Facebook, Instagram ban Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, other far-right figures

Facebook Thursday banned from its flagship social network and its subsidiary Instagram the Infowars site and its leader Alex Jones, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, saying their presence on the sites violated its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

Facebook last August cited violations of community standards in removing pages belonging to Jones and Infowars, notorious for peddling unfounded conspiracy theories. The action came amid a flurry of suspensions and content take-downs for Jones and Infowars, which were also booted from Google-owned YouTube, Twitter and other platforms.

But Facebook’s suspension did not bar Jones and other Infowars organizers from having accounts on the platform, and both Jones and his site remained active on Facebook-owned Instagram.

"The action today means these individuals can no longer maintain an account on Facebook or Instagram," a Facebook spokesperson said in an email.

Advocacy groups have long called for social media platforms to take action against Farrakhan, who has a history of spreading anti-Semitic rhetoric online.

Facebook and Instagram Thursday also extended bans to a series of other far-right personalities, including Yiannopoulos, Infowars contributor Paul Joseph Watson and right-wing activist Laura Loomer.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Senate fails to override Trump’s veto on Yemen

The Senate failed Thursday to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution to end U.S. support for the bloody Saudi-backed war in Yemen.

Seven Republicans broke with the White House and joined all Senate Democrats to override the veto, which ultimately failed on a 53-45 vote. The measure needed 67 votes to override the veto. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla) did not vote.

Following the vote, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) vowed to continue working with his colleagues "to bring an end to our involvement in this humanitarian disaster."

Trump described the bipartisan resolution as “an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities” in April when he vetoed it. It was Trump’s second veto of his presidency.

The resolution passed the Senate in March and the House in April. The Senate also passed the measure in the previous Congress after it gained momentum in the aftermath of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Some lawmakers viewed the resolution as a way to punish the Saudi government for Khashoggi’s murder.

Prior to the Senate vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a cosponsor of the resolution, reiterated that the war in Yemen was a humanitarian crisis.

"The United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime," Sanders said on the Senate floor. "This war is clearly unconstitutional. I hear many of my Republican friends claim that they are strict constitutionalists. Well, if you are a strict constitutionalist, voting to override Trump’s veto should be a no-brainer because this war has not been authorized by Congress."

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) emphasized prior to the vote that Congress had "the opportunity to override the veto in pursuit of justice, prudence, and upholding the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers," while Murphy, blasted the government of Saudi Arabia.

"The Saudis’ behavior has gotten more outrageous, has crossed more human rights lines, has compromised the safety of more American citizens, and yet no response from the United States Congress," Murphy said.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reiterated his opposition to the resolution Thursday, saying that it “misused” the War Powers Act.

“The resolution before us starts with false premises,” McConnell said. “We’re not parties to the civil war in Yemen. We’re no longer providing air-to-air refueling. More importantly, the measure would make it actually more difficult to prevent the loss of innocent lives.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) characterized the premise of the resolution "fundamentally flawed" and called America’s role in Yemen "advisory in nature." He added that while aspects of Saudi Arabia’s behavior are "cause for serious, serious concern," there are other pieces of legislation to address the Kingdom’s actions.

"The debate today…is predicated on the notion that this resolution will punish the Saudis and stop the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen," Risch said on floor before the vote. "It will do neither of those."

Following the vote, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has been leading the resolution in the House, praised the Republican Senators who broke with their party to vote in favor of the resolution, tweeting that they "deserve our respect for recognizing the gravity of unconstitutional war." Khanna blasted the Trump administration for being "downright delusional if they stand by @SecPompeo’s claim that Iran is solely to blame for this war."

The Republicans who voted to override the veto were Lee, a co-sponsor, Susan Collins of Maine, Todd Young of Indiana, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Steve Daines of Montana, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — the same Senate Republicans who supported the resolution in March.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump erases offshore drilling rules enacted after BP oil spill

The Trump administration on Thursday dismantled safety rules for offshore drilling put in place by the Obama administration after the disastrous BP oil spill fouled the Gulf of Mexico nearly a decade ago.

The rollbacks are a major victory for the oil and gas industry that has criticized the Obama rules as too onerous and costly to comply with, but which supporters say have helped prevent a repeat of the accident that killed 11 workers and spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil in 2010.

“Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore," Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

The final version of the changes to Well Control Rules come shortly after the Interior Department said it was pushing back plans to open up vast new areas of coastline for oil and gas exploration in federal waters, a move that would delay the controversial expansion until after the 2020 election.

