"I wish circumstances were different and I didn't feel the need to make public remarks today," said Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE), to begin his address Wednesday at the Brookings Institute about government ethics and why President-elect Donald Trump should take them more seriously. "You don't hear about ethics when things are going well. You've been hearing a lot about ethics lately." Trump had laid out his plan to distance himself from his business interests to avoid conflicts earlier in the day, and Shaub said that plan is "wholly inadequate." "Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts," he explained.
The point of speaking publicly about the fixable ethics shortcomings of the incoming administration, Shaub said, is to defend the post-Watergate ethics structure built to safeguard the public good and to urge Trump to change course. "I've been pursuing this issue because the ethics program starts at the top," he said, and it is hard to persuade other officials to comply if the president does not.
And he's been trying to get his message to Trump, particularly. He started with some tweets, Shaub said, because "I was trying to use the vernacular of the president-elect's favorite social media platform to encourage him to divest." His speech on Wednesday included Biblical scripture, an appeal to patriotism, and the advice of Trump's favorite Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia:
Back when he was working for the Justice Department, the late Antonin Scalia also wrote an opinion declaring that a president should avoid engaging in conduct prohibited by the government's ethics regulations, even if they don't apply. Justice Scalia warned us that there would be consequences if a president ever failed to adhere to the same standards that apply to lower level officials. [Shaub, Brookings Institute]
At Trump's press conference, his conflicts-of-interest lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had noted that "the conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets." That's true. But as Shaub noted: "The sheer obviousness of Justice Scalia's words becomes apparent if you just ask yourself one question: Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees?" The jury is still out. Watch below. Peter Weber
On Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released the text of the GOP's "skinny repeal" health-care bill, which has been named the Health Care Freedom Act.
The amendment would repeal ObamaCare's individual and employer mandates for eight years, increase contribution limits to health savings accounts for three years, repeal a tax on medical devices for three years, defund Planned Parenthood for a year, and allow states to request waivers from benefits mandated by ObamaCare.
Although the proposal was just released, and several Republicans said they don't like the bill, a final vote is expected late Thursday or early Friday. Earlier in the evening, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said his chamber is open to a conference committee to work on the bill. Catherine Garcia
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Fox News' Tucker Carlson on Thursday that being publicly berated by President Trump multiple times over the last week has been "kind of hurtful."
Trump has been blunt in his criticism, saying he is disappointed in Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and saying "time will tell" if Sessions gets fired from his job, but Sessions told Carlson he still thinks he "made the right decision." Sessions said he doesn't plan to resign, but knows he serves "at the pleasure of the president. If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it. But I do believe that we are making tremendous progress."
Sessions was one of Trump's earliest and most vocal supporters, and he told Carlson the pair have yet to sit down and work things out, but "people have talked about it at the White House." Catherine Garcia
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released a statement Thursday evening saying the House is open to working with the Senate to come up with a health-care bill to repeal ObamaCare, but the "burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something that keeps our promise, as the House has already done."
His statement came after Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Ron Johnson (Wis.) shared their concerns over the Republicans' "skinny repeal" bill, which it is believed would get rid of ObamaCare's individual and employer mandate and medical device tax; the text has not been released yet. The senators said they were worried if the bill passes in the Senate, it would go to the House without the two chambers coming together to amend it.
This week, Senate Republicans tried to pass a bill that would immediately replace ObamaCare and another that repealed it over two years, and the "skinny repeal" is their latest attempt to get a bill through without needing to have the House approve it as well. Catherine Garcia
On Thursday, the Senate voted 98-2 to impose new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
The House passed the bill earlier this week, 419-3. The legislation would force President Trump to consult Congress before he lifts any sanctions, and he has not indicated if he will sign it. Incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN Thursday morning Trump "may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians."
The bill is in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and comes amid several investigations around alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Catherine Garcia
The man tasked with leading the communications effort out of the White House isn't apologizing for his vulgar, expletive-laced rant against two of President Trump's closest advisers.
During a phone conversation Wednesday night, Anthony Scaramucci, the incoming White House communications director, unleashed on unsuspecting New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza his uncensored opinions on Trump's chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and chief of staff, Reince Priebus. The conversation was not off the record, Lizza said, which is why he published an article Thursday evening with details of the call — at one point, Scaramucci said, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c—k," and called Priebus a "f—king paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac."
Not long after the piece went up, Scaramucci tweeted, "I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA." Scaramucci may not want to tell Priebus and Bannon he's sorry for what he said, but he needs to apologize to the American people for putting certain images in their heads. Catherine Garcia
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Ron Johnson (Wis.) held a news conference Thursday evening about their party's health-care efforts, expressing their concern that the House will pass the Senate's "skinny repeal" of ObamaCare this week without bringing the bill to conference.
Senate leadership has been toying with a "skinny repeal" plan that would focus on eliminating ObamaCare's individual mandate, employer mandate, and medical device tax, while largely leaving the rest of the health-care law in place. Votes on a straight repeal of ObamaCare with a two-year window to replace, as well as a repeal-and-replace bill favored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), failed earlier this week, prompting senators to take up the "skinny repeal" plan.
Graham called the bill a "fraud" and "terrible policy," stating that unless House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) can assure him that the "skinny" bill "will not become the final product," he will vote against it. McConnell has indicated the bill would simply serve as a way for the Senate to pass a lowest-common-denominator piece of legislation that would pave the way for conference with the House, and has reportedly been in communication with Ryan about that strategy. Still, Graham said he would like a more solid guarantee. "It's like pornography, you know it when you see it," Graham said of what would be a sufficient pledge.
McCain called for a bipartisan approach to create a better health-care bill. "Right now I am voting no," McCain confirmed, and he joined Graham's call for the bill to go to conference with the House. Johnson said that "virtually nothing we're doing in any of these bills" would properly address the underlying problems of the health-care system.
Given the existing opposition to the bill by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), if any one of the three senators were to vote no on the "skinny repeal" bill, it would not pass. Shivani Ishwar
The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza just published details of his phone call with Anthony Scaramucci. They are absolutely insane.
Newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci directed some very interesting communications at The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza during a phone conversation Wednesday night. On Thursday afternoon, Lizza published details of his conversation with Scaramucci, after Scaramucci had called into CNN earlier in the day to interrupt an interview Lizza was giving.
Lizza said Scaramucci initiated their Wednesday night phone call and never requested it take place off the record, and said the bombastic new White House employee called to ask Lizza to reveal a source. Lizza had tweeted that Scaramucci was dining with President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and former Fox News co-president Bill Shine, and Scaramucci was apparently convinced White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had given Lizza the information.
The details Lizza published of their conversation are ... colorful:
"I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I'll fire tomorrow. I'll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he'll be asked to resign very shortly." The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn't been invited. "Reince is a f--king paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac," Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: "'Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the f--king thing and see if I can c--k-block these people the way I c--k-blocked Scaramucci for six months.'"
[...] Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c--k," he said, speaking of Trump's chief strategist.
[...] "Okay, the Mooch showed up a week ago," he said. "This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, okay?" [The New Yorker]
Scaramucci also told Lizza that he had to end their call so he could "start tweeting some sh-t to make this guy crazy," referring to Priebus, Lizza said. Minutes later, Scaramucci sent the tweet about leaks in which he cryptically tagged Priebus.