Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bibi Or Benny?

I have not been following the election in Israel other than the fact that I knew it was going to happen yesterday.  The outcome is very close between Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu and his major rival, Benny Gantz.  As of this morning (early Wednesday), Bibi’s party had a very slight lead but with strong supporters in the other parties, enough to form a coalition.

As a friend noted last night, in a country of 8 million people with 39 political parties, it’s meshugge.

Popularity Contest

Via Digby, according to one poll, Rasmussen, Trump has an approval rate of 53% and is more popular than Barack Obama ever was.

That’s probably true if you only poll right-wing trolls and Republicans (redundant, I know).  And that’s Rasmussen’s beat.

Actually, he’s closer to 53% disapproval.  But don’t let reality get in the way of a good tweetstorm.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Anything You Can Do…

It strikes me as a bit ironic that the Trump administration would brand the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a force that is endowed with the power to enforce strict rule on citizens and defend the nation from “infidels,” as a terrorist organization on the same day that Trump sacks DHS Secretary Nielsen for not enforcing his policy of separating refugee children from their parents at the southern border.  Apparently she and Trump disagreed about the policy, so he fired her and will bring in someone who will have no qualms about putting children in cages.

Not that Ms. Nielsen had a problem with that; she had already made it clear in testimony before Congress that the policy was fine with her.  She just didn’t want to get entangled in lawsuits because they’re messy and expensive — for her.  She was fired because she let legal considerations interfere with her thinking, and that doesn’t go down well with Trump.

Trump has for months urged his administration to reinstate large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of meetings at the White House.

Trump’s outgoing Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, resisted — setting her at odds with the president.

According to two of the sources, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating the policy, and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separations.

Three U.S. officials said that Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Patrol who is expected to take over as acting DHS secretary, has not ruled out family separation as an option.

The policy McAleenan would consider, according to the officials, is known as “binary choice” and would give migrant parents the option between being separated from their children or bringing their children with them into long-term detention.

This renewed jihadism against immigrants is coming not just from Trump himself.  The purge of DHS and the reinstatement of the policy — despite Trump’s own executive order ending it last summer — comes from Stephen Miller, the presidential adviser who one person on Twitter claimed was the result of crossing Pee Wee Herman and Josef Goebbels.

Trump is cleaning house in the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles have been ousted, and at least two officials have been named as possibly heading out the door: US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel’s John Mitnick.

There is a near-systematic purge happening at the nation’s second-largest national security agency,” an official told CNN.

At least some of the sudden personnel changes come at the urging of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who played a key role in Nielsen’s ouster. The President in recent weeks empowered Miller to lead the administration’s border policies “and he’s executing his plan” with what amounts to a wholesale decapitation of the department’s leadership, an official said.

The President has also pushed in recent weeks to reinstate the family separation policy, which Nielsen resisted, a source familiar with the discussions says. Trump rescinded that policy amid public outrage and scrutiny from the courts last summer.

Miller’s heightened influence within the West Wing has been aided by the President, who recently told aides in an Oval Office meeting that Miller was in charge of all immigration and border-related issues in the White House, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

So while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard gets labeled as a terrorist organization, Trump is trying to remake DHS and ICE into something modeled after it.

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full — can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

And the march toward authoritarianism continues.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Acting Out

Trump fired DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen yesterday.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, resigned on Sunday after meeting with President Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure in charge of the border security agency that had made her the target of the president’s criticism.

“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

Ms. Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Mr. Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the president.

Mr. Trump in recent weeks had asked Ms. Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Ms. Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Mr. Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it.

The move comes just two days after Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly expressed anger at a rise in migrants at the southwestern border, withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.

[…]

The president said in a tweet that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would take over as the acting replacement for Ms. Nielsen, who became the sixth secretary to lead the agency in late 2017. But by law, the under secretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary. The White House will have to fire her to make Mr. McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Ms. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for Mr. McAleenan.

We now have an acting Secretary of Defense, Interior, and DHS, not to mention all the other unfilled positions at various levels of government that haven’t been confirmed by the Senate.  They’ve got more people in “acting” positions in government than the cattle call for the national tour of “Cats.”

Never Say “Never”

Via the Washington Post:

Trump’s acting chief of staff said Sunday that Democrats will “never” see the president’s tax returns, abandoning Trump’s long-held position that he would someday release the documents for public inspection and setting up what could be a protracted fight with Congress.

