailing what his testimony would add to the impeachment trial of President Trump, even as the Senate appears prepared to vote down bringing in new witnesses. In the letter, Joseph Bondy tells McConnell that Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, would be able to tell the Senate information that is "directly relevant to the President's impeachment inquiry," specifically regarding Parnas's relationship with Trump and Giuliani as well as his "actions in Ukraine on behalf of the President, as directed by Mr. Giuliani." The three-page correspondence goes into detail about Parnas's actions in Ukraine as well as those who were privy to what he was doing. The contents are similar to what Parnas said in his sit-down interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow two weeks ago. Both the letter and interview indicate that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry and several other officials within the Trump administration were aware of the pressure campaign in Ukraine that is at the center of Trump's impeachment.

By Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

WASHINGTON — A Senate vote to end President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings without calling witnesses should be considered “half a trial,” the president’s former chief of staff John Kelly said Friday. “In my view, they kind of leave themselves open to a lot of criticism,” Kelly said in an interview with NJ Advance Media in advance of his Feb. 12 appearance at Drew University’s Drew Forum speaker series at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. “It seems it was half a trial,” Kelly said. Kelly said he believed former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s assertion that Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine to pressure that government into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Bolton, who made the claims in an unpublished book reported by the New York Times, was “a copious note taker” and was “an honest guy and an honorable guy,” Kelly said.

By Richard Wolffe

How can Republicans pretend to the world that their vision of America – where a president can happily use military aid to coerce a foreign government to smear his political rival in an election – is the model for democracy? Jared Kushner is a genius. It’s all too easy to overlook the sheer brilliance of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, not least when he rolls out a Middle East peace plan that destroys the concepts of both the Israeli and Palestinian states. But for his rapier-like ability to capture the zeitgeist, there’s no one quite like the young slumlord to tell it like it really is. Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Kushner talked dramatically about this week as a time for leaders to step up. Think fake news isn't a real problem? Look at Senator John Kennedy “What we’ve done is create an opportunity for their leadership to either seize or not,” he explained. “If they screw up this opportunity – which again, they have a perfect track record of missing opportunities – if they screw this up, I think they will have a very hard time looking the international community in the face, saying they are the victims, saying they have rights.” Kushner thought he was talking about the Palestinians, in a gloriously brazen blend of racism and gold-leafed ignorance.

By The Times Editorial Board

The facts are damning and the case is clear. It is time for the U.S. Senate to convict President Trump, remove him from office and disqualify him from holding any “office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” Not because he’s a Republican. Not because of his conservative policies. Not as a way to nullify the outcome of the 2016 election. But because he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors of exactly the sort the founders had in mind when they created the impeachment process in the U.S. Constitution. The details of those crimes have been laid out a thousand times, but here they are again: Congress voted to give $391 million to Ukraine, an ally that was at war, defending itself against Russia. But Trump withheld that money in a clear violation — an illegal violation — of Congress’ express wishes. He did so not because he had foreign policy disagreements with Congress, but because he hoped to extort from Ukraine’s president what he called “a favor” in return for the money — the announcement of an investigation into groundless accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden that he believed could be useful to him in winning reelection. In other words, he hijacked national security and foreign policy to induce Ukraine to take actions to smear a prospective political opponent. He abused the power of his office to benefit himself personally. Then, as the second article of impeachment makes clear, he sought to stonewall the investigation by refusing to release documents and ordering his subordinates not to testify in the House inquiry.

By Jordain Carney

Senate Republicans rejected a mid-trial effort to call witnesses and documents on Friday, paving the way for President Trump’s acquittal on two articles of impeachment passed by the House. Senators voted 49-51, with Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine) breaking ranks to join Democrats in voting for witnesses. Fifty-one votes were needed to approve witnesses. The vote is a significant win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump, letting them bypass a messy floor fight over hearing testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton and other witnesses. The GOP leader has said publicly and privately that he did not want witnesses, warning that it set up a “mutually assured destruction” because both sides would call controversial witnesses. "There is no need for the Senate to re-open the investigation which the House Democratic majority chose to conclude and which the Managers themselves continue to describe as 'overwhelming' and 'beyond any doubt,'" McConnell said.

