semantics
January 3, 2020

After a U.S. airstrike killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, lawmakers have generally avoided declaring it an "assassination." Assassination suggests Soleimani's killing is an unjustified act of aggression, and only a few lawmakers have so far used the word.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted soon after Soleimani's death was announced, saying "one reason we don't generally assassinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed." Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) tweeted Friday morning that "carrying out an assassination without notifying Congress or presenting a plan to avoid war and American casualties is reckless and dangerous." And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) became the first Democratic 2020 contender to use the word, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Republicans, meanwhile, nearly unilaterally avoided the assassination designation, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) labeling it an outright myth.

But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) broke the GOP mold. He questioned whether "the assassination of Soleimani will expand the war to endanger the lives of every American soldier or diplomat in the Middle East," and demanded Congress be given the choice whether to declare war before this aggression continues. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 27, 2019

Did Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) apply for a visa to travel to Russia or not? It probably doesn't really matter, either way.

The senator said in a statement on Monday that Moscow denied his request to travel to Russia as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation. He called the decision a "petty affront" and said he would "continue to advocate a strong and resolute response to Russian aggression," as he hopes to hold Moscow accountable for its actions in Crimea. Johnson's congressional colleague, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), was reportedly denied a visa, as well.

Hogwash, the Russian government said — Johnson was never denied a visa. Moscow said he mischaracterized the situation by presenting "everything as if he had been refused after applying." The Russian Embassy in Washington also said that Johnson never applied for a visa at the embassy and did not inform the office about his plan to visit. In reality, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he's actually on a list of individuals officially barred from entering the country because he supports "anti-Russian" legislation, which doesn't sound all that different from a visa denial when you think about it.

So... ultimately, it's all semantics. The one thing that seems certain at the moment is that Johnson won't be headed to Russia. Tim O'Donnell

May 6, 2019

President Trump really doesn't want Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress, and the White House may have one last trick up its sleeve to prevent that from happening.

Last week, White House lawyer Emmet Flood sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr advising him not to provide Congress with any more information regarding Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. But the letter also hit on an important piece of information that skirted under the radar last week. Flood writes that Trump administration officials who interviewed with Mueller's team of investigators did not, in fact, waive executive privilege.

Instead, the letter argues that the officials and Mueller's office agreed to an understanding that information gleaned from the White House was "presumptively privileged" because it could have been the subject of a potential executive privilege claim.

It sounds like a stretch and there is not currently anything else that verifies this agreement between the two sides, but with Mueller tentatively set to appear before Congress on May 15, the White House could try to block the special counsel's testimony using "presumptive privilege" as a shield.

June 28, 2017

Republicans are trying to cast their health-care proposal in a positive light, saying that cuts to Medicaid actually do the opposite, slowing the program's growth in order to preserve it, and everyone from White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to President Trump himself is getting involved.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said the GOP Senate bill would reduce Medicaid spending by $772 billion over 10 years, and by 2026, enrollment would drop by 16 percent among people under the age of 65. Over the weekend, Conway said Republicans "don't see" these as cuts, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said the bill would "codify and make permanent the Medicaid expansion" put in place by the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, former House Speaker and Trump ally Newt Gingrich said on Fox & Friends that "after all the news media talking about cutting Medicaid in the House Republican bill, I did some research. It actually goes up 20 percent over the next 10 years."

That's a touch misleading, PolitiFact says. The CBO report found that the House bill that passed in May would cut Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years. His office didn't respond to PolitiFact's calls, but they concluded it is likely Gingrich was referring to the rate at which Medicaid will grow over the next decade, which will happen if the law passes or not. Medicaid spending will increase because health-care costs are going up, and the CBO report found that under the House bill it limits the increase to 20 percent; if nothing changes, it will require a 60 percent increase.

One of Trump's major campaign promises was that "there will be no cuts" to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, which is likely why he tweeted this graph Wednesday evening:

None of these talking points are swaying David Kamin, a law professor at New York University and former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, who told The New York Times: "The question of whether it's an increase or a cut is really about how people experience health care and whether people will be covered. From my perspective, it would best be described as a cut." Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads