Mshuham2

Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Former President Barack Obama spoke on the phone Thursday with French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, hinting at his support just days ahead of French presidential voting Sunday.

“President Obama spoke on the phone to Emmanuel Macron this morning,” Obama spokesperson Kevin Lewis said in a statement Thursday. “President Obama appreciated the opportunity to hear from Mr. Macron about his campaign and the important upcoming presidential election in France, a country that President Obama remains deeply committed to as a close ally of the United States, and as a leader on behalf of liberal values in Europe and around the world.”

“An endorsement was not the purpose of the call, as President Obama is not making any formal endorsement in advance of the run-off election on Sunday,” Lewis added, though the clarification did not stop speculation that the call was Obama’s way of signaling favor for the candidate.

Macron, a centrist option among the four most prominent candidates on the ballot Sunday, started his own movement, En Marche!, in an attempt to hold elected office for the first time. He was an investment banker and, eventually, economic minister in François Hollande’s Socialist government before resigning in 2016 to run for office.

Emmanuel Macron warmly thanked Barack Obama for his friendly call,” En Marche! said in its own statement, Reuters reported.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, there will be a run-off election between the two top vote-getters on May 7.

On Sunday, Macron will face off against the anti-immigrant far-right Marine Le Pen, scandal-ridden center-right François Fillon and protectionist far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose viral support among young people has earned him comparisons to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

This post has been updated.

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After announcing that he would not seek another term in Congress in 2018, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said Thursday that he may not even finish his current term, according to a report.

KSL Newsradio posted on its Facebook page Thursday that Chaffetz had told host Doug Wright, via text message, “I will continue to weigh the options, but I might depart early.”

“My future plans are not yet finalized, but I haven’t ruled out the possibility of leaving early. In the meantime, I still have a job to do, and I have no plans to take my foot off the gas,” he said separately in a statement to the Deseret News.

In an interview with Politico Thursday afternoon, Chaffetz discussed his plans after leaving the House. “I’d be thrilled to have a television relationship,” he said. “But there’s a number of things I’d like to do.”

The House Oversight Committee chairman’s announcement Wednesday that he would not seek re-election shocked the political world, given Chaffetz’s prominence in Congress and in his home state.

Some have speculated that he will run for the Utah governorship in 2020; Chaffetz himself entertained that possibility in a 2016 interview with the Deseret News.

In his statement Wednesday, the congressman said “I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.”

“For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives,” he continued. “I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan to continue as Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That said, I have made a personal decision to return to the private sector.”

This post has been updated.

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North Korea has engaged in some creative saber-rattling, warning of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” against the United States and South Korea, according to a Reuters report published Thursday.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” the country’s ruling party said in its official newspaper, according to Reuters.

The comment came after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that he was “reviewing all of the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as all the other ways in which we can bring pressure to bear on the regime in Pyongyang to reengage.”

Tillerson was responding to a reporter’s question about the possibility of North Korea being restored to the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism, from which the country was removed by the Bush administration in an attempt to salvage a nuclear weapons deal. The deal fell apart after former President Obama took office.

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday in Japan, aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, that “we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response.” He added: “All options are on the table. History will attest the soldier does not bear the sword in vain.”

Two days earlier, Pence took part in some unscheduled mean-mugging at North Korea, stepping outside of the South Korean Freedom House to look across the demilitarized zone.

“I thought it was important that we went outside,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face.”

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) lavished praise on his one-time champion, mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, in a fawning entry in Time’s “100 Most Influential People” list.

Rebekah Mercer and her billionaire investor father Robert were the driving donors behind Cruz’s White House run until diverting their support to Donald Trump when he clinched the GOP nomination.

They’re also part owners of Breitbart News and a slew of other conservative enterprises.

“Rebekah Mercer is a warrior and a patriot,” Cruz wrote of his benefactor in a short tribute published Thursday. “She is the daughter of a brilliant mathematician and tremendously successful investor, and blessed with her own deep intelligence and intuitive insight, and it would have been simple for her to have settled into a life of comfort and ease.”

“But Bekah cares too much about freedom and our nation to do so.”

The Mercers’ investments helped “fuel a political revolution,” he continued, adding: “Bekah has helped transform the world of politics.”

Then he gets to the meat of it: “And she has helped fund upstart campaigns and underdog candidates, including my own Senate and presidential campaigns. When Donald Trump won the nomination, Bekah played a pivotal role in helping assemble the team and strategy that shocked the world in November.”

Cruz understates it somewhat: Trump’s most influential hires of the campaign, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, both reportedly came at the Mercers’ recommendation. Conway originally ran a pro-Cruz super PAC that received $11 million from the Mercers, Jane Mayer reported in a New Yorker profile of the family’s patriarch. And Steve Bannnon, per the same profile, was the family’s de-facto political adviser for years.

