March 24, 2016

While in Argentina, President Obama partook in some local culture and did the tango with a professional dancer during an official state dinner (Michelle Obama also had a partner). Obama's critics watching back at home were outraged that Obama was getting his groove on so soon after the Brussels attacks — and they said as much during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

"I think there's no doubt that people would like to see a little bit more stagecraft and a balance toward decisive action rather than business as usual from the president," Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Halperin said.

"That was a tremendous mistake...Baseball games and tangos, that's inconsistent with the seriousness of today," the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass agreed.

The former communications director for George W. Bush, Nicolle Wallace, went a step further, calling the spectacle a "communications crime."

Obama had only one defender, economist Steve Rattner, who said that while the tango looked bad, what exactly Obama was expected to do in that situation? "I think he could have handled some of that differently. I agree certainly about the tango. But the idea that some people are throwing out that he should have, like, turned the plane around and rushed back to Washington. To do what?" Rattner asked.

Watch the debate, below. Jeva Lange

10:07 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a major First Amendment debate between religious freedom advocates and anti-discrimination groups, The Associated Press reports. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, will test if a bakery had a constitutional right to break Colorado's anti-discrimination law when it refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding because the cake shop owner believed "he would displease God by creating cakes for same-sex marriages."

The bakery's owner, Jack Phillips, claims that forcing Masterpiece Cakeshop to make cakes for same-sex weddings is the equivalent of "compelled speech," which is banned under the First Amendment. The Colorado Civil Rights Division and Administrative Judge Robert Spencer of the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts disagreed, ruling that the bakery illegally discriminated against David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012, when they sought, and were refused, a cake for their wedding.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ultimately "ordered Masterpiece Cakeshop to change its company policies, provide 'comprehensive staff training' regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers," the ACLU reports. The cakeshop then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and when it was refused, turned to the Supreme Court.

Read more about religious freedom laws, and the concessions W. James Antle III believes Christians should make, here at The Week. Jeva Lange

10:07 a.m. ET

Americans will never be happy with Washington, D.C., on an aggregate level, new Gallup poll results suggest, because, on average, we'd like to assign different policy arenas to different parties.

On most social and domestic issues, the average American wants Democrats to take the lead. For environmental policy, health care, and education, for example, Americans have a double-digit preference for Democrats. Republicans, meanwhile, score best on handling stuff like foreign policy, immigration, and the economy.


The trouble with this split is twofold: First, it results in the aforementioned average unhappiness, as Washington tends to operate in either gridlock or single-party control, not bipartisan delegation. And second, some of the preferences may not be compatible — like how the average American apparently prefers the lean, limited government Republicans envision while also wanting Democrats' approach to social programs. Bonnie Kristian

9:43 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is one of five Republican senators who have publicly opposed the GOP Senate health-care bill since its introduction last week, and in an op-ed published Monday in The New York Times, Johnson detailed exactly why he thinks the Better Care Reconciliation Act "fails."

Johnson argued that a plan replacing ObamaCare ought to "bring relief, and better, less expensive care, to millions of working men and women." "Unfortunately, the Senate Republican alternative, unveiled last week, doesn't appear to come close to addressing their plight," Johnson wrote.

Instead, just "like ObamaCare, it relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play," Johnson wrote. Rather than embracing the "simple solution" of rolling back "regulations and mandates" that Johnson said he and other senators pushed for, the bill retains the health-care system's characteristic complexity:

We're disappointed that the discussion draft turns its back on this simple solution, and goes with something far too familiar: throwing money at the problem.

The bill's defenders will say it repeals Obamacare's taxes and reduces Medicaid spending growth. That's true. But it also boosts spending on subsidies, and it leaves in place the pre-existing-condition rules that drive up the cost of insurance for everyone. [Sen. Ron Johnson, via The New York Times]

Johnson proposed returning "flexibility to states, to give individuals the freedom and choice to buy plans they want without ObamaCare's 'reforms'" and building off of "successful models for protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions." "Only then can the market begin to rein in the underlying cost of health care itself and reduce the cost of taxpayer subsidies," Johnson wrote.