By Geneva Sands, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Trump administration on Friday announced an expansion of the travel ban -- one of the President's signature policies, which has been derided by critics as an attempt to ban Muslims from the US -- to include six new countries. Different immigration restrictions will be placed on Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar (known as Burma), Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. The latest iteration comes three years after President Donald Trump -- in one of his first moves in office -- signed the first travel ban, which caused chaos at airports and eventually landed at the Supreme Court. The announcement also comes at the end of a major week for Trump with the signing of the USMCA trade deal and expected acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial. The updated ban has already sparked controversy over its targeting of African countries. The administration has argued that the travel ban is vital to national security and ensures countries meet US security needs. The restrictions are tailored to country-specific deficiencies, as well as travel-related risks to the homeland," a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters Friday. In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the third version of the travel ban after the previous iterations were challenged in court. The current policy restricts entry from seven countries to varying degrees: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with Venezuela and North Korea. Restrictions on those countries will remain in place, the official said. Chad was removed from the list last April after the White House said the country improved security measures. Unlike the travel restrictions currently in place, the new rules limit certain immigrant visas from the additional countries, according to the DHS official. Immigrant groups derided the expansion of the program.

By Colin Dwyer

Once again, the Pentagon is reporting an uptick in the number of U.S. service members injured in Iranian missile strikes earlier this month. The Department of Defense announced late Thursday that at least 64 service members have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI. "We'll continue to monitor them the rest of their lives, actually, and continue to provide whatever treatment is necessary," Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement released with the report. "And we take great pride in the fact that these are our own and we're going to take care of them." The announcement marks the fourth time in several weeks that the official injury toll has increased. Initially, hours after the Iranian reprisal for the U.S. killing of a prominent military commander, President Trump declared that "no Americans were harmed" in the attacks on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. But the Pentagon later contradicted those remarks, first noting in a formal statement that 11 service members had been injured, then 34 — and, just earlier this week, 50. According to Pentagon officials, 39 of those injured have returned to duty. An additional 17 are scheduled to return to the U.S. or have returned already, and several more are undergoing further evaluation in Germany. There are still no reports that any U.S. or Iraqi service members died in the attacks.

By Jennifer Rubin

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) tried to explain his decision to reject witnesses in what now becomes a sham trial not only designed to acquit President Trump but also to shield him from damning evidence: There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’ There is no need to consider further the frivolous second article of impeachment that would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers. The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) explained that in Alexander’s tortured statement finding Trump’s conduct “inappropriate,” he in essence rejected both the “perfect call” and “So what?” defenses from Team Trump:

The president asked his national security adviser last spring in front of other senior advisers to pave the way for a meeting between Rudolph Giuliani and Ukraine’s new leader.
By Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt

WASHINGTON — More than two months before he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate his political opponents, President Trump directed John R. Bolton, then his national security adviser, to help with his pressure campaign to extract damaging information on Democrats from Ukrainian officials, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton. Mr. Trump gave the instruction, Mr. Bolton wrote, during an Oval Office conversation in early May that included the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who is now leading the president’s impeachment defense. Mr. Trump told Mr. Bolton to call Volodymyr Zelensky, who had recently won election as president of Ukraine, to ensure Mr. Zelensky would meet with Mr. Giuliani, who was planning a trip to Ukraine to discuss the investigations that the president sought, in Mr. Bolton’s account. Mr. Bolton never made the call, he wrote. The previously undisclosed directive that Mr. Bolton describes would be the earliest known instance of Mr. Trump seeking to harness the power of the United States government to advance his pressure campaign against Ukraine, as he later did on the July call with Mr. Zelensky that triggered a whistle-blower complaint and impeachment proceedings. House Democrats have accused him of abusing his authority and are arguing their case before senators in the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, whose lawyers have said he did nothing wrong. The account in Mr. Bolton’s manuscript portrays the most senior White House advisers as early witnesses in the effort that they have sought to distance the president from. And disclosure of the meeting underscores the kind of information Democrats were looking for in seeking testimony from his top advisers in their impeachment investigation, including Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney, only to be blocked by the White House.

The Trump administration wants to put new spending caps on Medicaid.
By Dylan Scott

President Donald Trump’s administration is taking its most audacious step yet to roll back Medicaid, with a new plan that would cap spending for the government program upon which poor Americans depend for health insurance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced on Thursday they would accept applications from states that want to set up a Medicaid block grant, a long-held goal of ideological conservatives who want to scale back the social safety net, and one deployed successfully to severely limit cash welfare benefits in the 1990s. These spending caps would fundamentally change how the program is financed, ending Medicaid’s days as an open-ended entitlement by putting new hard limits on how much the government is willing to spend on health care for certain enrollees. Medicaid would no longer pay whatever is necessary to provide medical care to the people in or near poverty who qualify for its benefits. Instead, spending would be limited in states that got a waiver from the federal government, and they could impose cuts on benefits. Trump has already tried to fundamentally alter the Medicaid program through work requirements, though he’s been stopped in the courts. But the block grants represent an even more basic remaking of Medicaid on his watch, one that would lead to spending cuts and fewer benefits.

