In a radio interview yesterday with conservative host Hugh Hewitt, Donald Trump took the unusual step of agreeing with other Republican presidential candidates. He said that it would be better for the federal government to shut down than to continue funding Planned Parenthood.
"The only way to get rid of Planned Parenthood money for selling off baby parts is to shut the government down in September. Would you support that?" Hewitt asked. Trump replied, "Well I can tell you this. I would." In the late '90s, Trump said he supported keeping late-term abortions legal, but since first considering a run for the GOP nomination in 2011, he has been pro-life.
Trump joins a long list of conservatives who have expressed outrage over undercover videos released by a network of anti-abortion activists last month. Jeb Bush also offered his two cents. "The next president should defund Planned Parenthood," he said in an interview. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal severed the state's Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood yesterday. Meanwhile, the Senate debated a bill that aimed to strip all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. The bill ultimately failed after the threat of a Democratic filibuster led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Republican senators and 2016 hopefuls Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have promised to do everything in their power to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, even if it comes down to a government shutdown. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who chastised his colleagues for the 2013 shutdown, told NPR that he believes a shutdown would be justified in this case. "If [Democrats] want to stand before the American people and say they support this practice of dismembering unborn children, then that's their privilege," McCain said.
It's possible that when Congress returns from its five-week August recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner will attach a new bill to defund Planned Parenthood to a must-pass budget bill, employing the same tactics that were used in the 2013 shutdown.
Now that Trump has signed on to a potential shutdown, he thinks it could succeed. He acknowledged to Hewitt that the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act in 2013 was a political disaster for the Republicans—but that was their own fault. "If they had stuck together, they would have won that battle," he asserted. "I think you have to in this case, also."
With the first Republican presidential debate two days away, Donald Trump is leading his nearest competitor in the national polls by as much as 12 points. In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics poll average puts him in second behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but in the most recent poll of the race, Trump took a commanding 30.9 percent of the vote in a 16-candidate field. As GQ's Drew Magary notes, Trump's comments about Mexicans, China, and many of his opponents have fueled his rise in the state.
So what kind of crack campaign operation does Trump have in the first-in-the-nation caucus state? Who is the dark-arts practitioner responsible for helping a New York City billionaire win the hearts and minds of America's heartland?
Actually, the linchpin of Trump's Iowa strategy isn't a politico at all—she's a former reality TV star who not so long ago starred in infomercials for Bedazzler. Meet Tana Goertz, Iowa co-chair of Trump for President:
On her website, Goertz also hawks a children's book based on her own "inspirational tale" called I'm Bigger Than This; a gray t-shirt, with "ENTREPRENEUR 24/7 365" inscribed on it; an audio CD of business advice she recorded called "Fake it til you make it!"; and information about an Apprentice-like program she runs for kids called "Kids Apprentice Program." The program is "designed to serve children who are self-motivated future leaders" by offering them boardroom experience and forcing them to do "Apprentice-like tasks." For $50, you too could raise the next Donald Trump.
Goertz, who bills herself as the candidate's "hype girl" who "fires up the crowd and educates Iowans on how great he is," was hired by Trump in July. But their relationship wasn't always so strong. After Trump fired her from TheApprentice in 2005, Goertz condemned the show's process. "It was all bullshit," she told a local news station.
Evidently they made amends. Goertz's site boasts multiple testimonials from Trump ("Tana is truly a star!"), and you can even watch her audition tape, in which she tries to sell Mary Kay cosmetics products to middle-aged men:
So this is what it looks like when Donald Trump stays home. The businessman and board game magnate, who is currently leading the Republican presidential field by a mile, skipped the first full candidate forum of the 2016 presidential race on Monday in New Hampshire. His official reason: the host newspaper, New Hampshire's Union-Leader, had already signaled that it wasn't interested in endorsing his campaign. But maybe he had an inkling of what we know for certain now—14 candidates racing against the clock to recite canned talking points makes for a total snoozefest.