Mick Mulvaney and other Trump allies spent the weekend casting Democrats as politically motivated for formally asking the Internal Revenue Service to turn over six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. House Democrats last week asked the IRS to release the documents, setting a deadline of Wednesday, part of an ongoing battle with the White House as they seek information about Trump for numerous investigations into his businesses, campaign and conduct.

The Trump administration has been trying to shield the president from such inquiries, and Mulvaney was adamant that Democrats won’t ever gain access to Trump’s tax returns. When asked about it on “Fox News Sunday,” Mulvaney said: “Never. Nor should they.”

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what Nixon’s cronies said about the White House tapes in 1974, and guess what happened.  This may go all the way to the Supreme Court and it may not be determined until after he’s out of office, but eventually the House is going to get what it has a legal right to demand to see.

Whether or not they will be made public is another matter, but that’s not what’s at stake here.  It’s whether or not one co-equal branch of government can shut down the work of another.

Over to you, James Madison.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sunday Reading

Yes, It Matters — Lucas Grindley in The Atlantic on Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality.

Pete Buttigieg plays harmonica, guitar, and piano! He speaks Norwegian! Whoa, he actually speaks eight languages! I heard he even wrestled a bear live on CNN. None of the gee-whiz stories solidifying into the Buttigieg canon make any difference to me in deciding which of the Democratic candidates will get my vote. But as a gay man, I do care that Buttigieg is gay.

In my lifetime, it has been illegal for me to serve in the military, illegal for me to marry, illegal for me to adopt children, and even illegal for me to have sex. Society barred me from the first three; until 2003, the fourth meant risk of a fine or a prison sentence in some states. This discrimination did not just happen in a history book—it happened to me, and it happened to Buttigieg, too.

I am two years older than Buttigieg. We could have grown up with the same cartoons, listened to the same music, felt the same fear when we heard that Matthew Shepard had been murdered. We’ve lived through discrimination, and the fact that laws have changed doesn’t alleviate the trauma of our past. Ask our gay elders whether they’ve recovered from losing their friends and colleagues who died by the tens of thousands during the AIDS crisis. That pain is fresh.

During an interview with an LGBTQ magazine, Buttigieg described himself as “somebody whose marriage exists as a function of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Our position in society is hardly secure. The fight for equality isn’t won. It still matters that I am gay, so it matters to me that Buttigieg is gay.

Today, if Buttigieg or I wish to donate blood, we must abstain from sex for one year, or our blood is deemed unfit for use. Gay people are still classified as so great an HIV risk that it’s easier to reject our blood.

In many states, it remains legal to fire gay people for being gay. And if you’re tired of hearing about that fact, imagine how tired I am of living it. There is no public-accommodations law at the federal level that stops landlords from refusing to rent me an apartment if I show up for the home tour while holding my husband’s hand.

Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend when the Indiana governor signed a law in 2015 allowing businesses to turn away gay customers. That law didn’t stick, but the governor is now our vice president, Mike Pence. He stuck. Forgive me if I like the idea of having someone in the White House who understands what I’ve been through, and who would protect me from the people who would turn me away.

An NBC News poll published in March found that 30 percent of Americans said voting for a gay or lesbian candidate would make them “very uncomfortable” or give them “some reservations.” How polite. That’s the third I worry about whenever I consider kissing my husband goodbye in public.

For the first time in my life, I’m now represented in government by another gay man, Brian Sims, the outspoken Pennsylvania lawmaker who went viral for flipping off Mike Pence. (He represents my corner of Philadelphia in Harrisburg.)

Sims told me that being gay put Buttigieg in “learning situations” that give the candidate “heightened insight into issues far beyond human sexuality.” Sims believes that a “multidimensional identity can help educate, enlighten, and ultimately solve many of our most pressing cultural problems.”

Identity matters. Like most Democrats, I have not yet decided who to vote for in a primary that is still months away. But I believe it matters that Cory Booker is a black man, that Kamala Harris is the daughter of an Indian mom and a Jamaican dad, and that Buttigieg is gay. These facets of their identities mean that they can understand the powerless, as victims of power, and that they can understand the alienated, having been marginalized.

Beyond questions of empathy, Buttigieg being out is germane because he’s a role model to those who want to come out.

Gay men are largely missing from positions of power. An out gay man has never served on the U.S Supreme Court. Not a single out gay man served on the federal bench until President Barack Obama took office. There is not and has never been an out gay man in the U.S. Senate. Buttigieg came out in 2015 on his own terms, but that counts as progress only in an unfair system. Mike Michaud didn’t have that luxury just two years earlier when running for governor of Maine; he faced a whisper campaign.