Despite unprecedented aerial bombardment and the latest troop escalation, the Taliban had a really good 2019.
By Spencer Ackerman - Senior Nat’l Security Correspondent, Asawin Suebsaeng - White House Reporter

New statistics about the United States’ generational war in Afghanistan show that President Trump’s 2017 surge of more than 7,000 troops there failed. The latest figures represent an epitaph for a conflict now tied with the occupation of Haiti as America’s longest overseas misadventure. Inheriting the war from George W. Bush and Barack Obama and influenced by then-National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump increased the 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 15,000—it’s between 12,000 and 13,000 today—and returned what he called “attacking our enemies” to prominence within the war effort. It had taken a back seat to training Afghan forces since the Taliban shrugged off Obama’s larger troop surge. The U.S. attack largely came from above. In October 2017, shortly after Trump announced his mini-surge, his then-commander, Gen. John Nicholson, pledged that a “tidal wave of air power” was forthcoming—one that would spell “the beginning of the end for the Taliban.” This week, the Air Force released statistics showing that Nicholson’s rhetoric was warranted, mixed metaphor notwithstanding. In 2019, the military conducted 7,423 airstrikes in Afghanistan, more than five times the 1,337 airstrikes of Obama’s final year as commander in chief. At the height of Obama’s Afghanistan surge, the high-water mark for airstrikes was 5,411 in a single year (2011). In three years, Trump has launched 19,146 airstrikes in Afghanistan, more than the 18,758 of Obama’s entire first term.

Pence struggled to justify a new policy in an exchange that captured something profound about the health care debate.
By Aaron Rupar

Dr. Rob Davidson was grabbing a bite at the Drake Diner in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday when Vice President Mike Pence just happened to stroll in. The polite but determined exchange that ensued became a viral video — and captured something profound about the state of the health care policy debate in President Trump’s America. Davidson works as an emergency room doctor in western Michigan and is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare. He told Vox he was in Iowa for a press conference related to his work for the committee. So as Pence glad-handed around the diner, Davidson took the opportunity to press him on a new plan the Trump administration rolled out earlier that same day that would allow states to use waivers and block grants to cut federal Medicaid funding. When Pence walked up to his table, Davidson introduced himself and said, “I’m an emergency doctor. I’m worried about the plans [Trump] talked about last week to maybe cut Medicare, and then the rollout today of cutting Medicaid. I work in one of the poorest counties in Michigan and my patients depend on expanded Medicaid, so how is that going to affect my patients?” Pence, however, didn’t seem to be familiar with the plan his administration had announced. “Uh ... I hadn’t heard about cuts,” he said, prompting Davidson to explain the block grant proposal to him. “Cutting Medicaid — yeah,” Davidson said. “The head of CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] announced the plan to let states file for waivers so they could get block grants, so that would essentially cut the amount of money going to states. So that would cut federal Medicaid funding. Is that a good idea?” As Vox’s Dylan Scott explained, enacting block grants, a long-held goal of ideological conservatives, “would fundamentally change how the program is financed” and ultimately result in funding cuts and less coverage:

The Secretary of State says he's against corruption in Ukraine. But he didn't defend U.S. diplomats who fought it. Now the joint investigation of Yovanovitch surveillance is off.
By Anna Nemtsova

KYIV—Many Ukrainians—especially those in the government— were nervous on Thursday as they awaited the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the first high-ranking U.S. government official to visit since the infamous phone conversation last July between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Donald Trump. As the impeachment storm that grew out of that phone call continues to swirl around Trump, Kyiv fears that Ukraine will be dragged even deeper into the maelstrom, weakening its defenses against Russia, and perhaps undermining the fight against pervasive corruption. While on the surface, official Washington policy is supportive of Ukraine in both those efforts, Trump has tried to equate the struggle against corruption with his explicit desire, expressed in that July 25 phone call (PDF), to have investigations focus attention on his political rival Joe Biden and various conspiracy theories pushed by Russian propaganda. As he was promoting that narrow program, he also withheld vitally needed military aid from Ukraine. Led by Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, several Ukrainians out to curry favor with the U.S. president and undermine their own rivals here helped promote Trump’s pet theories. They also worked successfully to get veteran U.S. Amb. Marie Yovanovitch removed from her post and may have tried to put her under surveillance.