The moderator, Jack Heath, deliberately steered clear of any Trump-related questions, which is a shame, because Trump, even in absentia, might have have at least forced the candidates to talk about something besides themselves. As it was, Monday's forum, the first of three such Q&A sessions in early primary states and a dress rehearsal of sorts for the first GOP debate on Thursday, was like freshman orientation in a class of introverts. The candidates were provided the most generic of icebreaker questions (Carly Fiorina was asked for an example of a time she showed leadership), which they promptly segued away from, and pivoted to the boilerplate speeches they've already been delivering in Iowa and New Hampshire for months. Because it was a forum, not a debate, the candidates weren't allowed to interact with each other. Save for Scott Walker noting that no one in his family had been president before, none of them even tried. In a rare moment of drama, the C-SPAN cameras caught Chris Christie with a finger (his) wiggling in his ear.
But there were still a handful of highlights:
Four years after famously forgetting the third federal agency he intended to eliminate, former Texas governor Rick Perry was offered a shot at a do-over. "I've heard this question before!" he said eagerly. Then he pivoted to another topic and never answered it.
Jeb Bush said the president needs to do more to combat the "barbarians" of ISIS, but perhaps wary of unpleasant comparisons to that other Bush (or both of them, really), stopped short of saying "boots on the ground" were needed in the Middle East beyond special forces troops.
Fortunately, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was happy to do just that, calling on an America-Turkish-Egyptian force to bring Syria back under control. He'd tell those allies, "You're gonna pay for this war, we paid for the last two. We are gonna pull the caliphate up by its roots."
Graham, who could surely use the boost, also got a laugh from the audience when he suggested that the solution to Washington's gridlock was to "drink more."
Ben Carson announced that he would reform the tax code by consulting with "the fairest individual in the universe—that would be God." The result, he explained, would be a base tax rate of around 10 to 15 percent, similar to a church tithe. But an hour later, he informed the audience that taking more than 10 percent of a billionaire's income is "called socialism."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama has "declared war on trans-fats and a ceasefire with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." (That would be Iran.) His first act as president: hold a huge meeting with the Joint Chiefs to announce that America "is back."
Much has been made of the Republican party's recent shift toward criminal justice reform, which includes lighter sentencing for many drug crimes. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered a snapshot on how elements of the party might push back. Seizing on northern New England's heroin epidemic, he reprised an argument that any legalization of marijuana except for strictly medicinal uses would only contribute to drug abuse. Expect this to come up again at a later date, when candidates are allowed to talk to each other.
How will the next president's policies on climate change be affected by the White House's big new plan to fight global warming? We still have no idea, because only one candidate was asked about the proposal, and then only in passing. For the record, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it will be a "buzzsaw to the nation's economy."
The State Department inflated the grades of diplomatically sensitive countries in its yearly assessment of human trafficking around the globe, according to an investigation published by Reuters on Monday.
A negative ranking in the department's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" can shame offending nations, and even lead to sanctions. And while it isn't unusual for the rankings to be reviewed by officials outside the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons—the State Department unit home to analysts who investigate countries' trafficking records—Reuters suggests that this year's report was subject to unprecedented interference from senior officials. As the investigation explains:
The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery—such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution—won only three of  disputes [with senior diplomats outside the Office], the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit…As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department's human-rights experts wanted to give them.
The State Department denies that the ratings issued in the final report were politically motivated. But countries that at the moment are particularly diplomatically strategic for the United States were given higher grades than the human trafficking analysts originally recommended. The experts were shot down, for example, when they tried to put Malaysia, Cuba, and China on the Tier 3 "blacklist," a level reserved for countries with the worst records that can trigger sanctions. (Instead, they were placed on the Tier 2 "watch list," a category for countries needing special scrutiny but still judged to be making significant efforts to meet minimum standards.) Reuters explains:
The Malaysian upgrade, which was highly criticized by human rights groups, could smooth the way for an ambitious proposed U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries. Ending Communist-ruled Cuba's 12 years on the report's blacklist came as the two nations reopened embassies on each other's soil following their historic détente over the past eight months. And for China, the experts' recommendation to downgrade it to the worst ranking, Tier 3, was overruled despite the report's conclusion that Beijing did not undertake increased anti-trafficking efforts.
For Malaysia, where dozens of suspected mass migrant graves were discovered this spring, placement on the Tier 2 watch list was particularly important: As the Washington Post reports, if the Southeast Asian country had been put in Tier 3, it could not have participated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade and investment deal that the Obama administration has been trying to push through Congress this year.
