Mr. President, stop attacking the press

John McCain, writing in the Washington Post:

After leaving office, President Ronald Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award to recognize individuals who have fought to spread liberty worldwide. Nancy Reagan continued the tradition after her husband’s death, and in 2008 she bestowed the honor on human rights icon Natan Sharansky, who credited Reagan’s strong defense of freedom for his own survival in Soviet gulags. Reagan recognized that as leader of the free world, his words carried enormous weight, and he used them to inspire the unprecedented spread of democracy around the world.

President Trump does not seem to understand that his rhetoric and actions reverberate in the same way. He has threatened to continue his attempt to discredit the free press by bestowing “fake news awards” upon reporters and news outlets whose coverage he disagrees with. Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders who are already using his words as cover as they silence and shutter one of the key pillars of democracy.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2017 was one of the most dangerous years to be a journalist. Last year, the organization documented 262 cases of journalists being imprisoned for their work. Reporters around the world face intimidation, threats of violence, harassment, persecution and sometimes even death as governments resort to brutal censorship to silence the truth.

The committee’s report revealed a bleak global climate for press freedom, as more governments seek to control access to information and limit freedom of opinion and expression. They do this not only by arresting journalists but also by fostering distrust of media coverage and accusing reporters of undermining national security and pride. Governments dub the press the “enemy of the people,” weaken or eliminate their independence, and exploit the lack of serious scrutiny to encroach on individual liberties and freedoms.

This assault on journalism and free speech proceeds apace in places such as RussiaTurkeyChina, Egypt, Venezuela and many others. Yet even more troubling is the growing number of attacks on press freedom in traditionally free and open societies, where censorship in the name of national security is becoming more common. Britain passed a surveillance law that experts warn chills free speech, and countries from France to Germany are looking to do the same. In Malta, a prominent journalist was brutally murdered in October after uncovering systemic government corruption. In Poland, an independent news outlet was fined (later rescinded) nearly half a million dollars for broadcasting images of an anti-government protest.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s attitude toward such behavior has been inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

We can do this by encouraging our partners and allies to review their laws and practices, including the abuse of defamation and anti-terrorism laws, to better protect press freedom and ensure that they do not unduly shrink the space for free speech. We can authorize U.S. foreign assistance to support independent media outlets and programs that create greater media pluralism. We can do more to foster conditions in which freedom of expression and information can thrive, including working to change increasingly political attitudes toward journalism. And we can condemn violence against journalists, denounce censorship and support dissidents and activists as they seek to speak the truth.

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Why Senate Republicans are rushing to pass an unpopular tax bill, in one sentence

Amber Phillips, reporting for the Washington Post:

The small business lobby. AARP. The medical community. More than half (52 percent) of Americans. Democrats in Congress. They all oppose a tax bill Senate Republicans are hurtling toward passing, as soon as Thursday night.

Republicans are racing to pass this tax bill despite the fact they don’t know what will for sure be in it, nor how it would impact economic growth, nor how tax cuts directed mostly at the wealthy will play politically in next year’s midterm elections.

So then, why the rush to pass it? Because, this: “Failure’s not an option,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in the halls of Congress on Wednesday.

In other words, Republicans have come to the conclusion failure is worse than passing an unpopular tax bill. Way worse.

In the breath before, Graham had indicated he’ll take pretty much anything that can remotely be called a tax bill: “Susan [Collins]’s got a concern, it’s a real legitimate concern. Ron Johnson’s got a concern. There’s a deficit concern. It’s like making a cocktail. If you’ve got to add more of this and less of that, I’m fine.”

Graham has been the most frank spokesman for how vital this tax bill is to the future of the Republican Party. Donors (who would benefit from this bill) would just stop giving to the party, he’s warned. Republicans could lose their majorities in Congress, he and others have warned. Failures to pass it “will be the end of us as a party,” Graham told the New York Times at one point during this process.

Behind closed doors, Republicans in Congress agree. The common wisdom is they need to prove to donors and voters they can deliver on major campaign promises, the sooner the better.

Their concern may be warranted: Republicans control all levers of government in Washington, and yet they are coming up on one year without a major legislative accomplishment.

After Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare blew up in their face, donors and activists were aghast. Key conservatives —  even huge proponents of getting something, anything, done on health care — said it was time for Republicans to cut their losses and move on.

“This is an epic failure by congressional Republicans,” Tim Phillips, president of the conservative Koch network-funded group Americans for Prosperity, told me at the time. “But it’s time to pivot to tax reform. There’s no time to pout.”