By ArLuther Lee, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement Thursday rejecting President Donald Trump’s newly proposed Middle East peace plan, which calls for the Israeli annexation of key swaths of Palestinian-held land. The statement issued Thursday by the Carter Center in Atlanta describes Trump’s offer as "fragmented statehood” which leaves Palestinians “without control of their borders ... and undercuts prospects for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” Trump unveiled the long-awaited plan Tuesday in Washington alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Alexandra Hutzler

Although the Senate is all but certain to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, he still faces dozens of investigations into his administration, his family and his businesses that could be resolved before the 2020 election. Democrats have been making their case for days now as to why Trump should be convicted and removed from office, alleging that he abused his power by pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden for personal gain. "If the truth doesn't matter, we're lost," Representative Adam Schiff, the leading Democrat on impeachment, made in a plea to senators on Thursday. "The framers [of the Constitution] couldn't protect us from ourselves if right and truth don't matter. And you know that what he did was not right." Meanwhile, lawmakers will hear Trump's defense as the president's legal team will take the podium on Saturday to begin advocating his innocence in his dealings with Ukraine. They're expected to argue that the articles of impeachment are "made up," and that Democrats "rigged" the process.

Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress have long been considered criminal and merit impeachment.
By Nikolas Bowie

Watching CNN last week, I learned that I’m partly responsible for President Trump’s legal defense. On the screen was one of the president’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, explaining his new position that impeachment requires “criminal-like behavior.” When the legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin interjected that “every single law professor” disagreed with him, Mr. Dershowitz rejoined that one professor — me! — was “completely” on his side. Mr. Dershowitz encouraged Mr. Toobin to read a law review article I wrote on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, in which a former Supreme Court justice, Benjamin Curtis, successfully argued that no one should ever be punished for doing something that wasn’t a crime. Mr. Dershowitz apparently thought my article supported his view that even if Mr. Trump did everything the House has accused him of doing, the president shouldn’t be convicted because he hasn’t been accused of criminal behavior. As an academic, my first reaction was to be grateful that someone had actually read one of my articles.

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) America's latest "national nightmare" will not end when Republicans vote to acquit President Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors, possibly as early as Friday. A mere four months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered an impeachment inquiry and six after Trump's now notorious "do us a favor" call with Ukraine's President, Trump will get on with his term as the third US President to be impeached by the House of Representatives and not removed by the Senate. Given Trump's political temperament, and the impending battle between the parties for control of the White House, it seems unlikely there will be a healing voice to help reconcile a divided country -- such as President Gerald Ford's, when he declared that "our long national nightmare is over" in the wake of Watergate. The President will skip free despite strong evidence to suggest that he abused a public trust by trying to coerce a foreign power -- with millions of dollars in taxpayer cash -- to play a role in a US presidential election. The many unresolved storylines and loose ends of this divisive episode will ensure that the political significance of his off-the-books diplomatic scheme in Kiev may only become more corrosive with time. Thanks to the estranged political realities of the age, Trump is likely to interpret his latest escape, in a business and political career that has often flirted with disaster, as an inducement to broaden his crusade to expand his personal power and shake off remaining constitutional guard rails.

By Erica Orden, CNN

Washington (CNN) A woman who accused President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her decades ago is asking him for a DNA sample to compare to male genetic material found on the dress she says she wore during the alleged encounter. E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist, alleged in a lawsuit filed in November that Trump attacked her at Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store in Manhattan, in the 1990s. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegation, saying last June that he had "never met this person in my life." Her lawyers served an attorney for Trump with papers on Thursday requesting the President's DNA be obtained on March 2. The papers included test results from a black Donna Karan dress Carroll says she wore the day of the alleged assault, from which a lab collected biological material. The results note that "acid phosphatase activity, a presumptive indication of the presence of semen, was not detected in any of thirty-three fluorescent stains tested on the dress." However, samples tested from the dress sleeve contained genetic material that analysts described as coming from at least one "male," according to the filing.

By Tucker Higgins

The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve two measures that will constrain President Donald Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran. One of the measures would block funding for any use of offensive military force in or against Iran without congressional approval. It passed 228-175. The other would repeal the 2002 resolution that authorized military force against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and has since been invoked by successive presidents pursuing fights against new enemies. It passed 236-166. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran are still high following the deadly American strike on Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian military official, earlier this month. That strike prompted the Iranians to retaliate with missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Democrats, wary of getting bogged down in a new Middle East conflict, have sought to require Trump to seek authorization for future uses of military force. Trump has threatened to veto both measures, though on Wednesday he took to Twitter to urge members of both parties to “vote their HEART.”

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