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Trump seeks safe political ground on the border

U.S. Border Patrol supervisor Eugenio Rodriguez looks over the landscape near the Rio Grande River and surrounding environs August 7, 2008 in Laredo, Texas.
U.S. Border Patrol supervisor Eugenio Rodriguez looks over the landscape near the Rio Grande River and surrounding environs August 7, 2008 in Laredo, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

Donald Trump, perhaps trying to find safer political ground, will come very close to leaving the country Thursday.

His visit to Laredo, Texas, is a study in contrasts: the wealthy mogul whose vitriol against Mexican immigrants has propelled him to the lead position in the Republican presidential primary, jetting into the poor, almost entirely Hispanic border town on the Rio Grande River. The Associated Press reports that this isn't exactly a peacemaking mission:

He's scheduled to meet with the local Border Patrol union and speak with other law enforcement entities, including ICE, LPD, DEA and ATF.

The plan signaled no backing down — indeed, a possible further escalation — in Trump's feud with presidential rivals and other figures in the party. That feud was sparked by his comments about immigrants last month and accelerated when he mocked Arizona Sen. John McCain's experience as a tortured prisoner in the Vietnam War.

It would have been difficult to foresee Trump becoming a hero for the grassroots Republican base at a time of rising populism, but nativism is strong, too, these days. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for the distance between Trump and the city he's visiting today is to just look at the numbers. USA Today reports on the details of Trump's financial disclosure, which listed assets of between $1.5 billion and $2.1 billion, with the caveat that some of his holdings are simply listed as being worth more than $50 million:

The snapshot of his finances shows the real-estate developer collecting six-figure checks for speeches, owning at least $100,000 in gold, receiving a $110,000 pension from the Screen Actors Guild and earning $588,000 for admission to his carousel in New York. His fortune includes golf courses around the globe, the hotels that bear his name, vineyards in Virginia, jets in Palm Beach, Fla., and licensing deals with companies throughout the world that want to attach his name to their properties. The Trump brand is on products ranging from mattresses to vodka and energy drinks sold in Israel.

Now look at Laredo's census profile:

The trip may have the effect of refocusing Trump on what was a winning card for him after he suffered a serious backlash over the swipe he took at Sen. John McCain for being captured during the Vietnam War.

Here are nine more things you should know before you start the day.

1) President Obama heads to Africa tonight

President Barack Obama speaks at a ceremony celebrating the African Growth and Opportunity Act's reauthorization.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama will make his fourth official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, where he'll visit Kenya and Ethiopia — the first sitting US president to set foot in either nation. The son of a Kenyan father who abandoned him, Obama has long grappled publicly with the absence of a relationship with his father and his own emotional connection to his father's homeland. A snippet doesn't really do the story justice, but Peter Baker of the New York Times does what only he can in weaving together the US effort to expand its influence in Africa with Obama's personal story.

Through more than six years in office for Mr. Obama, Kenya has been a complicated part of his political persona. Known for a youthful memoir exploring his Kenyan roots, Mr. Obama has been celebrated as a son of Africa who reached the pinnacle of power. But he also found himself besieged by a conspiracy theory that he had actually been born in Kenya and was therefore ineligible to be president — a theory he felt compelled to dispel by marching into the White House briefing room in 2011 with his a birth certificate from Hawaii....

The trip will have its trials dealing with two countries that have not been models of democracy lately. In Kenya, he will meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had been charged with crimes against humanity for instigating ethnic violence until the case was dropped last December. In Ethiopia, he will meet with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn just a month after the governing party and its allies won 100 percent of the seats in Parliament.

His initiatives have had their own troubles. Power Africa, which Mr. Obama kicked off during a 2013 visit to the continent, has so far not delivered the kind of electricity it promised. Ms. Rice said the program had been slow to get off the ground but was now "building up strength and capacity," adding, "This is going to take time"

  • If you missed it, a tip of the hat for Peter's "compelled to dispel" construction.
  • My Vox colleague Dylan Matthews recently wrote about George W. Bush's highly successful push to combat AIDS in Africa and Obama's efforts to weaken his PEPFAR program.

2) Mitt Romney, who was all but endorsed by "Bibi," rips Obama on Iran

It's not terribly surprising that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee thinks the international deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions is a bad idea. But as the reigning GOP nominee, Romney's got a certain ability to speak for the broader party that none of the 2016 candidates has yet acquired. He takes to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal to make his case.

The generational calamity that will result from President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran will last a very long time indeed. This can be said with perfect confidence because of two undeniable facts.

First, Iran is led by suicidal, apocalypse-seeking, America-hating, Israel-denying theocratic fanatics. If these ayatollahs have nuclear weapons, they will use them, someday, somewhere. Iran is a major, longtime state sponsor of terrorism; its leaders are entirely bereft of restraint, decency and respect for human life.

Second, the Obama deal prescribes a pathway for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The agreement’s defenders contend that it will delay Iran’s nuclear program by 10 to 15 years (about one half of a generation). Perhaps. But no one can say that the deal will prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

To me, his second argument is among the strangest that has emerged in this debate. It would be better to let Iran continue to build toward nuclear capability unchecked than put the bomb off by 10 to 15 years? What? It's not like the deal prevents the US or Israel from resorting to military strikes if Iran cheats.

The logic of the arguments aside, the lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill is escalating, with the government of Israel playing an increasingly vocal and visible role in advocating against the agreement. I think one underlying issue is that it's better for Israel if a powerful enemy in its region remains isolated from the community of nations. Here's how it's playing out on the Hill, per Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times.

President Obama formally began his lobbying campaign in Congress on Wednesday to secure the Iran nuclear deal, deploying three cabinet secretaries to the Capitol for classified briefings.

But they faced counterprogramming from Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who met with the most conservative House Republicans to urge them to "leave everything on the field" to derail the accord.

The briefings by Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew kicked off a blitz by the White House to save the Iran deal from a "resolution of disapproval" in September.

3) Maybe Jeb Bush ain't ready for reform

When Jeb Bush rolled out a series of lobbying and contracting reform proposals, his sermon on mounts — "Mount Tallahassee" and "Mount Washington," as he calls the Florida and national capitals — some folks in Florida snickered, according to Politico's Marc Caputo, a longtime Sunshine State scribe. That's because Bush's record is at odds with the rhetoric of reform, Caputo writes in a story well worth the full read.

Bush’s eight-year record shows he often stood by appointees who were mired in scandal or mismanagement until long after damaging revelations emerged, and in only three reported instances clearly fired agency heads — including one in the wake of a sexual harassment allegation and another who was implicated in a kickback scheme.

Meanwhile, Bush stood behind embattled appointees at the Department of Children and Families — even amid revelations that the agency lost track of 515 children under state care, including a child who was murdered. He supported his corrections chief throughout a scandal involving guards engaging in beer-soaked brawls, stealing state property, selling steroids and impressing inmates into forced labor. Bush finally fired the prison chief, Jimmy Crosby, in early 2006 when it became clear he was part of a bribery and kickback scheme, for which he was later convicted. ...

Ron McAndrew, a Florida Republican who once backed Bush and had served as the warden of Florida State Prison, scoffed at Bush’s comment that he cracked down on "incompetence or scandalous behavior."

"Jeb Bush has excellent experience with political hacks and crooks because he surrounded himself with them," McAndrew, who was succeeded as prison warden by Jimmy Crosby, told POLITICO. "He has little experience with real accountability, taking responsibility or firing people who needed to be fired."

4) The #Bern rolls out $15 minimum wage bill

Democratic presidential candidate and US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a Capitol Hill rally to introduce legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour July 22, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Will McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic presidential contender and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders put his promise to seek a $15 federal minimum wage to paper Wednesday, rallying with workers in the nation's capital. The proposal, as AP's Ken Thomas writes, sets up a contrast with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has declined to endorse that standard.

"All of our workers, from coast to coast, need at least 15 bucks an hour," said Sanders, who has emerged as Clinton's main Democratic presidential rival. "What we are saying, loudly and clearly, is $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage, is a starvation wage. It's got to be raised to a living wage."

His bill would phase in increases in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. While it's unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress, it puts pressure on Clinton to support the bill as cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco have approved phased-in increases to $15.

Roll Call's Bridget Bowman reports that among the workers in attendance for Sanders's announcement were Capitol employees.

For the third time in the past eight months, food-service workers at the Capitol have gone on strike to push for higher wages and union representation, a rare example of a national issue — income inequality — hitting close to home for Congress.

Forty Capitol workers, the highest number so far, joined roughly 650 federal contract workers from across the District of Columbia Wednesday who went on strike and rallied in Upper Senate Park.

The previous Capitol protests called on President Barack Obama to take executive action to raise contract-worker wages, which would not have affected workers in the legislative branch.

5) Barney burns Bernie

Yes, Barney Frank is a progressive. But he's also a pragmatist, a onetime top aide to a big-city mayor. And, he's a lifetime member of the Hillary Clinton fan club. The former Massachusetts congressman argues in Politico Magazine that Sanders isn't doing the party any favors and that Clinton's the right candidate for Democrats. The most interesting passage is his postulation that it's better to vote the wrong way out of political necessity than true conviction.

Having myself voted against that terrible mistake, I agree that her position on the war is a legitimate concern for those of us on the left. The question then becomes whether this was a manifestation of a general tendency to support unwise military intervention, or the case of her joining every other Democratic senator who had serious presidential ambitions in voting for a war that the Bush-Cheney administration had successfully hyped as a necessary defense against terrorism. While I wish that she, Joe Biden and John Kerry had not been spooked into believing that no one who voted no would have the national security merit badge required to win the presidency, I regard liberal senators’ support for the Iraq War as a response to a given fraught political situation rather than an indication of their basic policy stance — like Obama’s off-again, on-again support for same-sex marriage. (Yes, I am saying that in deciding whether or not to support a candidate with whom I have disagreed on a fundamental issue, I am more at ease if it was a one-time political accommodation rather than a genuine conviction.)

That's a sharp political observation from perhaps the sharpest thinker in Congress in generations. Save it, clip it, revisit it when thinking about politics.

6) Obama would like to git 'er done on closing Gitmo. But it's a tall order.

Some Republicans seem shocked — shocked — that Sen. John McCain is dealing with President Barack Obama on a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. After all, they just defended him against Donald Trump's attacks. He's the very model of a modern major war hero. Turns out, though, that the longtime torture victim isn't all that fond of indefinite detentions in Cuba. On the surface, that would seem to augur well for the president, but McCain is hated by House Republicans, and they don't look ready to give an inch. Per CNN:

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has opened the door in Congress for the administration to submit a plan to close the prison in exchange for tightening restrictions on transferring detainees abroad. But it's considered unlikely the measure will gain enough support from other Republicans to pass.

As Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, the U.S. prison has come under criticism from the government in Havana, which has demanded it be return to Cuban control.

At the official opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington this week, the Cuban foreign minister demanded the "return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo," a demand his American counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, dismissed.

7) The highway bill to nowhere

Remember the "Bridge to Nowhere?"

That was part of a 2005 highway bill, and they haven't gotten any better since. Vox's Brad Plumer reports on the odd financing scheme senators have used to subsidize just three years of a six-year authorization, all so they can avoid hiking the gas tax.

Raise $9 billion by selling off oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which was originally meant to be used to ease supply crunches in emergencies).

Raise $16.3 billion by reducing the dividends that the Federal Reserve pays to certain banks.

Raise $4 billion by indexing various custom fees to inflation.

Raise $3.5 billion by increasing Transportation Security Administration fees.

Raise $1.9 billion by extending certain guarantees on mortgage-backed securities.

Raise $7.7 billion through tax compliance measures and other assorted policies. (One example: barring Social Security payments to individuals with felony warrants).

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he has no plans to bring up the bill, which cleared an important procedural hurdle and is now being debated on the Senate floor. The White House, perhaps hoping the bill will eventually move forward, is urging lawmakers to include a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, as the Hill reports.

8) Fight rages over mental state of Sandra Bland before her death

Waller County, Texas, officials are pushing the narrative that Sandra Bland, arrested after a contentious traffic stop, was depressed and had a history of suicidal impulses before she died by hanging in a jail cell. Her family members say there's no evidence of that as they push for a more thorough investigation into her death. Per the LA Times, which has run remarkably strong coverage of the story.

Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas cell three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, told jailers that she had previously tried to commit suicide by taking pills because she had lost a baby, according to booking documents released Wednesday.

The documents were made public as officials investigated whether Bland killed herself on July 13 in the Waller County Jail, where she was being held on a felony charge of assaulting a state trooper who had pulled her over in Prairie View, Texas. …

The family lawyer, Cannon Lambert, told reporters at a televised news conference Wednesday that there was no evidence that Bland had ever attempted suicide or been treated for depression. Texas officials were trying to shift the focus away from the contentious arrest on July 10 that started the chain of events that led to the discovery of Bland’s body in the cell three days later, he said.

9) Splittsville: Euro and Disney

No, not the theme park. The EU has filed antitrust charges against Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount Pictures, Sony, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Sky UK, as our sister site The Verge reports:

The EU has filed antitrust charges against Sky UK and six major US film studios, accusing the companies of unfairly restricting customers' access to content within the European Union. "European consumers want to watch the pay-TV channels of their choice regardless of where they live or travel in the EU," said competition chief Margrethe Vestager in a press statement. "Our investigation shows that they cannot do this today [because of licensing agreements]. We believe that this may be in breach of EU competition rules."