Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

The House voted down two spending bill amendments Wednesday night that would have cut $15 million and 89 staff from the Congressional Budget Office, following bipartisan opposition to the proposals.

The amendments were offered by Rep. Scotty Perry (R-PA) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and was also championed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who said Monday that the CBO is unreliable.

Those in support of the amendments floated the idea of the CBO being “aggregators” and suggesting Congress should consider budget scores from think tanks like Heritage, AEI and Brookings.

But after the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Ways and Means Committee came out in support of the CBO, the amendments tanked— the budget cuts were defeated 314 to 107 and the staff cuts failed 309 to 106, according to the House Office of the Clerk.

In a letter to House colleagues, both Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) asked for opposition to the amendments, saying the CBO “plays a vital role in the legislative process.”

“We rely on CBO’s analysts to provide fair, impartial and fact-based analysis. Without that analysis, Congress could not do its work or stay within the very budget constraints we set up for ourselves in law,” the letter said. “CBO, which works only for Congress, is key to maintaining our status as an equal branch of government.”

The pair said cutting funds to the office would harm the House’s ability to do work and “would impair the institution’s ability to function within the rules that the Congress itself passed with respect to the budget impact of legislation.”

The proposed amendments were just the latest in a string of attacks against the non-partisan office, a movement that recently pushed every past CBO director, Republican and Democratic, to write a letter to Congress urging them to end the rhetoric.

H/t: The Hill

Read More →

During an on-camera White House press briefing Wednesday, questions about the President’s announced ban on transgender individuals serving in the military dominated the discussion.

After press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered at least 10 different questions about President Donald Trump’s rationale for the new policy, Sanders threatened to end the briefing early if “those are the only questions we have.”

The final straw came when April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks asked what the White House might say to members of the transgender community who may lose their health care and who are “scared” because of what is happening right now.

As I’ve said before, and I’ll try to make this clear, this was a military decision. This was about military readiness. This is about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military and nothing more,” Sanders said. “Guys, I really don’t have anything else to add on that topic. As I do, I’ll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I’m going to call it a day.

The barrage of questions came after Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that he would not allow transgender individuals to serve in the military in “any capacity” because of the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Read More →

Keeping with his campaign promise to donate his presidential salary to various organizations, President Donald Trump will donate this quarter’s $100,000 salary to the Department of Education, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday.

Last quarter, Trump’s salary went toward the restoration of two projects at a national battlefield, a donation others matched to bring the total gift to over $260,000, Sanders said.

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has championed school choice programs that give families federally funded vouchers to use toward private education, said Wednesday she and Trump have had conversations about how to “put students’ needs first and set them up for a lifetime of achievement.”

The donation comes as DeVos’ department comes under criticism for its decision to revisit Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault and rape. DeVos has said she wants to ensure that accused students aren’t stripped of their rights.

Read More →

Before being named the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci was thrust into the spotlight when CNN reported that he was being investigated as part of the probe into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

CNN apologized, retracted the story and fired three journalists. Scaramucci forgave the news outlet.

But during his first appearance on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo as a White House official, Scaramucci and Cuomo — who are both Italian, a fact mentioned multiple times during the 30 minute interview — butted heads over every issue, repeatedly shouting over one another to speak and finally wrapping up with Scaramucci suggesting they should just “end the interview” now.

On health care

The conversation started out respectful, with the two discussing Republicans’ Obamacare repeal effort that cleared a procedural hurdle on Tuesday. Cuomo questioned whether the President actually knows what is in the plan that he keeps praising.

“I want to respectfully disagree with you,” Scaramucci said, before claiming that Trump understands the bill and knows change can’t be made overnight, which is why Senate Republicans are taking a repeal-first approach to health care.

“But here’s the thing, the step is only as good as the detail of the step. What is before the Senate right now has been scored and found grossly lacking in terms of securing the promise of the President,” Cuomo pressed.

Taking on the President’s classic tone, Scaramucci said, “We’re going to win so much, Chris. You’re going to get tired of us winning. Let’s go over what we did yesterday, we won yesterday.”

Cuomo questioned how he could call it a win when senators were forced to vote to move forward on a plan “they don’t understand.” Attempting to connect with the host, Scaramucci brought up their Italian roots.

“You and I actually grew up in a very similar neighborhood. We want things done ‘subito,’” he said.

“That means fast,” Cuomo clarified.

“You and I both want it done subito, but nothing gets done subito here,” he said.

“No, I want it done right. What the American people want is for this to to be done in a way that makes it better, not just a political win,” Cuomo said.

Scaramucci went on to call Cuomo an “establishmentarian journalist” who is “wedded to the establishmentarian bureaucratic sclerosis” in D.C., which he said are concepts the American people don’t like about Washington and why Trump was elected in the first place.

On Jeff Sessions

Discussing whether Trump was going to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after a week of publicly berating Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, Scaramucci claimed the way the President had handled the situation was upfront. Cuomo pushed back against that suggestion because Trump has mostly used Twitter to attack his attorney general.

“I think it’s pretty upfront, he just happens to be sharing it with 113 million people,” Scaramucci said, arguing it was just the President’s “managerial style” and saying he didn’t know if Trump had spoken with Sessions in person about his issues.

“You don’t know the answer or the answer is ‘no they haven’t spoken?’”

“I’m not one of those obfuscators where I tell you I don’t know the answer and I actually know the answer,” Scaramucci said.

On leaks

But minutes later, Scaramucci decided to dodge a question. When asked if it was the President who asked him to fire a staffer on his communications team for leaking, Scaramucci said he wasn’t going to answer the question.

“Why? … What happened to being straight?,” Cuomo asked.

“I’m straightly straightly not answer your question,” Scaramucci said, a response Cuomo said suggests that it actually was Trump who told him to do it.

“Chris, I’ve already answered it, you’re just not a very derivative thinker,” he said.

The two went back and forth about whether Trump is really an “outsider” who’s come to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. when he actually is one of the wealthiest people in the country.

“What definition of elite does Donald Trump not fit?” Cuomo asked.

Scaramucci argued Trump’s wealth is the “best thing about him,” saying he’s “wickedly wealthy” and still able to relate with regular people.

“He had a great gut during the campaign and now he has the mandate to make those problems he identified so well better,” Cuomo said.

Scaramucci then suggested they should “end the interview right there,” but not before getting one final dig in on the news network.

“That could be the best thing that’s been said about the President on CNN in six months. Being Italian I would actually hug you, but I’m in between you and this camera,” he said, adding if Cuomo kept saying “nice things” about the President then he would consider bringing him on the show.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. government will not let transgender individuals serve in the military “in any capacity,” citing conversations he’s had with generals and experts.

In a series of tweets, the President said the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

If his tweets are followed up with any type of formal policy, the move would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly and blocked a person from being discharged from the military solely because they are a transgender, according to policy on the Department of Defense’s website.

The President’s announcement comes after a six-month delay was placed on what was suppose to be the implementation of this policy at the beginning of July.

When the delay was announced Defense Secretary James Mattis said it would not change the policy that lets transgender people openly serve.

Conservative lawmakers praised the delay and pushed to block the policy, arguing that allowing transgender people to serve would require millions to be added to the military’s budget if the government had to fund transgender-related surgeries.

Estimates on how many transgender people serve in the military vary. A 2014 report from the Williams Institute suggests that about 15,000 transgender individuals are serving in active duty and more than 130,000 are veterans or retired from active duty. The National Center for Transgender Equality claims similar estimates.

However, RAND Corporation produced a report in 2016, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, that estimated about 2,450 transgender people are among active duty troops. That same study predicted it would cost the government about $2.9 to $4.2 million a year to fund hormone therapy and surgeries.

The President’s statement this morning contradicts previous support he has given the LGBT community. Last year, he tweeted that he would “fight” for that community while his presidential opponent “brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

 The first daughter has also been vocal about his support of LGBT folks. Just last month, Ivanka Trump thanked “LGBTQ Americans” for their “immense contributions to our society and economy.”

Read More →

Energy Secretary Rick Perry thought he was talking to Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman.

But the 22-minute phone call he held this week, discussing everything from deals on coal exports to President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate deal, was actually with two Russian pranksters who call themselves the “Jerky Boys of Russia.”

During the call, the two reportedly told Perry about a new biofuel made from alcohol and manure and discussed a cheap trade deal on coal exports, according to Bloomberg.

“Negotiation is always possible,” he told them.

The three also reportedly discussed the President’s opposition to a Nordstream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany and the administration’s support of new Russia sanctions.

The call was arranged after Perry met with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

But Perry isn’t the first to get duped by the pair, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told Bloomberg. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and singer Elton John have also fallen for their trick.

“These individuals are known for pranking high level officials and celebrities, particularly those who are supportive of an agenda that is not in line with their governments. In this case, the energy security of Ukraine,” Hynes said.

Correction: This post originally reported that McCain was a senator from Texas. We regret the error.

Read More →

After newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci fumbled his first staff firing — he told a Politico reporter he was firing assistant press secretary Michael Short before he told Short and then blamed the news on “leakers” after Short found out and resigned — Scaramucci told reporters he won’t be firing more people for the time being.

“There are rumors that I’m firing more people,” he said on Air Force One Tuesday night. “I’m not firing any more people, at least for now.”

But the former New York financier said he’s not opposed to the idea if “leaks” don’t stop, some of which he thinks are stemming from his communications department.

“If the leaks continue, then I’ve got to let everybody go,” he said, adding that he will “probably restructure the communications department,” an office that has already undergone significant shakeup.

On Friday, the White House announced it had hired Scaramucci to take over as director of communications. Almost simultaneously, news broke that then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had resigned, reportedly over objections to the Scaramucci’s appointment. Former deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to replace Spicer.

Making the rounds on cable news shows over the weekend, the new communications director said he was going to “pare down” on the White House staff if leaks to the media don’t stop.

Read More →

Jeff Sessions has had a tough week at work, thanks to an onslaught of attacks from his boss, President Donald Trump.

But the “beleaguered” — in Trump’s words — attorney general got an assist on Tuesday from some of his former colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate, where Sessions served for nearly two decades before joining the Trump administration.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) spoke out against the President’s dispute with Sessions on Twitter and during an interview on Fox News Tuesday, saying he has a “lot of respect” for Sessions, who he’s worked with for 20 years. Sessions also represented Alabama when he was in the Senate.

“I know him well. He’s a man of integrity, purpose and has a lot of respect from his colleagues and also the legal profession,” Shelby said on Fox, adding that the attorney general would be “hard to replace.” Shelby hopes Sessions will stay on despite the escalating attacks from Trump.

Since last week, the President has publicly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, telling the New York Times he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to duck out of the probe. Sessions then responded to Trump’s comments on Thursday and said he would serve in his role as attorney general for as long as was “appropriate.”

On both Monday and Tuesday morning, the President took to Twitter to criticize Sessions again for being “weak” and his newly hired Communicators Director Anthony Scaramucci said Tuesday that Trump “probably” wants to push the attorney general out.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mike Lee (R-UT) were among many who jumped to the defense of Sessions’ character against Trump’s cryptic tweets, with Portman saying he’s a man of “deep conviction” who has always had “the best interests of our country at heart.”

Ahead of the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider pending nominations Tuesday, Lee said that despite their differing opinions on things like Sessions’ asset forfeiture policy, Sessions is a man of “integrity” who is leading the Department of Justice in “what I regard to be a positive direction.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) made similar comments Tuesday, releasing a statement on Twitter defending Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into the Russian government meddling in the 2016 election because he worked for the Trump campaign.

“The attorney general’s recusal was ultimately made in the best interests of the Department of Justice and the country,” he said. “Attorney General Sessions’ leadership is needed now more than ever.”

Several Republicans have defended the former senator for recusing himself from the Russia probe, which has been the basis of the President’s assaults against Sessions. In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions as head of the Department of Justice had he known Sessions would duck out of the investigation.

The No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn (R-TX) was one of Sessions’ staunchest supporters. Appearing on CNN Tuesday morning, Cornyn called his former colleague a “good and honorable man” and said that by recusing himself he helped “restore the credibility” of the Department of Justice and the FBI, which is something he thinks was “sorely needed after the last administration.”

“I happen to agree with him that he did, having participated in the campaign like he did, I think in order to maintain the impression of impartiality, which is so important to building public confidence, that I think Jeff Sessions did the right thing,” Cornyn added.

In the lower chamber of Congress, a number of representatives came to Sessions’ aid, while some criticized the President for how he has handled his criticism of the attorney general. Two mornings in a row, the President tweeted pointed attacks at Sessions, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” for not investigating his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s “crimes.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was supportive of Sessions’ recusal during a Fox News interview Tuesday. However, he said he understood the President’s frustrations with the attorney general for his “failure to recall some meetings.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Real Clear Politics that the President’s complaints would have been “better conveyed in a private conversation.”

Rep. Adam Kinsinger (R-IL) echoed that sentiment, questioning why the President didn’t just call a meeting to air his grievances with Sessions.

Sessions is one of the President’s most loyal supporters. He was one of the first member of Congress to stand behind Trump when he launched his campaign.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said he thinks the President’s critiques of his attorney general are “mistaken,” telling CNN that “if there’s any person on Capitol Hill that has been loyal to the President of the United States, it’s Jeff Sessions.”

“You get the loyalty you give in life. … He gave up his Senate post to take on this post. He was out there as an advocate for then candidate Trump at a time nobody else was,” Sanford said. “We have to be loyal to ideas we believe in and recognize the fact as human beings, we are going to have a difference in the way we approach those ideas.”

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) appeared on CNN Tuesday morning as well, defending the attorney general for being “loyal” and “capable.” But Stewart also said it may be in the public’s best interest to not pay “a whole lot of attention” to Trump’s tweets “because it’s not policy.”

And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was floated as a potential replacement for Sessions, according to the Washington Post, denied the claims that he could replace the attorney general, telling the Post he is “deeply gratified that we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as attorney general.”

Read More →

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on Republicans to “step up” and get the votes the Senate needs to open debate on repealing Obamacare Tuesday and warned it would be “absolutely ridiculous” to blame failure to do so on the President.

“Inaction is simply not an option at this point. And Senate Republicans need to step up, and they need to make sure that we repeal and replace Obamacare with a system that’s sustainable,” she said in an appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats alike are still unsure what bill will be up for a motion to proceed vote Tuesday, whether it will be a straight Obamacare repeal bill or a version of the GOP’s embattled repeal and replace plan. Both proposals have received harsh criticism from moderate and conservative Republicans alike.

But Sanders said one thing is clear: if GOP Senators fail to bring something to the floor, it won’t be President Donald Trump’s fault.

“I think it would be absolutely ridiculous for Congress to try to place the blame on the President for the inability to get their job done. It’s Congress’ job to legislate, and it’s the President’s job to serve as the executive,” she said. “We are in the legislative part of this process and it’s time for them to step up and make sure Americans get the health care they deserve and the health care that we can afford.”

Trump corroborated the White House’s claims with early morning tweets, calling Tuesday a “big day” for health care and asking Republicans to “step up to the plate” to repeal or repeal and replace.

“I have a pen in hand,” he said.

Read More →

A prominent psychiatry group decided this month that they will stick with their tradition of not taking an official stance on the mental state of public figures, but sent a reminder to members saying they are free to weigh in on the mental health of politicians and public figures, like the President.

The request to take an official stance on the psychological health of public figures was voted down at a recent meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s executive team, according to an email sent out to members earlier this month. But members were reminded that they’ve had permission since 2010 to make their own expert opinions about people in the public eye known, according to a spokesperson for the group.

STAT, a health and medicine news site, originally reported that the letter sent out to members was a sign that the group was breaking with a decades-old rule that kept specialists from commenting on behaviors and the psychiatric health of public figures without first examining them.

But group spokesperson Wylie Tene said that report is misleading.

“There’s nothing really new with the letter (we sent to members). It was just reiterating to members that they don’t have to follow the Goldwater rule because we don’t have a Goldwater rule,” he told TPM, referring to a restriction that’s been in place since the 1960s when psychiatrists answered survey questions on whether then-Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was running for President that year, was fit for the office.

The rule was put in place because of the ethical questions raised over offering a professional opinion about a person without consent or examination.

There’s no punishment for violating the rule, according to STAT, and no other medical profession has such a rule as long as experts make it known that they have not examined the public figure they’re assessing.

While the 3,500 members of the American Psychoanalytic Association already had permission to comment on a politician’s mental health without an evaluation, the reminder is more relevant in the age of President Donald Trump, a former president of the psychiatrist organization said.

“We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly,” former president Prudence Gourguechon told STAT, saying that role should be taken even more seriously today, given “Trump’s behavior is so different than anything we’ve seen before” in a President.

Read More →