That new rules are designed to ease drilling in places like the Gulf of Mexico, where oil production reached a record 1.9 million barrels a day at the end of last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Though the text of the new rule was not immediately available, the proposed version called for reducing the frequency of tests to key equipment such as blowout preventers, which sit at the wellhead at the ocean floor and are the last-ditch defense against massive gushers. They would also allow drillers to use third-party companies instead of government inspectors to check equipment and give them more time between inspections, among other things.

The energy industry welcomed the new rule, and the National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said in statement the Obama rule "while well intentioned, was flawed with technical problems that actually detracted from the goal of safe operations.”

The revisions, he said, "leave the original rule largely intact, further manage risks and better protect workers and the environment, making drilling safer.”

Environmentalists say the rollback puts both the Gulf waters and workers’ safety in jeopardy.

“The well control rule was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea,” Earthjustice, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society said in a joint statement. “If the Trump administration’s final rule weakens these protections, as its proposed changes did, it will put our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. That’s irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”

The rollback is also opposed by Rep. Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican from a coastal district, who last year joined in a bipartisan letter with 20 other members of the state’s congressional delegation calling on then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reverse course.

Green groups are studying the rules and looking for flaws they can challenge with lawsuits, said Chris Eaton, an attorney for Earthjustice. He said that as with other Trump administration regulatory rollbacks that courts have blocked, the new Well Control Rule fails to show why loosening the Obama safeguards was necessary.

“You’ve got this prior rule that was promulgated on factual findings — the original rule would reduce loss of control, make things safer, and it cited tons of studies,” Eaton said. “Then you have this rollback that just says we’ll get rid of that and be just as safe, but doesn’t look at the factual findings that went before that. It’s a change of position that doesn’t actually address the evidence.”

Critics are also slamming Interior for a lack of transparency: The new rules reference standards written by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association, that could only be read on the group’s website. To download or print the standards, members of the public must register with the trade association on its website and pay a fee.

“To add insult to injury, in order to know what the final rule entails, the public is again being forced to be beholden to the regulated industry,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the group Project On Government Oversight. “If this isn’t the perfect example of a government agency being captured by the industry it regulates, I don’t know what is."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Stephen Moore Went Down for the Wrong Thing

It turns out that Stephen Moore has a pretty awful sense of humor. His jokes are lame, tasteless, and told with the awkwardness of a guy who really doesn’t get jokes. He’s also prone to say idiotic things about women, race, sports and economics.

This last point should be crucial, since he was up for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, but because this is Washington, his messy personal life, bad jokes and offensive comments from decades ago did more to kill his nomination than his manifest lack of qualifications or his profound misunderstanding of basic economics.

On Thursday, Moore withdrew his nomination. But this raises the question: How did we ever get this far? Why did conservative insiders think Moore was a serious thinker, or a credible voice on economics? For years, Moore was very much a member in good standing of the conservative supply side economic establishment. He was a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, president of the Club for Growth, and a ubiquitous figure in conservative media, and cable television. More recently, he has been a reliable cheerleader for President Trump, co-authoring an adoring tome titled Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.

Along the way, Moore has managed to shift or reverse many of his positions on things like deficits and interest rates to align himself with Trump, but unlike another name floated for the Fed, Herman Cain, Moore still managed to retain a good deal of credibility in conservative circles. This unfortunately speaks volumes about quality control on the right, when a malleable opportunist can become more prominent than a principled economist. Moore figured out that it was less important to be right about economics than it was to say the right things and make the right friends. For a while that looked like it would be enough.

When his name was floated for the Federal Reserve, Georgia Senator David Perdue declared that he was “highly qualified for the position on the Fed,” while Nebraska’s Ben Sasse gushed that he was “a sunny optimist and a thoughtful economist.”

There were, of course, people, and not just among Democrats, waving warning flags. Conservative economist Greg Mankiw wrote that “Steve is a perfectly amiable guy, but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job … It is time for Senators to do their job. Mr. Moore should not be confirmed.”

Mankiw’s concerns were echoed by the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain, who argued that Moore’s confirmation would undermine public confidence in the Fed’s independence. He noted that Moore “has seemed confused about whether deflation in commodities prices is enough to characterize overall prices as falling. And he has publicly stoked anxiety about ‘hyperinflation’ without solid reason.”

The Hoover Institution’s David Henderson noted that Moore himself had admitted that he “doesn’t have much background in monetary theory or monetary policy.”

