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April 16, 2014
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We all know Lincoln's famous words about America's government being "of the people, by the people, for a tiny subsection of the richest of the richest of the rich among those people." All right, so Lincoln had a more inclusive vision of how Washington works than that. But according to a new research paper from Princeton and Northwestern professors that will be published in Perspectives on Politics, the government really does cater to the nation's wealthiest.

To arrive at that conclusion, the researchers analyzed nearly 1,800 federal policies enacted between 1981 and 2002, comparing the effect of those policies to public interest polls. After breaking down the public's views by income level, the two determined that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy." As for everyone else? "[A]verage citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

To put it in harsher terms, the opinions of most people don't matter, at least not when it comes to influencing policy.

The study notes that "imprecision" in its definition of "affluent" may actually underestimate the political clout of the nation's richest. And that was before the Supreme Court earlier this month struck down aggregate limits on personal campaign donations, a decision that could flood elections with more and more cash. Jon Terbush

8:10 a.m. ET
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If you've been following President Trump's obsession with his election win, and his seeming inability to make small talk about much else, it should come as absolutely no surprise at all that he is boasting about it to world leaders abroad, too.

Trump reportedly "brought up [the] size of his election victory" at the European Union headquarters with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday morning, an EU official said.

Ahead of Trump's trip, world leaders were reportedly advised to "praise" Trump's Electoral College win. Trump had compliments for more than just himself, though: Upon meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump admired the new president's "incredible campaign" and "tremendous victory." Jeva Lange

7:37 a.m. ET
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Montana goes to the polls Thursday to vote in a special election for the House seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. On the ballot is Democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer, and Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte, who has consistently led the polls despite Quist's recent gains.

The race, described by Gianforte as "closer than it should be," is an uncomfortable repeat for Republicans of close, but ultimately Republican-won, special elections in Kansas and Georgia. Elections like Montana's could indicate how a deeply unpopular president in the White House could influence Republican victories nationwide in 2018.

Complicating matters, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for attacking a reporter on Wednesday; 37 percent of registered voters have already voted absentee, the Billings Gazette reports. Read more about Quist's chance to win the deep-red state here at The Week. Jeva Lange

6:59 a.m. ET

On Thursday in Brussels, President Trump will meet for the first time with leaders of the European Union and NATO, the 27-member alliance he once dismissed as "obsolete." Trump arrived in Brussels on Wednesday, after a stop in Italy, and after meeting at the European Union headquarters with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday morning, Trump will have a private lunch with new French President Francois Macron then gather with fellow NATO leaders.

Trump says he wants to get a NATO commitment to join the fight against the Islamic State, and NATO will almost certainly agree, though some members won't commit military support to the ISIS fight. Trump will also likely ask NATO members to commit to higher military spending, while other nations will be looking for a firm commitment from Trump to support NATO's Article 5 collective-defense pledge. Some 9,000 protesters greeted Trump when he landed in Brussels, and more protests are planned for Thursday, though tight security means the president won't have to confront them. Late Thursday, Trump departs for Sicily and a G7 summit, the final leg of his overseas trip. You can watch Trump arrive at EU headquarters below. Peter Weber

6:19 a.m. ET

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate for Montana's at-large House seat, was charged with misdemeanor assault on Wednesday night after he body-slammed a reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, for asking him questions about the GOP health-care bill, according to accounts by Jacobs and three witnesses from Fox News. Late Wednesday and early Thursday, three Montana newspapers — the Missoulian, the Helena Independent Record, and the Billings Gazette — rescinded their endorsements of Gianforte, in no uncertain terms. The election is Thursday.

Gianforte "not only lost the endorsement of this newspaper Wednesday night," the Missoulian editorial board wrote, "he should lose the confidence of all Montanans."

We will leave it to the legal system to determine his guilt or innocence. But there is no doubt that Gianforte committed an act of terrible judgment that, if it doesn't land him in jail, also shouldn't land him in the U.S. House of Representatives. ... He does not represent Montana values and he should not represent us in Congress. [Missoulian]

The Independent Review noted that "democracy cannot exist without a free press," saying "both concepts are under attack" by Gianforte, with Wednesday night just being the most serious and latest example. "We cannot in good faith continue to support this candidate," the editorial board said.

