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Daily Reads: Trump Gets His Mini-Me in Communications Staff Shakeup; Kushner Testifies Today

A roundup of stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

Trump Gets His Mini-Me in Communications Staff Shakeup

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They’re holding a vote on… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ –> Well, it’ll be a repeal bill, but nobody knows exactly what it will contain. And there may be more than one. In case you missed it, on Friday, Senate Democrats released a list of provisions in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill that the Senate Parliamentarian ruled to be ineligible to pass with a simple majority. Vann Newkirk reports for The Atlantic that they included “the bill’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict tax-credit funding for insurance plans that provide abortions, and a six-month ‘lockout’ period from purchasing insurance for people who don’t maintain continuous coverage.”

And David Durenberger, who served as a Republican senator representing Minnesota from 1978 to 1995, writes at USA Today that with so many crucial questions about the measure remaining unanswered, “a vote in these circumstances will rightly provoke anger and distrust unlikely to abate. Take it from me: A no vote on the motion to proceed this week is the only one that will be defensible in the years to come.”

Kremlingate –> Jared Kushner will testify behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will follow later this week. Kushner released a statement this morning detailing four meetings with Russian officials during the campaign and insisting that none of them were in any way inappropriate. Jeremy Diamond and Pamela Brown have that story at CNN.

And David Ignatius and former FBI agent Clint Watts appeared on Morning Joe today, and were dubious about some of Jared’s claims. They also warn Kushner not to perjure himself…

The ones that really supported him are quiet right now –> At The New Yorker, Charles Bethea offers a heartbreaking look at that Indiana Carrier plant that became a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign, and where his promises to save American jobs are proving hollow.

Are Democrats listening? –>  The donkey unveiled a new agenda today, complete with a slogan: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer lays out the rationale, and many of the details, at The New York Times.

Shake-up –> At The American Prospect, Paul Waldman writes that Trump’s new communications director, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, may not have any idea what he’s doing, but he nonetheless “has a talent that cable TV values, and therefore so does Trump: Scaramucci says everything with complete confidence, no matter how absurd it might be — no hint of hesitation, no evident concern that he’ll be called out, no worry that he’ll wind up looking foolish.” This, says Waldman, is “something he shares with his new boss, whose ability to lie boldly and shamelessly, even when he and his listener both know that he’s lying, is truly a sight to behold.”

And at Axios, Jonathan Swan reports that Scaramucci was hired without White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ knowledge, and in a slap in the face to Priebus, The Mooch will report directly to Trump. Trump appears to be losing confidence in the former RNC chairman — according to Swan, “a much-discussed question at the top of the White House” is “just what magnitude of indignity would it take for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to resign?”

Between a rock and a hard place –> House and Senate negotiators have hammered out a deal that could send a package of new sanctions on Russia to Trump’s desk this week. Mariam Khan and Benjamin Siegel report for ABC news that, “amid concerns expressed by both Democrats and some Republicans that the Trump administration may be considering returning to Russian control two compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration in December as punishment for the election meddling,” the measure would also limit Trump’s ability to ease previous sanctions. Trump can veto it, but that might be problematic for a guy who insists that you’re the puppet, not him.

Like Iraqi WMDs –> Last week, we mentioned that Trump had come close to refusing to certify that Iran is in compliance with its multilateral nuclear deal with the US and other countries. Now, Jana Winter, Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce report for Foreign Policy that “Trump instructed a group of trusted White House staffers to make the potential case for withholding certification of Iran at the next 90-day review of the nuclear deal. The goal was to give Trump what he felt the State Department had failed to do: the option to declare that Tehran was not in compliance” with the deal. Regardless of the facts, Trump is resolved to not recertify the deal in 90 days, according to one source for the report. This all brings to mind George W. Bush going around the intelligence community to build a rationale for the Iraq war.

Toxic –> Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept that Michael Dourson, Trump’s pick to head the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, “founded and ran a toxicology consulting firm” that “was in the business of blessing pollution” for its corporate clients.

Beware of false equivalencies –> It is broadly correct that the Trump regime is following in Bill Clinton’s footsteps as it seeks to challenge the credibility of a special prosecutor, but as Joe Conason, who wrote the book on the Clinton scandals, details at National Memo, both the circumstances surrounding the investigations and the nature of the prosecutors in question simply could not be more different.

Speaking of which, Charlie Savage reports for The New York Times that “a newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?” The 56-page memo, Savage writes, “amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.” It would be quite the irony if Kenneth Starr ended up helping indict Donald Trump.

Not comforting –> On Saturday, an underwater robot captured images that appeared to show massive deposits of melted nuclear fuel “hanging from inside one of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima reactors,” according to Stephen Stapczynski at Bloomberg. Stapczynski says the find is a “potential milestone” in an effort to decommission the reactors that’s expected to cost $72 billion before all is said and done. And that’s not the total cost of the cleanup.

Republicans find a tax hike they love –> Stephen Ohlemacher reports for the AP that “Republicans aren’t usually big on raising taxes, but they’re really eager to eliminate the federal deduction for state and local taxes. Why? A look at the states that benefit the most from the tax break helps explain it — they are all Democratic strongholds. New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and California top the list of states where taxpayers get the biggest deductions. Not a single Republican-leaning state ranks in the top 10.” Cutting taxes is nice, but sticking it to Democrats is better still.

Reefer madness –> Lydia Wheeler reports for The Hill that the Trump regime “is readying for a crackdown on marijuana users under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. President Trump’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Sessions, is expected to release a report next week that criminal justice reform advocates fear will link marijuana to violent crime and recommend tougher sentences for those caught growing, selling and smoking the plant.”

Back in March, Reuters’ Ronnie Cohen wrote about a study which found that states that legalized marijuana saw a very significant drop in “hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse,” an issue that Trump spoke about frequently during the campaign.

In the spirit of Shark Week –> “A fishing crew reeled in a 926-pound shark on Saturday off the New Jersey coast,” reports Fox News. Although it is yet to be confirmed, the Mako is “possibly the largest shark catch in the state’s history.”

Meanwhile, the largest male great white shark ever tagged by scientists is hanging out off the Jersey coast right now, according to Cleve Bryan at CBS’ Philadelphia affiliate.

Daily Reads was compiled by BillMoyers.com staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

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