September 28, 2020

The New York Times' report on President Trump's tax info shed a significant amount of new light on his businesses and personal wealth, but there are still several questions left unanswered. Journalist Adam Davidson, who has reported on Trump's business dealings for The New Yorker, suggests people look to Trump's golf courses to find out more.

One of Davidson's big takeaways from the Times report is that Trump had a "new source of funds" beginning around 2011 after he had finished "blowing through" most of the money he received from his father, television producer Mark Burnett, and through loans. It's not clear who this alleged new source of money may be, but Davidson believes golf courses could be the key. In 2011, Davidson writes, Trump went into business with families from Azerbaijan, and was also "flirting" with Georgian and Kazakh businesses that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between 2011 and 2016, all of those groups were known to be laundering money through golf courses.

Trump, of course, has his own courses across the U.S., as well as in other countries, and those properties have cost him a lot of money. Davidson singled out his Scottish golf resorts, which have prompted investigation requests in the past, because that is where he, perhaps confoundingly, spent the post-2011 money.

But speculation is just that, and Davidson argues that little more can be known about who Trump "owes and what they know about him" until the alleged funding source is uncovered. Tim O'Donnell

12:47 p.m.

President Biden on Saturday praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her fellow Democrats who backed in his administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the wee hours of the morning. Now, "there's no time to waste" as the package heads to the Senate, Biden added. "If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again," he said. "And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering."

The president didn't address the minimum wage issue in his comments, but his call for speed seems to be in line with his previous rhetoric on the matter. Biden has made it clear he'd prefer an item gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to remain in the bill, but he's also reportedly not interested in rewriting Senate rules or ignoring the parliamentarian who ruled against its inclusion in the package under budget reconciliation, the tool Democrats are using to push the bill through without Republican instruction. Biden has also said he didn't expect the measure to make it through with the rest of the bill. Tim O'Donnell

12:01 p.m.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) didn't exactly pull punches in an interview with Politico, going after congressional Republicans, Democrats, former President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration.

Sasse, who is facing imminent censure from the Nebraska GOP for voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, stands by that vote and says he's not bothered by the action his home state's Republican Party is taking against him, though he did say he thinks it's not "healthy." His comments to Politico seemed to back up his confidence. At one point, when asked about Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Sasse simply said "that guy is not an adult," and described Congress, generally, as "a bunch of yokels screaming."

Sasse's candor is gutsy, but it's worth noting he's generally well-respected by his Senate colleagues and won re-election handily last year, so he's ensconced in the upper chamber until 2026.

While he's been in the spotlight for his intra-party criticism of late, Sasse did have words for Democrats, as well, per Politico. He said the Biden administration is "cowering" to the opinions of progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and called the education spending plan in President Biden's COVID-19 relief package as "disastrous." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Ali Shamkhani, Iran's top security official, said Saturday that the United States' airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria earlier this week will rejuvenate the Islamic State in the region, Reuters reports. "The attack on anti-terrorist resistance forces is the beginning of a new round of organized terrorism," an Iranian news agency quoted him as saying during remarks to visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.

Shamkhani reportedly went on to say Tehran "will confront the U.S. plan to revive terrorism" in the Middle East, but didn't elaborate. Later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, provided an in-depth of analysis of the strikes — which were carried out in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq — suggesting that whether Iran, which denies involvement in the attacks on U.S. targets, chooses to respond in a way that escalates the already-tense relationship hinges on further developments in the Biden administration's diplomacy.

"The administration’s actions and Europe’s support for U.S. decisions in response to Iran’s regional tests will determine whether Tehran believes it can be more aggressive regionally under Biden," Norman Roule, who previously served as the U.S. intelligence manager for Iran, told the Post. "But if the Iranians go up the escalatory ladder, we have no choice but to do the same in order to protect our forces and our partners."

Still, the sense among experts largely remains that President Biden's Iran strategy will be less bellicose overall than former President Donald Trump's. Read more at Reuters, The New York Post, and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:19 a.m.

The House passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 219-212 vote nearly along party lines early Saturday. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) voted against the bill with Republicans, who consider the package too expensive, taking particular opposition to measures like funding for state and local governments.

The legislation, which includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning up to $75,000 per year (as well as couples earning a combined $150,000) and extends enhanced unemployment benefits through August, will now head to the Senate, where its contents could change, The New York Times reports.