As the Senate convened on Monday to vote on a bill seeking to defund Planned Parenthood, Sen. Elizabeth Warren took the floor to issue a fierce defense of the health organization.
"Do you have any idea what year it is?" Warren asked. "Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950's or the 1890's? Should we call for a doctor? Because I simply cannot believe that in the year 2015, the United States Senate would be spending its time trying to defund women's health care centers. You know, on second thought, maybe I shouldn't be that surprised. The Republicans have had a plan for years to strip away women's rights to make choices over our own bodies. Just look at the recent facts."
The Massachusetts senator continued her impassioned speech and listed examples of Republican-lead efforts to gut health care services to women over the years, including the recent budget proposal that includes a measure to remove federal funding for family planning providers.
The most recent call to gut federal spending on Planned Parenthood was sparked by several videos secretly recorded by a sting mission that appeared to capture top officials from the organization discussing the sale of fetal tissues. Following the public release of the videos, Planned Parenthood was hit by two cyber-attacks—one aimed at its website and another claiming to have hacked into the organization's databases and employee information.
The group, which now receives $528 million in federal funding (or 41 percent of its annual budget), also provides contraception to almost 40 percent of women who rely on public programs for family planning.
The videos have already moved Congress to launch two probes into the organization's activities. Eight Republican governors—including several who are running for president—have opened parallel investigations. Many Republican senators—including several who are running for president—have vowed to strip Planned Parenthood of its hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
While its opponents tried to brand Planned Parenthood as an abortion mill, the group has stressed that abortions make up only 3 percent of its services, and STI screenings, Pap tests, and pregnancy prevention comprise the vast majority of its activities.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told supporters in Iowa on Thursday that if he were elected president he would consider using the FBI or National Guard to end abortion by force. Per the Topeka Capital-Journal:
"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.
At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: "All American citizens should be protected."
Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: "We'll see if I get to be president."
That's crazy. The right to an abortion has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Huckabee is saying he might simply disregard the judicial branch and stop the practice unilaterally—that is, he'd remove the checks from "checks and balances." It's not the first time he's proposed a constitutional crisis as an antidote to things he doesn't like. Huckabee has also said states should practice civil disobedience by ignoring the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.
The pro-Chris Christie super-PAC America Leads raised $11 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to filings released by the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Controversial hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen gave $1 million. Cleveland Cavaliers owner (and Quicken Loans chief) Dan Gilbert gave $750,000. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and WWE magnate Linda McMahon each dropped $250,000. New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon dropped $100,000 that his team's fans dearly wish he'd spent on an outfielder.
Oh, and it's hardly the biggest donation on the list, but America Leads also got $10,000 from an unusual source—a media company. The check came from American Media Inc., the parent company of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, OK!, and Star; and fitness publications like Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness; and Flex. What's the Christie connection? In June, the governor named American Media Inc.'s chairman, David Pecker, to his presidential leadership team.
We can't speak for Flex, but the normally scandal-happy Enquirer has been bullish about Christie's chances. Last April, it published an "EXCLUSIVE!" boasting that the governor's White House dreams were "alive" because "American politics is full of comeback stories." And in February, it published another item touting Christie's chances despite "hatchet job" corruption claims.
Today, Marco Rubio couldn't resist attempting to conflate two recent controversies—an American dentist's admission he killed Cecil the lion and a sting operation currently targeting Planned Parenthood—for the following take:
Look at all this outrage over a dead lion, but where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies.
The tweet, aside from demonstrating a clear lack of grammar skills, mirrors similar statements from the likes of Rush Limbaugh asserting the same blend of crazy. Rubio should probably lay off of Twitter and get back to actually doing his job.
Anthropomorphic stick of dynamite Michael Bay, the director of The Rock, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, and four Transformers movies (also Pain and Gain—don't forget Pain and Gain!), has made a movie about the September 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.
The movie's release date is January 15, 2016—just in time for the Iowa caucuses.
The film, 13 Hours, based on a book by the same name, is sure to prompt lots of discussion—intelligent and otherwise—on the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time of the attack. Here's the trailer:
I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.
He doesn't care what his actual positions are? You can never know what is in a politician's heart. Literally all you can go on are their actions and deeds.
This is bad reasoning and Mark Cuban should feel bad.