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

A seemingly stunned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t shy about the “clearly disappointing moment” his party had just endured and openly blamed Democrats for not engaging “in a serious way” to help the American people, after Republicans failed to pass a skinny Obamacare repeal bill early Friday morning.

“I imagine many of our colleagues on the other side are celebrating, probably pretty happy about this,” McConnell said from the Senate floor after the plan was blocked by three Republicans. He said he felt “regret” and “disappointment” that his party couldn’t drum up a simple majority to pass the minimalistic repeal bill.

“This is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed,” he said. “Our constituents have suffered through an awful lot under Obamacare, we thought they deserved better, which is why I, and many of my colleagues, did as we promised, voted to repeal this failed law.”

The skinny repeal ultimately failed early Friday when Republican Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R- AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined with the Democrats to block the bill. McCain, who was just diagnosed with brain cancer, flew back to the Senate earlier this week to vote in favor of a motion to proceed.

He finally decided to vote against the measure because it offered no replacement “to actually reform our health care system” and he didn’t want to make the same mistake as Democrats did with Obamacare by ramming a bill through Congress without bipartisan support, he said in a statement.

McConnell thanked “everybody in the conference” who spent “endless” hours trying to come to a consensus and his “friends” in the House. He also praised the President and the Vice President for their engagement in the process.

McConnell spent most of his time at the podium blaming Democrats for the bill’s failure and said he is interested to see what they suggest.

“I suspect they are pretty satisfied tonight. I regret to say they succeeded in that effort. Now, I think it’s appropriate to ask, what are their ideas?,” he said. “It’s time for our friends on the other side to tell us what they have in mind and we’ll see how the American people feel about their ideas.”

Watch McConnell’s remarks below:

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Instead of apologizing, newly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci is blaming the reporter who published his shocking, profanity-laced rant, where he attacked White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Just four hours after New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza published the contents of his conversation with Scaramucci — who called up Lizza out of the blue demanding the reporter reveal who leaked him information about a recent White House dinner and profanely unloading about his frustration with leakers — he tweeted that he “made a mistake trusting a reporter” and said it “won’t happen again.”

According to Lizza’s report, Scaramucci never indicated he wanted the Wednesday conversation off the record or on background as he proceeded to call White House Priebus a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic,” threatened to fire “everyone in the comms team” and said he wanted to “fucking kill all the leakers.”

He claimed that Priebus would be asked to resign “shortly” and said Bannon was trying to create an identity for himself “off the fucking strength of the President.”

He also accused Bannon of some particularly obscene behavior: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

Shortly after the story published, Scaramucci took to Twitter to explain that he “sometimes” uses “colorful language” and said he would refrain from it in the future.

Lizza has since confirmed to reporters that he recorded the conversation and tweeted early Friday morning that sometimes things happen “the same as the movies.”

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The hosts of “Fox and Friends” opened up their show Thursday morning by touting a full page advertisement Fox News purchased in the New York Times, following a recent feud between the two news organizations.

The full page ad featured a photo of the show’s three hosts with the quote “…the most powerful TV show in America” across the top, credited to The New York Times.

The quote references a recent piece by Times TV critic James Poniewozik, who said the show was powerful not only because the President watches it, but also because the hosts treat President Donald Trump as a fourth virtual host by allowing him to interact via Twitter with everything they discuss.

Like clockwork, Trump tweeted about the advertisement 40 minutes later, expressing shock over the Times quote.

The advertisement follows a recent feud between the competing news outlets, in which a New York Times spokesperson demanded an apology and retraction after Fox reported — online and on “Fox and Friends” —that a 2015 Times piece fumbled plans for the U.S. to capture an ISIS leader.

The Fox story was based on comments Gen. Tony Thomas, who leads the U.S. special operations command, made at the Apsen Security Forum. Thomas told Fox that the U.S. was close to capturing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi until a lead about the capture was published in a “prominent national newspaper,” which caused the lead to go dead. 

The President also tweeted about the topic after the “Fox and Friends” segment.

A Times spokesperson reached out to the network asking for an apology and a retraction, calling the segment “malicious and inaccurate” and clarifying that the Times story was based on a statement from the Pentagon, which would have been what made Baghdadi aware of the capture, not the Times article.

The Times also claimed the reporter described the article to the Pentagon before it was published and they had no objections to the piece. 

h/t HuffPost.

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Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned the President that his week-long public attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is “not going over well in the Senate” nor the “conservative world.”

The senator said there would be “holy hell to pay” if Sessions is fired.

Graham suggested that if the attacks against Sessions are part of an effort to get rid of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election, it could be the “end” of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now, I have no reason to believe that Mueller is compromised. If you have reason to believe he is compromised and shouldn’t be serving as special counsel, let me know,” he told reporters.