The bill includes a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, but Democrats, who narrowly hold the Senate, are using reconciliation, a process that will allow them to pass the bill with a simple majority and avoid Republican obstruction. Reconciliation comes with strict limits on what can be included in a measure, and the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian ruled against the wage hike.

Several congressional progressives, who are prioritizing the increase, criticized the decision and called for Senate Democrats to move forward anyway, but the White House said Biden, while disappointed, respects the ruling. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his colleagues are exploring alternatives, including an escalating tax on the payrolls of large corporations whose employees earn less than a certain hourly wage. It's unclear if that will qualify under the rules of reconciliation. Read more at The Associated Press and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

February 26, 2021

A number of Republican lawmakers have reportedly claimed to be unable to attend votes due to the COVID-19 pandemic — even though they're able to appear in person at CPAC.

Several allies of former President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives have "skipped Friday's votes and enlisted their colleagues to vote on their behalf," signing letters declaring they can't themselves attend due to "ongoing public health emergency," yet at the same time, they're expected to speak at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, CNN reported on Friday.

Among these lawmakers is reportedly Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who already spoke to CPAC attendees on Friday. But he's not alone, as CBS News' Rebecca Kaplan reports that a total of 13 House Republicans appearing at CPAC have made proxy voting requests, citing the pandemic as the reason.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) was another one of these lawmakers, and his spokesperson told CBS that he "was forced to proxy vote for the first time" after the "Democrats rearranged the House schedule with extremely late notice," adding that "mentioning the pandemic in the letter is the standard language that both parties are required to use to proxy vote." The spokesperson also said that Budd "remains philosophically opposed to proxy voting" despite plans to do so himself.

Notably, Kaplan points out, "among the votes they will miss tonight: one on the COVID relief bill." Brendan Morrow

February 26, 2021

Democrats are calling the Biden administration's airstrikes in Syria unconstitutional.

President Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, his first military action since taking office. The strikes were in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

While Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the limited scope of the airstrikes "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq," many Democrats expressed concerns on Friday that the move has done just the opposite, and argued it wasn't legally justified.

"Some Democrats said that Congress has not passed an authorization for the use of military force specifically in Syria," reports CNN.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "there is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization ... we need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) agreed, calling for an immediate congressional briefing and saying "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances."

Republicans, however, were seemingly largely pleased with the move. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.S. response a "necessary deterrent" to tell Iran that attacks on U.S. interests "will not be tolerated," reports CNN. As Fox News notes, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), among others, also applauded the strike, calling it "proportional."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the action as "necessary," and said Biden "has the right to take action" as he sees fit. She said "there was a thorough, legal response" and the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership in advance. Summer Meza

February 26, 2021

Scientists say you can start getting optimistic about a summer with fewer pandemic restrictions — but maybe not too optimistic.

A report in The Washington Post goes so far as to say "there is a good chance that by summer ... many aspects of life will be reminiscent of a time before coronavirus." David Rubin, director of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's PolicyLab, says "the probability of a great summer is really increasing," and the article outlines a tantalizing array of activities that may soon be within reach: everything from family reunions to indoor dinner parties to even summer vacations.

Similarly, a USA Today op-ed heralds "the beginning of the end of the pandemic," attributing a major fall in infection rates largely to natural immunity following such widespread exposure to COVID-19. Vox describes epidemiologists with an attitude "of guarded optimism that the pandemic is entering its last stage," with one public health expert tentatively predicting a "normal-ish" summer.

"There are wild card factors that could change this, but I've been telling people if there are things you've been wanting to do, think July or late summer," Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious-disease expert at Columbia University told the Post.

But, of course, there are major caveats. Numbers were trending in the right direction for a few weeks, but have now plateaued or ticked back up, so we're not necessarily on a one-way path out of the woods. Experts offered a reality check in The Atlantic, saying "we still have a very long way to go." That's if we use annual flu hospitalizations and deaths as a benchmark for risk "largely considered acceptable by the public." But considering the flu kills an average of 55 to 140 Americans a day in recent years, our current COVID-19 toll of nearly 2,000 deaths per day is really far off, even if the "flu test" is "not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison," as the Atlantic writes.

Everyone is hesitant to make actual predictions at this point, and even the Post, after floating the idea of restaurants and game nights in our near future, notes CDC director Rochelle Walensky said stagnating infections numbers mark a "very concerning shift." "We may be done with the virus," said Walensky, "but clearly the virus is not done with us." Summer Meza

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