And when Cruz urged attendees at the Republican National Convention to “vote your conscious” on Election Day — widely seen as a rebuke of Trump — the Mercers made a rare public statement to the New York Times to scold the senator, calling the non-endorsement “both regrettable and revealing.”

“Last summer and again this year, Senator Ted Cruz pledged to support the candidacy of the nominee of the Republican Party, whomever that nominee might be,” the statement read, in part. “We are profoundly disappointed that on Wednesday night he chose to disregard this pledge.”

Cruz eventually endorsed Trump. He even called voters for him. And the Mercers praised him publicly in the Washington Post.

The senator faces a costly re-election campaign in 2018.

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The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that he expected a new vacancy to open on the Supreme Court within months.

“I would expect a resignation this summer,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said at a National Association of Manufacturers event in Muscatine, Iowa, the Muscatine Journal reported.

Grassley made the comment in response to a question about the court during a Q&A at the event, according to the paper. He said a resignation was “rumored,” and that he expected President Donald Trump’s next nominee to the high court to be picked from the same list as Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“I don’t know about racial and ethnic divisions, but there’s some very good females on there that would make good Supreme Court Justices as well,” he said, according to the paper.

Grassley was part of the party-line vote to change the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees on April 6, after Democrats attempted to block then-Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch from receiving a vote. Grassley was also, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the lead of Republicans’ refusal to even consider former President Obama’s nominee in early 2016 to the court, Merrick Garland.

On that refusal, Grassley said Tuesday that, “[i]f there’s a vacancy in the last year of a presidency, people ought to have a voice.”

He pointed to a hypothetical scenario outlined by then-Sen. Joe Biden in June 1992; that if a vacancy opened up on the court during that summer, “President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not — and not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed.”

“I took the same view that Democrats did,” Grassley said. “You can be sure the Democrats are going to remind me of that.”

 

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The same judge who Donald Trump smeared as “a Mexican” during the presidential campaign will preside over the case of the first known recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections to be deported.

USA Today first reported that Juan Manuel Montes, 23, would have his lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security heard by Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Curiel’s assignment to the case was coincidental, the publication reported, as judges are selected based on a rotating schedule.

Curiel also presided over the settlement of two lawsuits from former students of the Trump U. wealth seminar courses against the then-President-elect in November. Trump agreed to a $25 million settlement in those two cases and a separate suit in New York.

In an interview in June 2016, after months of accusations from Trump that Curiel was biased against him, Trump said that Curiel ought to be ineligible to preside over the case because he was Mexican. However, Curiel was born in the United States, and is of Mexican descent.

“We’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican,” Trump said, accusing Curiel of bias. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”

According to the Associated Press, DHS acknowledged that Montes had received DACA protections in 2014 and renewed them for two years in 2016, but that he lost those protections when he left the country without permission.

Montes’ attorneys said he did not leave voluntarily, but rather was deported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times, Montes said he was walking to a taxi stand in Calexico, California when he was approached by CBP, and, not having his identification with him, was taken to a border patrol station. Montes alleged that he was made to sign documents without seeing an attorney or an immigration judge, and that he was not given a copy of the documents, according to the Times.

CPB said in a statement, according to the Times, that Montes admitted to illegally entering the United States by climbing over a fence in Calexico. But the paper reported Montes’ lawsuit contends that he climbed a fence only after he was suddenly deported while being protected by DACA.

In his lawsuit, the report continued, Montes also noted he requested records of his interactions with CPB, but has not received any information from the agency.

DHS originally claimed that Montes’ DACA protections had expired, the AP reported, but they later acknowledged that he would have been eligible to remain in the country under the program through 2018.

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Where in the world is the USS Carl Vinson?

One week after U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) announced that a naval strike group led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson would be moving to the Western Pacific from Singapore, the ships were no closer to their destination.

Ahead of what was eventually a failed North Korean missile test on April 16, news that the strike group was nearby the country was seen as a sign of President Donald Trump’s tough talk and hardline stance on the country’s nuclear weapons program.

White House and military officials have emphasized that they never specified a schedule for the Vinson’s arrival off the Korean Peninsula, but they are facing criticism nonetheless for failing to tamp down on interpretations of the strike group’s movement as a signal to North Korea.

Here’s what we know happened, and when:

April 5: North Korea tests a ballistic missile following another test of several missiles on March 6. “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says in response. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

April 7: Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping end a two-day summit at Mar-a-Lago, during which they reportedly discuss deterrents to North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions.

April 8: “Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has directed the Carl Vinson Strike Group to sail north and report on station in the Western Pacific Ocean after departing Singapore April, 8,” the U.S. Navy announces in a press release, adding that the strike group “will operate in the Western Pacific rather than executing previously planned port visits to Australia.”

“Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific,” strike group spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham says in a statement. “The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.”