Graham also floated legislation that he’s planning to introduce next week that he think he can get “all Democrats and a good number of Republicans” onboard with that will say a special counsel can’t be fired when they’re asked to investigate the President and his team, unless there’s a “judicial review” of the firing.

“Not just for Trump, but for any future president. We need a check and balance here,” he said, adding he hopes the President will “calm down” on his attacks on Sessions.

Since last Wednesday, Trump has launched near-daily, public attacks on Sessions, from saying he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he’d known he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, to calling Sessions “beleaguered” and “weak” on Twitter.

“This is not a diversion. This is unnerving. It is unfair to Jeff Sessions. He’s a good man who deserves better,” Graham said. “Some of the suggestions the President is making go way beyond what is acceptable in a rule of law nation. I hope the President will get good counsel and advice and focus on what he got elected to, which is change the culture in Washington. This is not draining the swamp. What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down.”

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On Wednesday, the chair of the White House’s bogus voter fraud panel Kris Kobach sent another request to states asking for publicly available voter registration records, a request the state of California has already shut down.

The latest request outlines a recent legal battle between the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group that filed a motion to keep the commission from receiving the voter data. The motion was denied on Monday, which prompted the most recent request.

I appreciate the cooperation of chief election officials from more than 30 states who have already responded to the June 28 request and either agreed to provide these publicly available records, or are currently evaluating what specific records they may provide in accordance with their state laws,” Kobach said in one letter to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “Like you, I serve as the chief election official of my state. And like you, ensuring the privacy and security of any non-public voter information is a high priority.”

The commission’s first request for voter data, which asked for everything from voter addresses and political party affiliation to military status and the last four digits of social security numbers, was met with harsh pushback from nearly every state. Most states said they would either not provide the data or only share publicly available information.

In this letter, Kobach said he was only requesting public data, the kind that is “regularly provided to political candidates, journalists and other interested members of the public” and assured the secretaries of state that he would not publicly release any personally identifiable information and that records would be kept “confidential and secure.”

“Once the commission’s analysis is complete, the commission will dispose of the data as permitted by federal law. The only information that will be made public are statistical conclusions drawn from the data, other general observations that may be drawn from the data, and any correspondence that you may send to the commission in response to the narrative questions enumerated in the June 28 letter,” he said.

The letter also asked states to communicate with one of the commission’s staffers about securely submitting state data, a move the commission has made to “address issues raised in recent litigation” about the security of the data transfer portal.

“The Commission will approach all of its work without preconceived conclusions or prejudgments. The Members of this bipartisan Commission are interested in gathering facts and going where those facts lead,” he said.

But Padilla isn’t buying it. Releasing a statement rejecting the request Wednesday, Padilla called the commission a “sham” and said California wouldn’t be sharing any data.

His statement:

“Once again, the President’s sham election commission has requested California voters’ personal data. Once again, my response is no. The commission’s new request does nothing to address the fundamental problems with the commission’s illegitimate origins, questionable mission or the preconceived and harmful views on voting rights that many of its commissioners have advanced. Let me reassure voters: I will not provide this commission with Californians’ personal voter data. I will continue to do everything in my power to protect California citizens’ ability to exercise their rights to register and vote free of barriers and intimidation.”

Read Kobach’s letter to Padilla below:

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As GOP members of Congress launch a unified defense of the attorney general after the President’s weeklong crusade against Jeff Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence backed up the President Wednesday, saying Donald Trump “has been very candid.”

“He was disappointed with the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself and to not know about his intension to do so before he was confirmed as the attorney general of the United States,” Pence said, appearing on Fox News with Tucker Carlson Wednesday night. “The Washington way is to talk behind people’s backs. But that’s not President Donald Trump’s approach. One of the great things about this President is you will always know where you stand.”

The vice president’s comments come after a full week of Trump publicly shaming the attorney general, which started when he told the New York Times last Wednesday that he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump has lashed out at Sessions on Twitter almost every day since then, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” for not doing more to investigate his former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton and calling him out for not replacing acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe because of his supposed conflicts of interest.

Sessions has spoken out once on the attacks, saying he will stay in his position as long as its “appropriate.” 

Pence said the President’s criticism doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize the “good work the Justice Department has been doing under the attorney general’s leadership.”

“I think one of the President’s virtues is his candor. … People know we have a president who says what he means and means what he says. There’s no attempt to hide his feelings. His expressed disappointment here is very sincere and we will see what happens in the future, but at least the American people know and every member of the cabinet can know that you will always know where you stand with President Trump.”

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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