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February 16, 2017
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On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on legislation to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act, part of a push by Republicans to roll back environmental regulations and protections. The Republicans on the committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and three of the five witnesses at the hearing argued that the 1973 law to keep animal species from extinction impedes oil drilling, mining, and farming, and infringes on the rights of states and private landowners. The proposed legislation would make it harder to list animals on the endangered species list and limit legal action under the 1973 law, among other changes.

Barrassso painted the bill as a way to cut "red tape," while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the Endangered Species Act makes it too hard to take animals off the list, arguing that only 50 of the 1,600 species listed as endangered or threatened have been removed. Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the conservation nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, testified that the Obama administration removed 29 species from the endangered list in eight years, in a sign that the law is working. "For more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction," she said. "Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction."

There's a parallel push to scale back the Endangered Species Act in the House — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wants to repeal it entirely, arguing that "it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species" but instead has "been used to control the land." On Wednesday night's Full Frontal, Samantha Bee was puzzled at the constituency for killing the Endangered Species Act. "The vast majority of Americans support wildlife protection," she said, citing a Defenders of Wildlife poll showing 84 percent support for the law (an American Farm Bureau Federation poll was more nuanced.) "'Animals are awesome' is the only safe topic of conversation most American families have left. Left-right, old-young, black-white, Americans agree: Four legs, good."

President Trump, who has already delayed adding an endangered bumblebee to the endangered species list, is expected to sign any legislation that comes to his desk. Peter Weber

10:55 a.m. ET

President Trump's former campaign adviser, Carter Page, is one of several characters to have fallen under intense scrutiny as authorities investigate Russia's influence on the 2016 presidential election. Page had been on the FBI's radar since a Russian spy tried to recruit him in 2013, and when he convinced the Trump campaign to allow him to travel to Moscow to give a Russia-friendly speech in July, the FBI took notice and began to dig into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But Page claims the FBI's investigation made him "the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations in recent U.S. election history." Speaking with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday, Page said that his rights were violated by the legal FISA court warrant that was obtained, he alleges, based on information in a "dodgy dossier" — a reference to the widely-circulated but unverified espionage document that claims Russian President Vladimir Putin ran a secret campaign to get President Trump elected.

Mediaite adds that "for some reason, the ex-Trump advisor also brought up the recently released book about Clinton campaign dirt, Shattered, to further make his case that he was unfairly targeted, something that left Cuomo a bit confused." Watch Page's oddball defense below. Jeva Lange

10:44 a.m. ET
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Two American soldiers were killed overnight in the eastern Afghanistan province of Nangarhar in an operation against an Islamic State affiliate, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday.

The operation targeted the Afghanistan wing of the terrorist group, known as ISIS-K. An additional Special Operations Forces soldier was wounded in combat, but is expected to live, CNN reports.

The Nangarhar region is a hotbed for ISIS, and has been the site of many U.S.-Afghan joint counterterrorism operations. It is also near where the U.S. dropped the so-called "mother of all bombs" earlier this month. Jeva Lange

10:37 a.m. ET
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The next generation of American spies may be difficult to find, said James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, on Wednesday. The trouble is twofold.

First, young Americans aren't exactly keen on mass surveillance. "We need to attract new people, new young people, to the intelligence community," Clapper said, but "they're going to say, 'You know, there's too much Big Brother. There's too much invasiveness and intrusiveness in my life, so I don't think I'm going to work here.' I worry about that."

Second, as FBI Director James Comey has complained, young Americans do like marijuana, for which intelligence agencies have little tolerance. "I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said in 2014. Any recent marijuana use, even in states where recreational or medicinal consumption is legal, runs afoul of hiring practices at the FBI as well the CIA, a policy that shrinks the recruiting pool in an age when 4 in 10 Americans will cop to trying pot. Bonnie Kristian

10:23 a.m. ET
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President Trump's much-vaunted plan to implement "one of the greatest military buildups in American history" to make the military "bigger and better and stronger than ever before" looks increasingly unlikely, Politico reports. Trump has called for a $30 billion defense spending increase for 2017 and a $54 billion bump for 2018, but as congressional budget negotiations continue and a government shutdown looms, he may not get what he wants.