Read the op-ed in full at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

9:38 a.m. ET
STF/AFP/Getty Images

A surreal paternity case in Madrid has led to a Spanish judge demanding that the body of Salvador Dali be dug up to test a woman's claims that the painter is her father, the BBC reports. Maria Pilar Abel Martinez, a tarot card reader, alleges Dali had an affair with her mother, a maid, in 1955. At the time, Dali was married to Gala Dali; the couple did not have any children.

It is necessary for Dali to be exhumed to test the paternity claims because there are no known biological remains of the artist. Dali died in 1989, at the age of 85, and is buried in his hometown of Figueres. Jeva Lange

9:20 a.m. ET

President Trump resumed a rant about Russia, former President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton on Monday morning, an apparent continuation of his reaction to a damning Washington Post story from last week that painted Obama as having done too little too late to pinch off the Kremlin's influence over the 2016 election:

Trump — who has been accused of "collusion" and "obstruction" himself — turned the allegations on their head to baselessly accuse his predecessor of colluding with Russia or obstructing justice instead. It is not entirely clear from Trump's tweets what he means, though The Washington Post reported that part of Obama's unwillingness to act on Russia was due to Trump's rhetoric. Administration officials "worried that any action they took [over the Russia hacking] would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign," the Post writes. "By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph."

Last week, Trump also tried to pin the scrutiny his team is receiving on the previous administration. "Since the Obama administration was told way before the 2016 election that the Russians were meddling, why no action?" he tweeted. "Focus on them, not T!" Jeva Lange

8:46 a.m. ET

Long before President Trump blasted anonymous sources from the Oval Office, he was reportedly an anonymous source himself — for the National Enquirer. While Trump had been a subject of the Enquirer's coverage in the early 1990s, embarrassed by such headlines as "Trump's mistress cheats on Donald with Tom Cruise," all that changed when Trump's friend, David Pecker, became the publisher of the notorious tabloid in 1999, The New Yorker reports.

…Once Pecker took over [the National Enquirer], critical coverage of Trump vanished. "They have an agreement where David would not write anything that damages Donald," a senior [American Media, Inc.] official from this period told me.

One employee said that Trump was also a frequent source for Enquirer stories. "When there was something going on in New York, David would talk with Trump about it. Trump provided David with stories directly," the employee said. "And, if Donald didn't want a story to run, it wouldn't run. You can put that in stone." Indeed, early in the 2016 campaign Pecker simply turned over the pages of the Enquirer to Trump, allowing the candidate to write columns under his own byline. [The New Yorker]

In fact, Pecker is so loyal to Trump these days that he has reportedly personally killed or squashed stories that would be embarrassing or damaging to the president. Read more about the tight ties between the commander-in-chief and the National Enquirer at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

7:54 a.m. ET
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs a 2014 bill increasing the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

A 2014 law designed to incrementally raise the minimum wage of Seattle's low-income workers up to $15 an hour has apparently backfired, a study conducted by University of Washington economists concluded. The findings show that low-wage employees actually lost an average of $125 a month under the new model, or about $1,500 a year, due to employers' reduced payrolls and hours.

Most alarmingly, "the paper's conclusions contradict years of research on the minimum wage," The Washington Post reports. "Many past studies, by contrast, have found that the benefits of increases for low-wage workers exceed the costs in terms of reduced employment — often by a factor of four or five to one."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor, who reviewed the paper, said the study strikes him as "likely to influence people" and called the work "very credible." "If I were a Seattle lawmaker, I would be thinking hard about the $15 an hour phase-in," said Autor.

Still, the research is in its early stages and has not yet been tested by peer review. But based on the preliminary findings, FiveThirtyEight suggests the Seattle experiment — with the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $13 an hour in 2016 — was possibly a case of being too extreme too quickly.

"The literature shows that moderate minimum wage increases seem to consistently have their intended effects, [but] you have to admit that the increases that we're now contemplating go beyond moderate," said economist Jared Bernstein, of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "That doesn't mean, however, that you know what the outcome is going to be. You have to test it, you have to scrutinize it, which is why Seattle is a great test case." Jeva Lange

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