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 and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

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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A Republican state senator from Miami is facing calls for his resignation after it was reported that he used a racial slur in front of two black colleagues. He also called one of them a “fucking asshole,” “bitch,” and “girl,” according to The Miami Herald.

The Herald reported Tuesday night that a day earlier, Sen. Frank Artiles used the n-word to refer to some of his Republican colleagues in Florida’s Senate in a conversation with two Democratic colleagues, Sens. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who are black.

Over drinks at the Governors Club in Tallahassee, the Herald reported, Artiles complained to his two colleagues that the state’s Senate president had won that position due to the votes of  “six niggers” in his caucus. Gibson and Thurston told the Herald that Artiles later said he had used the word “niggas.”

Thurston invited Artiles to meet at Gibson’s office to apologize at 9 a.m. Tuesday, but he told the Herald that Artiles didn’t show up. Gibson told the Herald that Artiles didn’t apologize when they were in committee meetings Tuesday, either.

“It was a slang term, and I am not a racist,” Artiles told POLITICO Florida in a text message. “I am not a racist.” The Herald reported that after using the slur, perhaps to justify it, Artiles said that he was from Hialeah, which is home to a large Cuban-American community.

Earlier in the conversation, Gibson told the Herald, Artiles referred to her as “this fucking asshole” and “this bitch,” during a discussion of legislation. Though Artiles denied using the terms for Gibson to Thurston at the time, he apologized to Gibson at Thurston’s urging. An unnamed source told the Herald that Artiles called Gubson “girl.” Artiles said he did not mean to be disrespectful.

Gibson told the Herald, “It’s just the most disrespect I’ve ever encountered.”

Sen. Joe Negron, Republican state Senate president from Stuart, gave Artiles time to formally apologize on the Senate floor Wednesday, the Florida Times-Union reported. On Tuesday Negron said of the incident, in part: “Racial slurs and profane, sexist insults have no place in conversation between Senators and will not be tolerated while I am serving as Senate President.”

“In an exchange with a colleague of mine in the Senate, I unfortunately let my temper get the best of me,” Artiles said in a statement Tuesday evening, as reported by the Herald, Times-Union and Politico. “There is no excuse for the exchange that occurred and I have apologized to my Senate colleagues and regret the incident profusely.”

On Wednesday Morning, the Herald’s Patricia Mazzei reported on Artiles’ formal apology from the floor:

Artiles is facing calls to resign from the Florida Democratic Party, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King and others. The state’s Republican Party chairman said in part, according to Politico: “That’s a decision he’s going to have to make. It’s not my job as chair to say what somebody should or should not do.”

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A Democratic congressman from Missouri and his constituent will appeal a district court’s decision in an attempt to restore a painting of police brutality to the U.S. Capitol Building, they announced Tuesday.

On Friday, D.C. Federal Circuit Court Judge John D. Bates rejected Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and his constituent David Pulphus’ attempt to re-hang “Untitled #1,” Pulphus’ work depicting Ferguson, Missouri police as animals. Pulphus had won the Congressional Art Competition in Clay’s district, entitling him to a spot on the Capitol walls, subject to approval from the Capitol Architect, Stephen Ayers.

In 2014, a Ferguson police officer shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, prompting nationwide protests. Pulphus has said “the art speaks for itself.”

Bates said in his decision that, rather than being subject to First Amendment protections, Pulphus’ painting had been selected by Clay, a member of Congress, and was subject to the approval of Ayers, the defendant in Clay and Pulphus’ lawsuit. Therefore, Bates said, “Untitled #1” qualified as government speech and could be removed if the Ayers decided it didn’t meet competition rules.

“Our nation was founded on the very principle of freedom of speech, and there are few places where that core freedom warrants greater respect than the U.S. Capitol,” Clay and Pulphus said in a statement announcing their appeal Tuesday. “That is why we are confident that the U.S. Court of Appeals will eventually vindicate not only our legal rights, but those of the American people. We believe our Constitution simply cannot tolerate a situation where artwork can be removed from the Capitol for the first time ever as a result of a series of ideologically and politically driven complaints.”

Clay and Pulphus noted that the painting had hung in the Capitol for more than six months before Republican members of congress — at first just Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) — suddenly began removing it in January, objecting to its depiction of police. Clay re-hung the painting every time it was removed until Ayers, the Capitol Architect, announced that it violated the competition’s rules against “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy” or those of a “sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”

Volleys over the painting, occurring in the two weeks prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, often grew tense. One video, published Jan. 10 by RollCall’s Alex Gangitano, shows Republican congressmen delivering the painting to Clay’s office themselves:

Judge Bates, though he rejected Clay and Pulphus’ request for a preliminary injunction against the painting’s removal, seemed to acknowledge the that Ayers’ actions were not simply a result of “Untitled #1” violating the rules.

He noted that two other pieces were judged to have violated the competition’s rules in June 2016. One, “Recollection,” depicted bullet holes in an individual’s back. Another depicted Bob Marley smoking pot. They were both allowed to be shown in the Capitol.

“There is little doubt that the removal of the painting was based on its viewpoint,” Bates wrote.

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Contrary to several senior government officials’ assurances last week that a naval strike group led by the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was on its way to the Korean Peninsula, Defense News reported Monday night that the strike group was instead thousands of miles to the peninsula’s south as late as Saturday, taking part in exercises with the Australian Navy.

On April 8, the U.S. Pacific Command first announced that “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 strike group, the statement added, “will operate in the Western Pacific rather than executing previously planned port visits to Australia.”

In fact, a week after that announcement, on April 15, an official Navy photo showed the strike group farther away from the Korean Peninsula than it had been at the time of the announcement, passing through the Sunda Straight, in between Java and Sumatra.

“The USS Carl Vinson Strike Group is proceeding to the Western Pacific as ordered,” a U.S. Pacific Command spokesperson told TPM in a statement. “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.”

The New York Times reported, citing unnamed officials, that there had been “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.

On April 8, a spokesman for the Pacific Command, Commander Dave Benham, said the command was “a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,” adding: “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.”

On April 11, White House press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t dispute the 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 said, saying earlier that the strike force “gives the President options in the region.”

The same day, Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “There’s not a specific demand signal or specific reason we’re sending her up there,” adding: “She’s stationed in the Western Pacific for a reason. She operates freely up and down the Pacific and she’s on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time.”

“We’ve made no such statement” that the strike group was already nearing Korea, one unnamed official told Defense News, referring to reports otherwise. Unnamed Defense Department officials told the Times that the strike group could be expected in the region sometime next week. 

On April 16, the North Korean government attempted to test a ballistic missile, which unnamed U.S. and South Korean officials told AP exploded during launch.

This post has been updated.

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Two days after saying that marijuana was “not a factor” in the in the drug war, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security warned that it was “a potentially dangerous gateway drug” and said his agency would pursue the enforcement of laws against it.

DHS doesn’t have much legal authority to pursue drug-related arrests of U.S. citizens, if they aren’t involved in transnational crime — that responsibility falls to local law enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and others.

But the agency pursues the flow of illicit drugs into the United States through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and considers past drug charges and convictions in the cases of undocumented immigrants who could be deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday, DHS Secretary John Kelly said that marijuana was “not a factor” in the drug war (methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin were, he said). He seemed to change his tone Tuesday in a speech at George Washington University, according to a copy of prepared remarks provided by DHS.

“And let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs,” Kelly said, adding: “Its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the U.S. Congress we in DHS are sworn to uphold all the laws on the books.”

“DHS personnel will continue to investigate marijuana’s illegal pathways along the network into the U.S., its distribution within the homeland, and will arrest those involved in the drug trade according to federal law,” he continued. “CBP will continue to search for marijuana at sea, air and land ports of entry and when found take similar appropriate action.”

And marijuana possession, distribution and convictions thereof, Kelly said, would be considered “essential elements” for ICE “as they build their deportation / removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens. They have done this in the past, are doing it today, and will do it in the future.”

Kelly just finished a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, known for his vocal criticisms of marijuana use, and the subject of speculation over how forcefully he intends to enforce federal law in states and cities where the drug is legal for recreational or medicinal use, or decriminalized.

On March 15, Sessions said marijuana was “only slightly less awful” than heroin. But the same day, he said he thought “much” of the Cole Memorandum was “valid.” The Obama-era policy states that federal law enforcement will not pursue most marijuana charges where the drug is legal at the local level.

“[W]e’re not able to go into a state and pick up the work that police and sheriffs have been doing for decades,” Sessions said of the rule.

In an August 5 memo, Sessions announced that subcommittees of the department’s Task Force On Crime Reduction and Public Safety would review its marijuana enforcement policies.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions yet again decried the consent decrees favored by the Obama-era Justice Department on Monday, vowing to free local police forces from what he characterized as federal handcuffs.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.

Sessions ordered a review of all such decrees between the Justice Department and local law enforcement earlier this month. By the end of Obama’s second term, the Justice Department was enforcing agreements reached with more than a dozen police departments nationwide and had investigated the practices of many more.

Consent decrees seek to prioritize police-community relations and de-escalation tactics rather than excessive use of force, and are court-enforceable.

Sessions has depicted the agreements, which often came in the wake of high-profile cases of people being killed by police, as part of a larger wave of unjustified scrutiny of law enforcement.

In prepared remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General during his first month on the job, Sessions described an “age of viral videos and targeted killings of police.”

“[M]any of our men and women in law enforcement are becoming more cautious” as a result, he said. “They’re more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime.”

In his op-ed Monday, Sessions hammered home the same themes.

“[T]oo much focus has been placed on a small number of police who are bad actors rather than on criminals,” he wrote. “And too many people believe the solution is to impose consent decrees that discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.”

Though he acknowledged the need for “common-sense reforms” like de-escalation training and “punish[ing] police conduct that violates civil rights,” Sessions suggested that the federal government wouldn’t play a prominent role in implementing those reforms.

“[S]uch reforms must promote public safety and avoid harmful federal intrusion in the daily work of local police,” he wrote.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said Tuesday that Americans would continue to demand to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today,” host Savannah Guthrie asked Warren if the issue was “over” after Trump won the presidency without releasing any of his tax returns, becoming the first president since Richard Nixon not to do so.

“No, the issue is not over,” Warren said. “He promised during the campaign that he would reveal his taxes. In fact, how many clips have you got here? He would reveal them after this, he would reveal them after that, oh, then he put it off.”

Trump repeatedly promised, before and during his run for the presidency, that he would release his tax returns as a candidate.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed Monday that Trump’s taxes were still under audit, which would not technically preclude them from being released.

Warren said she didn’t know if Trump would ever release the returns.

“But I’ll tell you this,” she continued, “I think that people are going to keep demanding it, and they’re going to keep demanding it and making their voices heard on this. Look, why is it the case that people at the very top should get a bunch of tax breaks, should be able to hide their business dealing, when everybody else pays? Everybody else gets out there and makes our roads and bridges work, makes our schools work. Lets see what Donald Trump is up to.”

After thousands of people took to the streets nationwide Saturday to demand the President release his tax records, Trump said the protestors had been paid, and that “the election is over.”

Watch below via NBC:

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President Donald Trump wouldn’t say whether he had ruled out a military strike against North Korea on Monday, saying only “we’ll see what happens.”

“I don’t want to telegraph what I’m doing or what I’m thinking,” Trump told Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt. “I’m not like other administrations where they say, ‘We’re going to do this in four weeks.’ It doesn’t work that way. We’ll see what happens. I hope things work out well. I hope there’s going to be peace.”

Vice President Mike Pence, visiting South Korea on Sunday, called North Korea’s failed missile test earlier the same day a “provocation.” On Friday, the Trump administration characterized its strategy toward the country as “maximum pressure and engagement.” A strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier made its way last week toward the Korean Peninsula.

Trump also made two references in the interview to “this gentleman” in North Korea, who he said had “outplayed” both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The late North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il died in 2011. His son, Kim Jong Un, is the country’s current ruler.

“But, you know, they’ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time,” Trump said. “You read Clinton’s book, he said, ‘Oh, we made such a great peace deal,’ and it was a joke. You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody has been outplayed, they’ve all been outplayed by this gentleman. And we’ll see what happens. But I just don’t telegraph my moves.”

Watch the exchange below:

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Monday that it would require a “highly aggressive to not realistic” schedule for President Donald Trump to sign a tax bill before Congress breaks for recess in August.

In February, Mnuchin told CNBC that he wanted to see “very significant” tax reform “done by the August recess.”

“It started as [an] aggressive timeline,” Mnuchin said in an interview with the Financial Times published Monday, referring to the August deadline. “It is fair to say it is probably delayed a bit because of the health care.” 

The Trump administration and congressional leadership originally planned to repeal and replace Obamacare before approaching a tax bill, as the health care effort would fundamentally change the tax landscape. The party will face an existential crisis of sorts if it fails to achieve either policy priority.

On March 24, the same day the GOP’s American Health Care Act failed to garner sufficient Republican support for a vote, Mnuchin told Axios’ Mike Allen that tax reform was “much simpler” than health care reform, and that Republicans would propose a tax bill in one comprehensive piece, rather than in incremental measures.

Mnuchin also told FT that Trump’s recent comments that the U.S. dollar was too strong didn’t mean the President supports devaluing American currency. Last week, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that it’s “very, very hard to compete when you have a strong dollar and other countries are devaluing their currency.” In the same interview, Trump reversed his pledge to declare China a currency manipulator.

“The President was making a factual comment about the strength of the dollar in the short term,” Mnuchin told FT. “There’s a big difference between talk and action.” 

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White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday defended President Donald Trump’s decision not to release White House visitor logs during his time in office.

During Spicer’s daily press briefing, the Daily Caller’s Kaitlan Collins asked the press secretary why the Trump administration hadn’t opted to match former President Barack Obama’s policy of voluntarily releasing White House visitor logs, with some exceptions.

“We’re following the law as both the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act prescribe it,” Spicer said, referring to laws that mandate the preservation of government records, but not the release of White House visitor logs during a president’s term in office. “So it’s the same policy that every administration had up until the Obama administration.”

Spicer referred to the voluntary release of visitor logs by the Obama administration as a “faux attempt” at transparency, given that the public logs carried exemptions for personal visits, national security matters and other sensitive meetings.

“When you go through and you scrub everyone’s name out that you don’t want everyone to know, that really is not an honest attempt to doing it,” he said of the Obama-era policy.

He also said that the Trump administration acknowledged “there’s a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come express their views.”

A handful of members of Congress have sought to force the White House’s hand with the Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness (MAR-A-LAGO) Act, which would require that visitor logs be released, with similar exceptions as the Obama policy, from anywhere the President “regularly conducts official business.”

The comings and goings of the Trump White House have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) admitted on March 27 that he met with unnamed sources on White House grounds before claiming the following day that Trump affiliates’ information may have been included incidentally in the surveillance of foreign actors. Nunes subsequently stepped aside from the committee’s investigations of possible connections between Russian officials and Trump affiliates.

And on March 21, Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America, published pictures of herself meeting with a White House legislative staffer at the White House. A White House official confirmed the meeting to TPM only after the pictures were made public.

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