What better way to move on from a failure than by passing something Republicans have spent years dreaming of doing? Especially if that something cuts middle-class taxes, which GOP operatives say would be the easiest bill to sell to an American public already skeptical of the job Republicans are doing controlling Washington.

“Politically, this is, always has been and always will be the most important issue,” Corry Bliss, head of the House GOP super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, told The Fix this summer. “There’s nothing more important than having a good-paying job and being able to provide for your family.”

So, Republicans have come to the conclusion something is better than nothing. That’s really the driving force that could unify about 10 senators with competing concerns about the bill.

Here’s the problem: Something could still cost Republicans. By all past standards of how major legislation gets made, they are rushing through this bill. It would make the biggest changes to the tax code in 30 years, and they don’t have a lot of knowledge about what will happen next.

A key analysis by the Treasury Department the administration was expecting to use as evidence tax cuts at the top would rev the economy doesn’t exist, the New York Times reported — lending credence to Democrats’ and many mainstream economists’ criticism that trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

The Post’s Fact Checker found that millions of Americans would pay higher taxesunder the House’s version of the GOP tax bill, while President Trump would benefit. A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report found poor people could see their taxes go up disproportionately under the Senate bill, while millions could be without health insurance. On Thursday afternoon, hours before votes were set to begin, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found the Senate GOP bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit over a 10-year period, undercutting Republicans’ arguments the bill would pay for itself.

In other words, this tax bill may not produce tax cuts for the middle class, that magic antidote to Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare. There are a lot of other, unforeseen ways passing this tax bill could backfire politically for Republicans.

As Graham has voiced, there’s one big reason it might pass anyway. Because of their past failures earlier this year, more failure is not an option.

McCain condemns ‘half-baked, spurious nationalism’ in clear shot at President Trump

Paul Kane, reporting for The Washington Post:

An emotional Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) launched a thinly veiled critique of President Trump’s global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn “people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

McCain said that “some half-baked, spurious nationalism” should be considered “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee spoke with Independence Hall in his line of sight, having just been awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan institution built across the street from the spot where the Founding Fathers debated the nation’s future.

The award was presented by Joe Biden, the former vice president who served 22 years in the Senate with McCain. Biden is now chairman of the Constitution Center.

In his remarks, Biden paid tribute to McCain’s commitment as a captured Navy pilot refusing early release from his Vietnamese captors, to his bipartisan work in the Senate. Biden ended on a deeply personal note discussing his late son Beau’s admiration for McCain when Beau Biden went to Iraq on a tour of duty with the Army as a judge advocate general in 2008.

Beau Biden died of glioblastoma in 2015, the same form of brain cancer that McCain was diagnosed with in July.

McCain grew emotional at times during his remarks, recounting the 1991 speech of President George H.W. Bush on the 55h anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Bush is one of 29 recipients of the Liberty Medal. Last year the center honored Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

When it came to the portion of his speech about America’s place in the world, McCain gathered himself and delivered a blunt denunciation of the nationalist forces around the world, but most particularly of those at home:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of Earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.  We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

President Trump is now holding the Republican Party hostage

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump waged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year. Now he’s holding the entire party hostage.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Trump inexplicably cut a deal on a short-term debt-ceiling increase with Democratic leaders, despite House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders having denounced the idea. Then he took off for an event in North Dakota, where he effectively stuck their nose in it: “We walked out of there — Mitch [McConnell] and Paul and everybody, Kevin [McCarthy] — and we walked out and everybody was happy,” Trump insisted. Then, to top it all off, he invited Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — a top GOP target in 2018 — on stage and praised her as a “good woman.”

This is all hugely counterproductive for the Republican Party and has to have GOP leaders privately fuming. And it comes on the heels of Trump directly attacking Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and tangling with the two most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

It’s no secret that Trump has never really had the interests of the Republican Party at heart. His party affiliation has always been subject to change, and he has never played ball with the GOP powers that be. He has instead forced them to bend to his will in the name of keeping the peace and not inflaming his passionate base of support. Those GOP leaders have also wagered that, whatever headaches came with embracing Trump, they would at least have a Republican president to enact conservative policies.

But it’s beginning to get ridiculous for GOP leaders. That bargain they struck with Trump was always a tenuous and uneasy one, and he’s now openly violating it. What’s more, he’s repeatedly and publicly undermining GOP efforts to grow their Senate majority — you know, the one he insists isn’t big enough so he needs to nuke the filibuster — in multiple 2018 races.

More here.

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

How the pardon power could end Trump’s presidency

Philip Allen Lacovara, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff and civil rights abuser Joe Arpaio raises the question of whether the president may act with impunity to pardon individuals caught up in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. Based on my experience studying the pardon power during the Watergate investigation, I believe the answer is no.

Almost certainly, a presidential decision to preemptively pardon any of those caught up in Mueller’s investigation, whether former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn or Donald Trump Jr., would be effective and would spare those pardoned from prosecution, at least on the federal level.

So Trump may be tempted to use this mechanism to extricate himself from what he calls derisively “the Russia thing.”

But issuing pardons to his own friends, associates and relatives could be a perilous path for Trump, creating additional exposure on two levels, criminal and political — both flowing from an important proposition that is often overlooked in the debate over presidential power. Our legal system provides mechanisms for probing the intent and motives behind the exercise of power. The president may have the power to grant effective pardons in the Russia investigation, but both Congress and the federal prosecutor are entitled to determine whether the exercise of that power violates constitutional and statutory norms.

The most obvious constraint is the authority of the House of Representatives to determine whether an effort to squelch an investigation into criminal misconduct by people close to the president constitutes an impeachable offense. The core concept behind “high crimes and misdemeanors” is abuse of political power in violation of the best interests of the nation. Thus, it would not be necessary for the House to conclude that the decision to issue pardons constituted a conventional “crime.” All that would be required would be to find that the motive for pardons was to protect the president’s personal interests and political future by cutting off the investigation into the misdeeds of those around him.

While impeachment remains an unlikely political prospect at the moment, so it was during Watergate — until the “Saturday Night Massacre” dramatically changed the political landscape. A decision by Trump to pardon his close friends and associates for any complicity in colluding with a hostile foreign power could easily trigger a similar firestorm, with comparable political consequences.

But Trump should not ignore the potential criminal pitfalls of exercising his pardon power in this context. As with any other presidential power, the power to pardon is constrained by the ordinary requirements of federal law applicable to all public officials. For example, if representatives of a pardon-seeker arrived in the Oval Office with a bundle of cash that the president accepted in return for a pardon, there is little doubt that the president would be guilty of the crime of bribery.

More apt than bribery in the current context is the array of federal statutes that make it a crime to “obstruct justice.” Those statutes turn on the motive behind a person’s action, even if the person otherwise has the power to take the action. For example, under Section 1503 of the federal criminal code, any person who “corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” commits a felony. If Trump were to pardon any of the figures in the current Russia investigation, his action would certainly impede or obstruct the due administration of justice, as the courts have broadly construed that standard.

It would not be difficult to imagine Mueller making the case that the motive behind such interference was “corrupt.” As the Founding Fathers made plain, the purpose behind the pardon power is to extend mercy to those who have offended and have demonstrated remorse. Using the pardon power to protect the president’s own interests against embarrassment or exposure is not legitimate. Rather, a crassly self-interested exercise of presidential power to impede the due administration of justice is the very antithesis of the president’s most solemn oath — “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

And that is why Trump should take care — to make sure that wielding his pardon power, however tempting, does not blow up in his face. An attempt to use pardons to defend his presidency may end up imperiling it instead.

‘We should call evil by its name’: Republicans are standing up to Trump more directly than ever on Charlottesville

Amber Phillips, reporting for the Washington Post:

When President Trump issued his travel ban a few days into his presidency, at least eight Senate Republicans opposed it. When he fired his FBI director in May, more than a dozen Senate Republicans openly questioned it. When Trump prodded senators to vote for an Obamacare repeal bill, three of them didn’t. When Trump urged Republicans to try again or risk being labeled failures, they ignored him. When Trump started attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week, a handful of them went out of their way to publicly back McConnell.

And with Charlottesville on its knees this weekend as protests led by white supremacists turned deadly, Senate Republicans had their most overt conflict with the president yet.

A number of Senate Republicans criticized nothing less than the way Trump chose to be president Saturday. They publicly and directly condemned his words and action. More specifically, they criticized his lack of words and actions to clearly and forcefully denounce the white supremacy roiling Charlottesville’s streets and seizing the nation’s attention.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

There’s no nuance in those statements, no need to read between the lines. These Republicans think the president did a bad job being president in the midst of a violent, fraught crisis. Their criticism carries extra heft when you consider that these lawmakers mostly weren’t prodded by reporters, microphones thrust in their faces, to say any of this. Congress is on break, so wherever in the world these lawmakers were, they made the proactive decision Saturday to go on Twitter — or call up their staff to write a statement — and criticize the president.

This moment has echoes of the release of the crude “Access Hollywood” tape in the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign. These senators would probably rather not get into it with the leader of their party, but they feel as if he has done something so egregious that they have no choice but to speak out.