Defense contractors, eager for fresh largesse, are "certainly frustrated that the initial hopefulness has not borne out, or at least not borne out yet," Doug Berenson of Avascent, a defense consulting firm, told Politico. "A lot of people in the industry, myself included, sort of allowed ourselves to get ahead of ourselves in the first weeks following the election without fully realizing the budget politics that have been with us for the last five or six years are not completely gone."

The U.S. military budget is already the largest in the world, surpassing the military spending of the next seven nations combined. Despite consistent evidence of large-scale waste and fraud, the Pentagon's books have never undergone a comprehensive audit. Bonnie Kristian

10:03 a.m. ET
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The State Department has about 200 high-ranking positions left unfilled during President Trump's transition into power because those roles may soon be eliminated, said department representative R. C. Hammond in a New York Times report published Thursday.

The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to the State budget, and even a smaller restructuring would make it nonsensical to temporarily fill positions that require Senate confirmation, Hammond argued, employing a shipwreck exploration analogy. "The first step was to find out where the Titanic was, and then it was to map out where everything else is," he said. "I think we're still in the process of mapping out the entire ocean floor so that we understand the full picture."

The mapping process here is a listening tour by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who in coming days will personally explore the State Department's current structure to determine what he would like to change. Critics from left and right alike have suggested this delay — which means the roles that are retained won't be filled until 2018 — is a dangerous decision that leaves diplomatic neophytes at the helm of one of the most important Cabinet agencies. Bonnie Kristian

8:49 a.m. ET
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Republican lawmakers are privately miffed at having been shut out of the White House's tax reform efforts, and many are none too pleased with what they heard yesterday. "It's not tax reform," one Republican aide told CNN. "Not even close."

Tax leaders on the Hill did not get a notice before the Trump administration announced it would be proposing its reform, multiple aides said, and the White House's proposal pointedly excludes a border adjustment tax on imports that was desired by Republicans. "We get that [the White House wants to] make a big show of leading the way on this, but that's not how this is supposed to work," an aide told CNN. The same aide added that House and Senate tax writers' work is ongoing, and that they are still attempting to reach an agreement about how to proceed.

"It's really easy to talk about big cuts," complained another aide. "We're about solutions. They aren't to that point yet, either on the policy or on the personnel level, and it's both obvious and disruptive to the process."

Publicly, at least, Republicans aren't expressing their annoyance aloud. A measured House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday: "Progress is being made and we're moving and getting on the same page."

Read an analysis of Trump's tax plan that wasn't at The Week. Jeva Lange

7:56 a.m. ET

President Trump has been known to call up television anchors to complain about coverage and feed his own leaks to the tabloids, and in the White House, that sharp sense for shaping the media has not waned. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for example, has already learned that the best way to satisfy his boss is to ask what he wants to see on TV that day before briefing the press, Politico reports.

It is perhaps no surprise then that Trump has reportedly huddled in the Oval Office with the creator and editor of the massively popular Drudge Report:

…Trump continues to crave attention and approval from news media figures. Trump huddled in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge, the reclusive operator of the influential Drudge Report, to talk about his administration and the site. Drudge and Kushner have also begun to communicate frequently, said people familiar with the conversations. Drudge, whose visits to the White House haven't previously been reported, didn't respond to a request for comment. [Politico]

Drudge has been critical of the Trump administration in recent weeks, saying in early April that "we are trying to save this young Trump administration. And I do think there is a crisis — on many fronts." Trump is also a known reader of Drudge's website, too, retweeting the publication even at odd hours of the night.

Read more about how Trump is promoting his agenda to the media and his meeting at the White House with Drudge at Politico. Jeva Lange

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