“We feel the increased presence is necessary,” an unnamed official tells Reuters, citing North Korea’s worrisome behavior, according to the newswire.

CNN reports, citing an unnamed official, that the strike group’s move came in response to recent North Korean provocations.

Worldwide, media outlets begin to report a “show of force.”

April 9: Fox News’ Chris Wallace asks National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster: “Why the carrier strike force to the Korean Peninsula?”

“Well, it’s prudent to do it, isn’t it? I mean, North Korea has been engaged in a pattern of provocative behavior,” he says, adding later: “The President has asked to be prepared to give him a full range of options to remove that threat the American people and to our allies and partners in the region.”

According to the New York Times, the Carl Vinson Strike Group at this point had yet to carry out “another mission before it set sail north: a long-scheduled joint exercise with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean.”

April 11: “As far as the movement of the Vinson, she is stationed there in the Western Pacific for a reason,” Defense Secretary James Mattis says during a press briefing at the Pentagon. “She operated freely, up and down the Pacific, and she is just on her way up there because that is where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time. There’s not a specific demand signal or a specific reason why we are sending her up there.”

One reporter notes that it is “unusual for us to know about a ship movement in advance. That was sort of what — what got everyone’s attention. So why was that? I mean, why was it put out in advance? Was it just to signal to North Korea that there would be a show of presence there?”

“I believe it’s because she was originally headed in one direction for an exercise, and we canceled our role in that exercise, and that’s what became public,” Mattis replies. “We had to explain why she wasn’t in that exercise.”

However, the exercise hasn’t been cancelled, only a port call in Fremantle, Australia.

April 12: Trump tells Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo in a pre-recorded interview that the U.S. is sending “an armada, very powerful” to the region.

April 15: It’s the birthday of North Korea’s late founding ruler Kim Il Sung, known as a date on which the country has tested missiles in the past. A large parade includes what the country claims are new ballistic missiles.

An official Navy photo places the Carl Vinson in the Sunda Straight, between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. That places the ship farther away from the Korean Peninsula than it was on April 8.

April 16: According to unnamed U.S. and South Korean officials, speaking to AP, a North Korean missile test attempt results in an explosion at launch.

April 17: The Navy publishes the photo of Carl Vinson in the Sunda Straight, showing it to be thousands of miles south of where many expected it to be at the time.

Defense News first reports on the strike group’s location, based on the photo.

The publication notes: “Off the record, several officials expressed wonderment at the persistent reports that the Vinson was already nearing Korea. ‘We’ve made no such statement,’ said one official.”

April 18: The New York Times reports on “a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from a premature announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to an erroneous explanation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea.”

A PACOM spokesperson tells TPM in a statement: “The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group is proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered. After departing Singapore on April 8 and cancelling a scheduled port visit to Perth, the Strike Group was able to complete a curtailed period of previously scheduled training with Australia in international waters off the northwest coast of Australia. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure.”

Navy spokesperson Cdr. Gary Ross told TPM Wednesday that the Pentagon’s transcript of the April 11 briefing is amended Tuesday to include: “[Sic: The ship’s port visit to Fremantle, Australia, was cancelled; the exercise with the Royal Australian navy is proceeding as planned.]”

At a White House press briefing, Sean Spicer doesn’t dispute one reporter’s characterization that the strike group was “steaming up toward the Sea of Japan.”

“I think when you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence,” he says. Earlier in the briefing, he says that the strike force “gives the President options in the region.”

April 19: Spicer denies misleading the press about the ship’s whereabouts: “We answered the question on what signal it sent,” he says. “I’m not the one who commented on timing.”

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Mattis also makes no mention of misleading the public or fudging the strike group’s schedule: “The bottom line is in our effort to always be open about what we were doing we said that we that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule,” he says. “The Vinson, as I said on the record, was operating up and down the Western Pacific and we were doing exactly what we said. That is we were shifting her.”

He adds: “We don’t generally give out ship schedules in advance but I didn’t want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when in fact we had. So we’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do, she will be on her way and I’ll determine when she gets there and where she actually operates, but the Vinson will be a part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the northwest Pacific.”

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that neither the White House nor the military had put out any misleading information last week on the whereabouts of the Carl Vinson Strike Group.

On April 8, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) announced that the strike group would be changing its schedule and going to the Western Pacific. The same day, a spokesperson for the command said that “the number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea.”

However, an official Navy photo from Nov. 15 showed the USS Carl Vinson farther away from the Korean Peninsula than it was a week earlier. On Sunday, April 16, a North Korean missile test resulted in an explosion during launch, according to unnamed U.S. and South Korean officials speaking to AP.

PACOM put out a release talking about the group ultimately ending up in the Korean Peninsula,” Spicer said during his daily press briefing Wednesday, emphasizing that no specific schedule for the group had been announced. “That’s what it will do. I think we were asked very clearly about the use of a carrier group in terms of deterrence and foreign presence and what that meant. That’s what we discussed. I would refer you back to any other issues with that to the Department of Defense.”

Both a spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Command, in a statement to TPM, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, in an interview Wednesday, did not acknowledge any misleading statements. 

On April 11, Spicer was asked about the Vinson’s “steaming up toward the Sea of Japan.”

He responded, in part: “When you see a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence of that is clearly, through almost every instance, a huge deterrence.”

April 11, Mattis said the Carl Vinson was “on her way up there.”

In an interview aired April 12, President Donald Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”

The President said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula,” Spicer said Wednesday. “That’s a fact. It happened. It is happening, rather.”

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Vice President Mike Pence said that he does not believe the Defense Department intentionally misled the public about the whereabouts of a strike group in the Pacific Ocean.

Contrary to the claims of many military and White House officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and the U.S. Pacific Command, the USS Carl Vinson and its strike group were no closer to the Korean Peninsula on April 15 than they were a week earlier. On April 8, the Pacific Command announced the Carl Vinson Strike Group had been directed “to sail north and report on station in the Western Pacific Ocean.”

“The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea,” a spokesman for the command said.

“Were these misleading comments deliberate?” CNN’s Dana Bash asked Pence in an interview aired Wednesday.

“Oh, I think not,” Pence replied.”Look, we’ve got an extraordinary commitment of U.S. Forces in this region. And the Carl Vinson and that battle group are being deployed to the sea of Japan and will likely arrive here in the coming weeks.”

He added that the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. personnel in South Korea and Japan “gives me great confidence that the United States presence in the Asian Pacific is strong, and under President Trump’s leadership it will be stronger still.”

In a statement to TPM Tuesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pacific Command did not acknowledge any scheduling snafu.

“The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group is proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered,” the spokesperson said. “After departing Singapore on April 8 and cancelling a scheduled port visit to Perth, the Strike Group was able to complete a curtailed period of previously scheduled training with Australia in international waters off the northwest coast of Australia. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is heading north to the Western Pacific as a prudent measure.”

Mattis also refused to acknowledge any conflicting statements.

“We were doing exactly what we said, and that is, we were shifting her, instead of continuing in one direction as she pulled out of Singapore, she’s going to continue part of her cruise down in that region, but she was on her way to Korea,” he said Wednesday.

“We don’t generally give out ship schedules in advance, but I didn’t want to play a game either and say we were not changing a schedule when, in fact, we had,” he continued. “So we’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do. She will be on her way. And I’ll determine when she gets there and where she actually operates. But the Vinson is going to be part of our ensuring that we stand by our allies in the Northwest Pacific.”

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The Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Wednesday that he would not seek another term in 2018.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) made the announcement in a statement on his personal Facebook page:

In an interview with the Deseret News In January 2016, Chaffetz hinted at his future plans.

“I’m not going to be here forever. I would take a serious, serious look at running for governor,” he told the publication. “I want to go as hard and fast as I can in the House and then go home.”

“The more I’m here, the more I’m convinced I don’t want to be in the United States Senate,” he added. “I’ve already invested years in the House and it’s essentially the same job, just more people over here and more competition.”

In the days leading up to Election Day 2016, Chaffetz tied himself in knots explaining that his vote for Donald Trump did not contradict his un-endorsing the then-Republican nominee a month earlier.

The congressman was one of many Republican officials who disavowed Trump after a tape leaked of Trump saying that he could kiss and grope women without their permission because he was a celebrity.

“My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person,” he said on Oct. 7, after the tape dropped.

A few weeks later, though, he said he would still be voting for Trump.

“I guess I do see a difference between an endorsement and publicly defending somebody,” he said on Nov. 3.

After Trump’s election, Chaffetz has faced criticism in his capacity as Oversight chair.

He defended Trump, for example, after the President attacked Nordstrom online after it dropped his daughter’s clothing line from stores, seen as an abuse of his bully pulpit for familial financial gain.

A day earlier, Chaffetz recalled of a meeting with the President: “Before my bum even hit the chair, the president said, ‘No oversight. You can’t talk about anything that has to do with oversight.’”

In January, he said he would not go on a “fishing expedition” for possible ethics violations resulting from Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel, whose lease is owned by the federal government.

“The President has a duty and obligation to comply with the law, but again he’s exempt from almost all of these things,” Chaffetz said. “Now the Emoluments Clause, he’s going to have to look at, and we’ll see how that rolls out.”

Chaffetz had gone even further a few days earlier, demanding that the director of the Office of Government Ethics be interviewed by the Oversight Committee for a series of tweets about Trump divesting from his businesses (the then-President-elect had not done so at the time, and still hasn’t).

The OGE director, Chaffetz wrote, was “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.”

This post has been updated.

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