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Morning Reads: Trump’s “Meaningless” Plan to Avoid Conflicts of Interest; Tillerson Pleads Fifth on Climate Denial

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Morning Reads: Trump's Plan to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

President-elect Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., during a press conference at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Trump said the manila folders on the table contained legal documents, a prop to indicate his efforts to avoid conflicts of interest. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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The president-elect speaks –> Donald Trump held his first press conference in six months yesterday morning and acknowledged, for the first time, that he “thinks” Russia was behind a series of hacks that some say helped sway the presidential election in his favor. He dismissed an unverified dossier shared with lawmakers and US intelligence alleging that Russia has compromising material on him, and bashed news outlets that have reported on it. He also announced how he plans to separate himself from conflicts of interest by placing his businesses in a trust controlled by his sons and a former colleague, as well as donating to the US treasury all profits from foreign governments using his DC hotel.

“Judged on a policy basis, it was a disaster. Trump came across as just as unprepared and unfocused as he did during his shambolic campaign,” Gabriel Sherman writes for New York magazine. “… But observed as spectacle, Trump came away with a resounding victory. That’s because Trump won even before he stepped before the microphone, by making the media the story.”

As for the actual meat of his conflict-of-interest plans? Ethics watchdogs aren’t impressed. The head of the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE) called Trump’s announcements “meaningless” and “wholly inadequate,” The Hill reports. “We can’t risk the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for professional profit,” OGE Director Walter Shaub said.

“Having Trump’s adult children lead the operational control of his business, while he still retains full ownership, is not an acceptable solution,” according to Trevor Potter, president of the nonprofit watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center and former advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “It does not limit the potential for conflicts. There is no reason why Trump would not be fully invested in a business he founded and that is run by his adult children. His decision has created a direct path by which US and foreign interests, including foreign governments, can exert influence over him through his companies or holdings.”

Beginning the repeal –> Early this morning, Republicans took the first steps toward dismantling Obamacare. The Senate voted 51-48 for committees to begin drafting legislation that will get rid of the president’s signature law. The House of Representatives is expected to approve later this week. However, while repealing the law could happen quickly, replacing it is much harder. At his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump said he wanted Obamacare to be repealed and replaced “essentially simultaneously” — which, David Dayen writes for The Nation, puts Republicans in a virtually impossible bind.

Tillerson takes the hot seat –> Rex Tillerson, secretary of state-designate and former CEO of Exxon, faced aggressive questioning from both parties at his confirmation hearing yesterday. Tillerson spent 42 years working for Exxon, but, Natasha Geiling reports for ThinkProgress, when asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to respond to “allegations about ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of its science,” he refused to answer. At Mother Jones, Rebecca Leber notes that Tillerson does acknowledge the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and caused by humans, putting him at odds with his would-be boss, Trump, and much of Congress. Meanwhile, at Grist, Ben Adler reports that Exxon stands to make $1 trillion under a Trump presidency.

Marco Rubio aggressively questioned Tillerson on foreign policy. “Rubio — who refused to say if he would vote for Tillerson after a day of testimony — pressed the former ExxonMobil CEO hard Wednesday on a slew of human rights questions, pushing him to denounce the behavior of Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines and expressing deep disappointment when the Texan refused to do so,” Nicole Gaouette reports for CNN. Rubio’s vote could prove crucial in determining whether or not Tillerson’s nomination is approved.

Pay to play –> The Center for Media and Democracy has discovered a pamphlet advertising how much donors will have to pay to chat with one highly influential congressman. Mary Troyan reports for USA Today: “A donation of $100,000 will get you a one-on-one coffee with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and access to more than a dozen other private political events throughout the year, according to a sliding scale menu of benefits for donors to the Louisiana congressman. The fundraising brochure for the Scalise Leadership Fund — titled ‘2017 Team Scalise Programs and Benefits’ — is a nine-page fundraising menu for donors to choose their level of access, which increases with the size of the check written.”

Endangered bees –> “The US Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the rusty patched bumblebee an endangered species — the first such designation for a bumblebee and for a bee species in the continental US,” NPR reports. “… Large parts of the Eastern and Midwestern United States were once crawling with these bees, Bombus affinis, but the bees have suffered a dramatic decline in the last two decades due to habitat loss and degradation, along with pathogens and pesticides.” Because 75 percent of crops rely on pollinators like bees to survive, bee die off raises troubling questions about the future of agriculture.

Morning Reads was compiled by John Light and edited by Michael Winship. See a story that you think should be included in Morning Reads? Tell us in the comments!



We produce this news digest every weekday. You can sign up to receive these updates as an email newsletter each morning.