There is one (and only one) out gay man leading a Fortune 500 company: Tim Cook came out in 2014 after becoming CEO of Apple. I notice that absence and hear it like a whisper that says I don’t belong whenever I’m in a conference room dominated by straight males. I confess there was a time when I monitored the way I sat, my gestures, even whether my voice was loud enough.

“When you are a member of a marginalized or often invisible community, there is something especially powerful about seeing someone like you that isn’t actually you,” said Erin Uritus, the head of Out & Equal, a group for LGBTQ business people, when I asked her about Buttigieg. “When LGBTQ young people wonder what is in store for their future and they can look to Tim Cook or Rachel Maddow or Pete Buttigieg, their entire world opens up.”

Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different had I grown up with a gay role model. “I can’t even begin to quantify the transformative power of visibility in belonging,” Uritus said.

The movement for equal rights has made tremendous strides. But we are not immune from persecution, especially not young people. Researchers at the Williams Institute estimate that 4.5 percent of the American population is LGBTQ. They also estimate that 40 percent of youth in homeless shelters are LGBTQ.

You can be sure that LGBTQ people are paying attention to how society treats Buttigieg as a candidate. The questions on their mind: Is it safe out there? Is this really possible?

“Anytime a member of our community breaks through a barrier, it’s extremely significant,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island when I asked whether it matters that Buttigieg is gay. Cicilline ought to know; he was also the first out mayor of Providence—or any state capital. “For young members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom may be suffering discrimination or bullying or even being ostracized from their own family, seeing a member of our community run for president helps them know it’s going to be okay.”

“As we continue the fight for full LGBTQ equality,” Cicilline said, “Mayor Buttigieg’s candidacy is an important measure of the progress we’ve made.”

As a gay man, I will definitely factor that progress into my vote for president.

The Fix Is In — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on William Barr’s choices for the Mueller report.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the intellectual polymath who represented New York in the United States Senate for twenty-four years, developed a well-founded skepticism toward government secrecy. Bureaucrats and others, Moynihan knew, could always conjure reasons to keep information under wraps, and the ratchet of secrecy generally worked in only one direction. Secrets begat more demands for secrecy, at ever greater peril to the public’s right to know what was happening in its name. Secrecy, Moynihan wrote in his 1998 book of that title, thus became “a hidden, humongous, metastasizing mass within government itself.”

That swelling mass may yet envelop the Mueller report. When President Trump nominated William P. Barr to be Attorney General, late last year, it was clear that one of his principal responsibilities would be to determine how much of the forthcoming report from Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, would be disclosed to the public. At each stage in the process, Barr has narrowed the range of information that he says he will allow the public to see. At his confirmation hearing, in January, he pledged that he would be guided by a commitment to “transparency.” Last month, though, after Barr received Mueller’s four-hundred-or-so-page report about possible ties between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian interests, and the President’s attempts to cover them up, the Attorney General, on his own initiative, created a series of roadblocks to public disclosure.

Under the Department of Justice regulation that sets the rules for the release of a Special Counsel’s report, the Attorney General is supposed to consider the “interests of the public in being informed of and understanding the reasons for the actions of the Special Counsel.” But Barr erected a quasi-legal structure that gives him enormous leeway to censor much of the Mueller report. According to a letter he sent to congressional leaders, Barr established four categories that were off limits for public disclosure. They are: “Material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public”—that is, matters subject to grand-jury secrecy; classified information; matters relating to other pending investigations; and, finally, “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

The first category, about protecting grand-jury secrecy, sounds straightforward, but it isn’t. The Supreme Court has never precisely defined the scope of Rule 6(e). In its narrowest (and best) interpretation, it means that grand-jury testimony cannot be released to the public. But some courts have suggested that it covers any subject that was discussed in the grand jury—potentially a much broader category. Barr did not disclose what definition he plans to adopt, but a broad conception could keep substantial amounts of Mueller’s report out of public reach. Barr had the option of petitioning the federal district court in Washington, D.C., to relieve him of the demands of grand-jury secrecy. (Such a ruling allowed wide public disclosure of grand-jury matters during Watergate.) But there is no sign that he sought this kind of permission.

The classified-information category is the least controversial. Still, the intelligence agencies are notoriously overzealous in classifying their own information. (This is a major theme of Moynihan’s book.) If Barr were to defer to them on this issue, that act would virtually guarantee widespread deletions in the report.

The third area, concerning information about other investigations, such as those under way in the Southern District of New York, provides another expansive loophole for the Justice Department. Indeed, Mueller himself has already redacted significant amounts of information from his own court filings on this ground. Because prosecutors do not reveal the scope of ongoing investigations, there is essentially no way to check Barr’s work in this category; we will simply have to trust him. This area is a black box—and Barr controls its contents.

The fourth category is an invention on Barr’s part; there is no law or regulation prohibiting disclosures of this kind. Moreover, the words are subject to wide interpretation. What does “unduly” mean in this context? Who is a “peripheral” third party? What counts as an infringement on someone’s reputation? It’s all, apparently, up to Barr. And this category also raises the most provocative question. As is now well known, Justice Department policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting President. Thus, because Mueller cannot indict Trump, the President, by definition, becomes one of those third parties mentioned in the regulation. Considering this scenario, is it possible that Barr could also prohibit disclosure of any information about the President? This would be an outrage, but it’s a potential outcome of Barr’s four-part test.

The Attorney General also reported to Congress what he said were the principal conclusions from Mueller’s report. According to Barr, Mueller found no evidence of criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he apparently regarded the evidence on obstruction of justice by the President as too ambiguous to make a final call. News reports last week suggested that some members of Mueller’s staff think that Barr slanted the evidence in the report in order to make Trump look good. What is certain is that Barr took Mueller’s equivocating as an invitation to make his own decision to exculpate Trump. The Attorney General had no business volunteering such a judgment about an investigation he did not conduct, but, when it came to obstruction of justice, he could not resist riding a favorite hobbyhorse.

In June of 2018, while he was still a private citizen, Barr, of his own accord, wrote a nineteen-page memo to senior officials of the Justice Department asserting that, in light of the President’s inherent constitutional powers, Trump could not have obstructed justice. This memo probably played no small part in Trump’s decision to choose Barr in the first place. Barr has now turned his outsider’s judgment (which is likely wrong on the merits) into an official vindication of his new boss. In all, Barr has taken every possible step to lessen the sting of the Mueller report—and, so far, to block it from view altogether. Senator Moynihan was educated not only in the halls of academe but in the streets of New York, and he might well have reached an earthy conclusion about this Attorney General and his President: the fix is in.

Doonesbury — Gimme Shelter

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Friday, April 5, 2019

It’s Progress

Via Eugene Scott at the Washington Post:

The LGBT community has seen public opinion shift in recent years on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage and equal rights. A recent poll shows one more issue illustrative of this trend: Voters have become much more accepting of gay Americans seeking the highest office in the land.

There was a time when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality — he is gay — would have made him unelectable in many parts of the country.

As recently as 2006, when Buttigieg was 24, most Americans said they would be “very uncomfortable” or have “reservations” about a gay person running for president.

That has changed dramatically.

According to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they would be either enthusiastic about or comfortable with a candidate who is gay or lesbian. To put that in perspective, 85 percent said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with a female candidate.

That doesn’t mean that Mayor Pete is a shoo-in for the nomination or the White House, but at least it’s not a big deal that he’s gay.

And yes, it’s only a poll and when asked in the abstract, I’m pretty sure the respondents are pretty much shrugging it off; “yeah, sure, what the heck.”  It won’t be until he’s actually in contention, as in the nominee, that the knives and the hatred will avail itself via the usual suspects.

The other consideration is that as a nation we’ve lowered the bar for acceptable traits for a president.  If having a narcissistic racist sexual predator who dodged the draft five times, married three women and screwed around on all of them and still has an approval of over 80% of his party in the White House, how hard can it be for a successful mayor, veteran, and happily married man to win over the hearts and minds of a nation?

We may find out.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Tax Time

It took long enough.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS on Wednesday for six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request with which the president immediately said he was not inclined to comply.

The committee chairman’s letter to the Internal Revenue Service — and Trump’s immediate and public response — set up what is likely to become an intense and drawn-out court fight as Democrats push to see tax records they think can shed light on numerous aspects of Trump’s business dealings and Trump resists their demands. The Ways and Means chairman’s request was expected but nonetheless represented a significant escalation in House Democrats’ wide-ranging probes of Trump and his administration.

The IRS was given until April 10 to respond. The panel’s chairman was able to make the request because of a 1924 law that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee broad powers to request and receive the tax returns of any American.

“Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans — including those elected to our highest office — are complying with those laws.”