Making their criticism of Trump even more notable: Just a few days ago came a tangible warning of the consequences that criticizing Trump can bring. After Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote a book declaring that his party is in denial about Trump, a pro-Trump donor wrote one of the senator’s primary challengers a $300,000 check.

Not everyone who spoke out Saturday has as much on the line as Flake. Most aren’t even up for reelection in 2018. (Though Gardner is the chairman of Senate Republicans’ reelection committee.)

And liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up that this means Republicans are suddenly on the impeachment path. But the past few months, and especially this weekend, make clear that Republicans in Congress are increasingly comfortable confronting their president in more direct ways.

Two more Senate Republicans oppose health-care bill, leaving it without enough votes to pass

Sean Sullivan and Lenny Bernstein, reporting for the Washington Post:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

In a pair of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump decried the defections, called for letting the Affordable Care Act “fail” and vowed to keep pushing for a GOP plan.

“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” he wrote in the first tweet.

He followed that with: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Republicans, who have made rallying cries against President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity, may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

All of these forces remained vexing factors Monday as senators bailed on the bill. And no evident solution was offered by the White House — which has been limited in its sale of the GOP plan — or from McConnell, for how to bring together a party in which moderates and conservatives are still deeply divided over the scope of federal health-care funding and regulations.

McConnell did announce late Monday that he plans to push for a vote in the coming days anyway, but with a catch: senators would be voting to start debate on the unpopular House-passed bill. McConnell has promised to amend the bill to a pure repeal, but with no guarantee that such an amendment would pass.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Lee said in a statement.

Moran said the bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs.”

The two senators timed the release of their statements and made clear that modest tinkering around the edges of the legislation drafted by McConnell would not be enough to meet their demands.

They joined a pair of GOP colleagues in calling for a complete redrawing of the legislation that would take many months, short-circuiting McConnell’s wish to end the debate this month.

The news threw the effort to pass the legislation into turmoil, with additional Republicans weighing in on Twitter about a flawed process that must take a new direction. Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called for a “new approach” while Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) tweeted, “Time for full repeal.” White House aides, meanwhile, said they still plan to press ahead.

Much more here.

President Trump is losing his war with the media

Aaron Blake, writing in the Washington Post:

It’s pretty clear what President Trump is doing by going after the media. He sees someone who is tough on him, with a lower approval rating, and he sets up a contrast. It’s like making yourself look taller by standing next to a short person.

“You have a lower approval rate than Congress,” he needled reporters at last week’s news conference, making clear he had done the math.

Except maybe it’s not really working.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth.

The poll asked who registered voters “trust more to tell you the truth about important issues.” A majority — 52 percent — picked the media. Just 37 percent picked Trump.

The poll did find that registered voters by a narrow margin think the media has treated Trump unfairly, with 50 percent saying they disapproved of the coverage of Trump and 45 percent approving. But voters are even more critical of Trump’s treatment of the media, with 61 percent disapproving and 35 percent approving.

Even 23 percent of Republicans say Trump is mistreating the media, and independents disapprove 59-35.

The poll was conducted Feb. 16 through 21 — beginning the day Trump jousted with the media at a news conference Thursday and continuing through the weekend. Trump called the media “the enemy of the American people” in a tweet Feb. 17, drawing widespread condemnation from journalists and defenders of the free press. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) even compared Trump’s tactic to what dictators do to undermine it.

More here.

Democrats Demand Inquiry of Russian Role in U.S. Affairs; G.O.P. Concern Grows

Via The New York Times:

The stunning resignation of Michael T. Flynn as White House national security adviser has emboldened congressional Democrats to demand a broader investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia — and compelled a small group of leading Republicans to acknowledge growing concerns over the episode.

“It’s dysfunctional as far as national security is concerned,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said of the Trump White House. “Who’s in charge? Who’s in charge? Who’s making policy? Who’s making decisions?”

While many Republican lawmakers remained largely silent on Tuesday about the deep turmoil in Mr. Trump’s national security apparatus, some allowed that further inquiry might be necessary, to a point.

Republican leadership in the Senate said that it was likely that Mr. Flynn would be asked to speak to the Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election, and that his discussions with the Russian ambassador would probably be folded into the review.

But there still appeared to be little momentum for a select committee to investigate Russian interference — an idea that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has long resisted.

Few Republicans in Congress lamented Mr. Flynn’s departure from the administration, crediting Mr. Trump for hastening his resignation, despite reports that White House officials knew for weeks that Mr. Flynn had misled colleagues.

“I think it’s pretty obvious why he decided to make the decision he did,” Mr. McConnell said of Mr. Trump.

At the same time, in a striking role reversal, the party long known for its universally hawkish stance toward Russia is now ceding some of that ground to Democrats.

On Tuesday, Democrats tried to make it clear that Mr. Flynn’s resignation must be only the first chapter in the story of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

“The crisis here rises above party,” said the Democratic leader in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, calling for an “independent, nonpartisan” investigation and insisting that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general who was active in Mr. Trump’s campaign alongside Mr. Flynn, recuse himself from any review.

* * *

Mr. McCain, one of the most vocal critics of Mr. Trump’s approach and tenor toward Russia, was among the earliest to speak out forcefully on Tuesday.

General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

However, Mr. McCain did not restate his earlier calls for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, which has not been supported by Mr. McConnell, who said any such investigations should be the purview of the relevant Senate committees. Mr. McCain has vowed that his committee will conduct a thorough inquiry and that he had full confidence in Mr. Trump’s defense and homeland security secretaries, calling his partnership with them “excellent.”

Most Republicans pursued similar arguments, deflecting questions about the need for further investigations into the administration’s ties to Russia. But a handful expressed concern about the pace of progress.

“It is frustrating to understand how we’re going to get a full, in-depth look at all the things that have happened,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think this episode does heighten the intensity around wanting to make sure that it’s fulsome and that we understand all aspects of what’s occurred.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, identified a possible silver lining.

“I just think it makes it almost impossible for them to lift sanctions now,” said Mr. Graham, who introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would require congressional approval for Mr. Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. “That’s sort of the good news.”

Mr. Graham suggested, gently, that Republicans should take care to avoid any appearance of hypocrisy.

“I think it’s important for us to be informed about the phone call. Did he do it by himself? Did he kind of go rogue or did somebody suggest to him to call the Russians?” he said. “I know we would be upset as Republicans if the Obama administration had done this.”

Trump’s battle with intelligence agencies reality

Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post:

Trump, if he keeps this up, is heading for a collision with both sides of the aisle in Congress and constant political fencing with the intelligence agencies. If Cabinet nominees support Trump’s pro-Russian stance, they run the risk of getting blocked. And worse, if and when a national security crisis hits, the intelligence community will have every reason to let it be known that the president was out to lunch.

Trump seems determined to prove his critics right — he is not temperamentally or intellectually up to the job. His family and closest advisers had better tell him to get a grip, or his presidency will have a rocky start and may never fully recover.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will begin a hearing on Thursday looking into the Russian attacks on democratic elections. Witnesses will include James R. Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence; Marcel J. Lettre II, undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency. When sober, experienced officials begin laying out the case against Russia, the public may fully appreciate just how absurd Trump is being. His reflexive defense of Russia will rightly be seen as anything but “America First.”

Just as interesting as the testimony in McCain’s hearing will be the conduct of Republican committee members, who include national security hawks Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who has both military and State Department service. None of these men likely will run interference for Trump. That leaves Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who have tried periodically to play down differences with Trump but whose reputations would suffer considerably if they take up the Putin-Trump line. We will get our first indications as to how determined the Senate is to take on Trump and his advisers’ pro-Putin positioning.

Here, there is no middle ground: It is either obvious that the Russians did it or the entire intelligence community (including Trump favorite FBI Director James Comey) is dangerously incompetent and should be replaced. Unfortunately for the country, if the first is true (the facts are incontrovertible), then it is Trump’s competence and sobriety that become suspect.

More here.

John McCain demands no waterboarding

John McCain is a hero in opposing “enhanced interrogation” techniques that Donald Trump appears to approve.

Via The Washington Post:

A leading Republican voice on national security matters said Saturday he doesn’t care what President-elect Donald Trump says, the United States will not reinstate waterboarding.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said at the Halifax International Security Forum that any attempt to bring back harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, would quickly be challenged in court.

“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard. We will not do it,” McCain said to applause during a panel discussion.

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, said extreme interrogation techniques are banned under U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.

During the campaign, Trump said he would push to change laws that prohibit waterboarding, which was used against suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush administration.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said waterboarding doesn’t work and makes it hard for the U.S. to claim moral superiority.

“What does it say about America if we’re going to inflict torture on people,” he said.

Political quote of the day 2

If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life. If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I’ve never seen in 30 years.

John McCain. Boo-hoo for McCain. He has railed against Hispanic for years.

Trump questioner claims Obama is a Muslim; Trump doesn’t dispute

Check out Trump’s response to a voter who claims that Obama is not a US citizen and is an Arab or Muslim.

Trump was very active in the so-called “truther” movement that claimed that Obama was not a citizen. However, compare the video above to the reaction of John McCain dealing with a voter making the same claims.

Trump is truly a dishonorable man, whereas McCain has the dignity to tell the truth.