Other critics, most notably the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell, pointed out Moore’s bizarre penchant for taking “wrong, intellectually dishonest and politically malleable economic positions.” These included his lack of understanding of the Volcker Rule (he thought it related to commodity prices), his embrace of crackpot theories like returning to the gold standard, and his willingness to flip his positions depending on what policies would give Republicans a partisan advantage. And, Rampell charged, “he lies, and lies, and lies” about his own positions, often doubling down on clear errors of fact.

But these doubts about his qualifications did not seem to dent his support. Just a few weeks ago, 105 economists and conservative activists signed an open letter backing Moore. Even Trump critics seemed willing to go along. Sasse argued that the fact that orthodox economists were criticizing Moore was actually a sign in his favor. “Steve’s nomination has thrown the card-carrying members of the Beltway establishment into a tizzy,” he said, “and that says little about Steve and his belief in American ingenuity, but a lot about central planners’ devotion to groupthink.”

Then folks discovered that Moore had a lot of non-economic baggage.

First came the stories about his messy personal life and his failure to pay child support; followed within days by stories about things he had said or written in the past, including his comment he wasn’t much of a “believer in democracy.” But the turning point seems to have been his tortured attempts at humor, much of it offensive.

Back in 2002, he wrote a column proposing “No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer vendors, no women anything.”

“How outrageous is this? This year they allowed a woman to ref a men’s NCAA game. Liberals celebrate this breakthrough as a triumph for gender equity,” Moore wrote. “The NCAA has been touting this as an example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take a vacation from women? What’s next? Women invited to bachelor parties? Women in combat? (Oh yeah, they’ve done that already.)”

He proposed one exception to his rule: Women would be allowed to participate, he wrote, “if and only if, they look like Bonnie Bernstein. The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant.”" (He later suggested that Bernstein should wear a halter top when she was reporting.)

In another column, he wrote that “"Colleges are places for rabble-rousing,” where men would “lose their boyhood innocence” and “do stupid things.” “It’s all a time-tested rite of passage into adulthood,” Moore wrote. “And the women seemed to survive just fine.” It only got worse from there. “If they were so oppressed and offended by drunken, lustful frat boys, why is it that on Friday nights they showed up in droves in tight skirts to the keg parties?"

His other attempts at humor had a racial overtone. During a recent appearance on Firing Line, he was asked by host Margaret Hoover about his joke that Trump’s first action was to kick “a black family out of public housing.”

“So, you know, that, that is a joke that I always made about, you know, Obama lives in, you know, the president lives in public housing,” he says. “But I didn’t mean it like a black person did.” The video of him trying to explain exactly what he did mean is the definition of cringe-worthy.

But some of his other ideas were apparently more serious. In 2014, he argued that women earning more than men “could be disruptive to family stability.” He also expressed opposition to child labor laws, calling his position radical. “I’d get rid of a lot of these child labor laws,” he said. “I want people starting to work at 11, 12.” It’s probably been 80 years since anyone made this argument with a straight face.

This time-tested use of oppo research had its intended effect: Key Republican senators began to cool on him. Joni Ernst said: “Look at his writings! I’m not enthused. I’m a woman.” Richard Shelby of Alabama said the allegations against Moore over his taxes and child support payments to his ex-wife “doesn’t help any.” But their criticisms seemed almost exclusively about his personal behavior and his asinine cultural views rather than his economic illiteracy.

Over the weekend he offered a half-hearted apology for some of what he wrote, suggesting on ABC’s “This Week,” that “Frankly, I didn’t even remember writing some of these they were so long ago.” At other times, he’s sheepishly said that he “shouldn’t have said that.” But the problem is that there was so much. Moore tried to brush all of this off as “kind of a sleaze campaign against me” and suggested that he would rather talk about his economic ideas.

The irony, of course, is that if those economic ideas had been taken seriously or examined closely, Moore never would have gotten close to the Fed. In the end, this was a failure of process as well as of the man. Moore will not sit on the Fed and for that we should be grateful. But if the process worked the way it should, the doubts about his qualifications would have knocked him out of the running from the beginning. But they didn’t. So, instead we had to endure the familiar pageant of public disgrace without any evidence that we have learned anything at all from this sorry episode.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump strengthens protections for religious health workers

The Trump administration today finalized new rules making it easier for health care workers to refuse to provide care that violates their religious or moral beliefs, advancing a policy favored by anti-abortion groups and Christian conservatives closely allied with the Trump administration.

The rules will protect "physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities," President Donald Trump said during Rose Garden remarks on the National Day of Prayer. "Together, we are building a culture that cherishes the dignity and worth of human life."