The Billings Gazette said called Gianforte's reported actions "shocking, disturbing, and without precedent," and worthy of "rescinding our editorial endorsement." They called him untrustworthy and lacking sound judgment. "We believe that you cannot love America, love the Constitution, talk about the importance of a free press, and then pummel a reporter," the editorial board said, but to make this about press freedoms "would be to miss the point":

If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn't condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn't condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn't accept it from a man who is running to become Montana's lone congressional representative. We will not stand by that kind of violence, period. [Billings Gazette]

None of the newspapers explicitly endorsed Gianforte's rival, Democrat Rob Quist, but they made it pretty clear who they did not want to see in Congress. You can read the full editorials at the Missoulian, Billings Gazette, and Independent Record, or hear the details in this Associated Press report. Peter Weber

4:54 a.m. ET

This week, a Philippine transcript of an April phone call President Trump placed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte leaked to the press. The Trump administration had already shared that Trump invited Duterte to the White House (he was noncommittal). Regardless, "that's a very exclusive invitation," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "Usually you want to save that kind of honor for a true statesman like Ted Nugget." But thanks to the leaked transcript, we also know he started off his call by congratulating Duterte on his "war on drugs" — which, not unlike a real war, has killed 7,000 people over the past year.

"Trump congratulated Duterte on his vigilante kill squads," Colbert marveled. "That's like saying: 'Darth, I'm in construction, and I know that's a fantastic Death Star, top notch. I'd love to have you over sometime to Force-choke Sean Spicer." Still, "the call had an even bigger bombshell," he said. "In a conversation about North Korea, Trump gave Duterte military secrets" about two U.S. nuclear submarines off North Korea. "Come on! That's a state secret," Colbert protested. "Trump has got to be the world's worst Battleship player. 'Okay, you'll never guess where my beautiful submarine is — unless you guess B2, because that's where I put it, 2 through 5.'"

Then Colbert saw an opportunity in Trump's secrets-spilling: "Since the only way we seem to get any information out of Donald Trump these days is via leaked conversations with dictators, I have a favor to ask of Robert Mugabe: Can you call up our president and ask him for his tax returns?" Peter Weber

4:03 a.m. ET

President Trump is still overseas, Stephen Colbert noted on Wednesday's Late Show. "And he might want to stay over there for a little while, until the firemen can put out his budget proposal. Not only does nobody like it, but it turns out it has a huge mistake in it — not the part about cutting funding for cancer research, that's just one of his passion projects." No, he was talking about the $2 trillion accounting error. "There's a simple explanation for how this happened: Donald Trump is an idiot," Colbert said. "Or he's lying." The fault actually lies with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who says the $2 trillion error isn't a mistake, but what fun is that? "Let me see if I can help — here is a basic math lesson for Donald Trump," Colbert said: "If a train leaves Washington, D.C., traveling at 40 mph, please get on it."

Colbert then turned to Trump's visit to the Vatican. "That's exciting — it's one of the few places on Earth with more old white men than his Cabinet," he said. Trump and Pope Francis butted heads over immigration during the presidential campaign, so some people were expecting a tense meeting — and judging from the pope's demeanor, it may have been, he added. But Trump seemed pleased, kind of, saying afterward that the pope "is something." "The pope is, indeed, something," Colbert said. "As Jesus himself said, 'Blessed are the vague, for they shall inherit, you know, stuff.'"

As is traditional, Francis and Trump exchanged gifts, "but the best part of the visit happened at the end," Colbert said, "when the pope threw a little shade at Trump's physique," asking first lady Melania Trump, "What do you give him to eat, potizza?" — a high-calorie pastry from her native Slovenia. "The pope just called the president chubby," Colbert said. "I cannot believe that the infallible vicar of Christ just played the dozens on our president." He turned to Cartoon Pope Francis for some answers, and, well, Cartoon Pope Francis just isn't sorry. Peter Weber

3:27 a.m. ET
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Vermont's Middlebury College has disciplined 67 of 100 or so students who disrupted a March lecture by Charles Murray, a conservative author and American Enterprise Institute scholar, but none of the students were suspended or expelled. The punishments range "from probation to official college discipline," Middlebury said in a statement on Tuesday, with the last action — meted out to 10 or fewer students — leaving a mark on the students' permanent academic records. The Middlebury Police also said it won't bring any charges in the incident, which left faculty member Allison Stanger injured.

"The sanctions are a farce," Murray said Wednesday. "They will not deter anyone. They're a statement to students that if you shut down a lecture, nothing will happen to you." Middlebury spokesman Bill Burger disagreed, saying 20 of the students are appealing the punishments. "What I can tell you is that the students who received them don't think they're meaningless," he said.

In the March incident, a group of 100 to 150 protesters shouted that Murray was racist and sexist, referring to his 1994 book The Bell Curve. When he left the stage and moved to another room for a live-streamed Q&A session, students pulled the fire alarm. A group of protesters, some wearing masks and maybe not all students, accosted Murray and Stanger when they left the building for a car, and Stanger was treated for a concussion after someone pulled her hair. Police said they did not have enough evidence to press charges, in part because they couldn't identify the assailants. Peter Weber

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