Trump broke with precedent when he refused as a presidential candidate, and then when elected, to release his tax returns, something every president since Richard M. Nixon has done. The explanation he gave was that he was being audited, although numerous experts have said that an audit would not have prevented him from releasing his returns.

I’m going to predict that this battle, more than anything about the election of 2016 and who colluded with whom, will last long after Trump has left office and will lead eventually to civil if not criminal charges.

The Republicans will carry on about a fishing expedition (as opposed to what Ken Starr did with the Clintons?) and eventually it will end up at the Supreme Court where Trumpistas will challenge the right of Congress to have the temerity to investigate the Executive branch via a law that dates back 95 years.

The House committee is casting a wide net, including in their request not just tax returns for Trump himself but for a lot of his shell corporations and shelters.  That’s probably why it took four months since taking control of Congress for Rep. Neal to gather together the support to make the request and prove in court why the House committee wants to look at the records.  They knew this was going to be a long haul.

Drip…Drip…

You had to know that this — leaks from the Mueller team — would happen soon enough.  Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Some of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have told associates that Attorney General William P. Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry and that they were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated, according to government officials and others familiar with their simmering frustrations.

At stake in the dispute — the first evidence of tension between Mr. Barr and the special counsel’s office — is who shapes the public’s initial understanding of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. Some members of Mr. Mueller’s team are concerned that, because Mr. Barr created the first narrative of the special counsel’s findings, Americans’ views will have hardened before the investigation’s conclusions become public.

Mr. Barr has said he will move quickly to release the nearly 400-page report but needs time to scrub out confidential information. The special counsel’s investigators had already written multiple summaries of the report, and some team members believe that Mr. Barr should have included more of their material in the four-page letter he wrote on March 24 laying out their main conclusions, according to government officials familiar with the investigation. Mr. Barr only briefly cited the special counsel’s work in his letter.

However, the special counsel’s office never asked Mr. Barr to release the summaries soon after he received the report, a person familiar with the investigation said. And the Justice Department quickly determined that the summaries contain sensitive information, like classified material, secret grand-jury testimony and information related to current federal investigations that must remain confidential, according to two government officials.

Mr. Barr was also wary of departing from Justice Department practice not to disclose derogatory details in closing an investigation, according to two government officials familiar with Mr. Barr’s thinking. They pointed to the decision by James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, to harshly criticize Hillary Clinton in 2016 while announcing that he was recommending no charges in the inquiry into her email practices.

The officials and others interviewed declined to flesh out why some of the special counsel’s investigators viewed their findings as potentially more damaging for the president than Mr. Barr explained, although the report is believed to examine Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. It was unclear how much discussion Mr. Mueller and his investigators had with senior Justice Department officials about how their findings would be made public. It was also unclear how widespread the vexation is among the special counsel team, which included 19 lawyers, about 40 F.B.I. agents and other personnel.

What is very clear is that there’s a lot more to the Mueller report than what the Attorney General summarized in a four-page letter that read like some kid in Grade 6 writing a book report on Treasure Island: “There were no pirates.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

“That Country”

Vox details the Trump administration’s odd and dangerous vendetta against Puerto Rico.

On the heels of the Senate’s failure to pass a disaster relief bill on Monday, President Donald Trump posted a string of factually inaccurate tweets defending his position that federal government aid to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico should be limited to food stamp subsidies, and made clear he prioritizes the needs of US citizens living in flood-ravaged Midwestern states above those of US citizens living in Puerto Rico.

In his tweets Monday evening, Trump oddly referred to the US territory as a “place,” accused Puerto Rican politicians of being “incompetent or corrupt” — he referred to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as “crazed” — and framed the question of how much disaster relief funding to provide to the island and flood-affected farmers in the Midwest as a zero-sum game, writing that “the Dems wants to give [Puerto Rico] more, taking dollars away from our Farmers and so many others. Disgraceful!”

[…]

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to accept that Puerto Rico is really part of the United States. As a result, he frames providing emergency aid to the island as “taking dollars away from our farmers.”

And it’s not just him — during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday morning, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley twice mistakenly referred to the US territory as “that country.”

The truth seems to be that Trump doesn’t understand that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and that the people who live there are citizens to the same degree as people who live in Iowa or Ohio, or, more importantly, Florida.  The one exception is that the people of Puerto Rico do not get to vote in the presidential election if they are living on the island.  But if they move to the mainland — and a lot of them did after Hurricane Maria — they can vote.  And they will.