The administration said the new rules provide overdue protections for religious health workers’ conscience rights, but patient advocates have warned it could make it harder for women to receive emergency abortions or access contraception. Advocates also have worried that the rules could enable doctors, ambulance drivers and other health care workers to refuse care for LGBTQ patients.

HHS is also expected to soon pare back nondiscrimination protections extended to transgender patients under an Obama-era policy that has been blocked in the courts. Those rules — which may come as soon as today — could make it easier for health workers to deny care to LGBTQ patients, advocates say.

The new conscience rules are overseen by the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which last year created a new conscience division to safeguard health workers’ religious rights. The office’s leaders have promised to vigorously enforce the new rules and longstanding conscience protections in existing law.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says he leaned on God to survive Mueller probe

President Donald Trump said Thursday he leaned on one thing to get through special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election: his faith.

“People say, ‘How do you get through that whole stuff? How do you go through those witch hunts and everything else?’” Trump said at the White House during a National Day of Prayer service.

He looked over to Vice President Mike Pence and shrugged.

“We just do it, right?” the president continued. “And we think about God.”

Since a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released last month, Republicans and Democrats have clashed over the implications of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the president obstructed justice.

Mueller wrote that there was insufficient evidence to find that the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin. The special counsel did not take a position on whether the president obstructed justice but detailed a number of instances in which the president attempted to interfere in Mueller’s investigation.

Democrats have used the report as justification to ramp up congressional efforts to investigate the president and his actions, with some lawmakers calling to launch impeachment proceedings immediately. The White House, meanwhile, has led Republicans in arguing that Mueller found “no collusion.”

Heading into 2020, Trump will look once again to appeal to white evangelical Christians, a voting bloc that played a huge role in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. The president has touted his own Christian faith in the past and filled his administration with advisers who are outspoken about their faith, perhaps most notably Pence.

The Trump administration has also pursued key policies sought by evangelicals, such as restricting abortion access, allowing religious nonprofits to make political contributions and establishing a Justice Department task force on religious liberty — accomplishments he trumpeted at the prayer service.

The president also condemned the “evil and hate-filled attacks” on religious communities throughout the world in the past year, inviting victims of a shooting at a California synagogue Saturday to speak.

“Every citizen has the absolute right to live according to the teachings of their faith and the convictions of their heart,” Trump said. “This is the bedrock of American life.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says Stephen Moore is withdrawing from consideration for Fed

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that conservative commentator Stephen Moore has withdrawn as a candidate for the Federal Reserve, a stinging blow to the president’s efforts to install political loyalists at the central bank.

“Steve Moore, a great pro-growth economist and a truly fine person, has decided to withdraw from the Fed process,” Trump tweeted. "Steve won the battle of ideas including Tax Cuts…and deregulation which have produced non-inflationary prosperity for all Americans. I’ve asked Steve to work with me toward future economic growth in our Country."

Another Fed pick, Herman Cain, also withdrew from consideration recently. The president had declared both men to be his preferred choices for the Fed, but both faced stiff opposition from Republicans in the Senate.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Pelosi: Barr committed a crime by lying to Congress

During a closed-door meeting on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Attorney General William Barr of committing a crime by lying to Congress.

“We saw [Barr] commit a crime when he answered your question,” Pelosi told Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) during a private meeting Thursday morning, according to two sources present for the gathering.

Pelosi’s comment was an apparent reference to Barr’s response to Crist last month during an appropriations hearing, in which the attorney general said he was not aware of any concerns that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team might have expressed about his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings.

Barr’s response appeared to contradict the revelation earlier this week that Mueller himself wrote to the attorney general saying he was worried that Barr’s summary “threatens to undermine … public confidence” in his investigation. Mueller also said Barr’s memo “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the probe.

Pelosi also told her colleagues during the meeting that she couldn’t sleep Wednesday night after watching Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he challenged Mueller’s legal theories and framework and endeared himself to Trump and his GOP allies.

She added that impeachment is “too good for” President Donald Trump, reiterating her opposition to launching impeachment proceedings even as a growing chorus of Democrats is calling for just that.

The speaker’s remarks underscored Democrats’ deep frustrations with the White House’s refusal to comply with their oversight demands and subpoenas as part of their myriad investigations targeting the president and his administration.

Barr refused to show up for a scheduled House Judiciary Committee testimony on Thursday, and the Justice Department has said it would not comply with the panel’s subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report and all of the underlying evidence and grand-jury information.

Some Democrats have called on Barr to resign, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) threatened on Thursday to hold Barr in contempt of Congress.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine