Alexi McCammond
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Trump weighs in on Boston protests

Evan Vucci / AP

Thousands marched in Boston today in opposition of a planned "free speech rally," which invited "libertarians, conservatives, traditionalists, classical liberals, (Donald) Trump supporters or anyone else who enjoys their right to free speech," according to a group calling itself the Boston Free Speech Coalition, per CNN.

This comes exactly one week after the white nationalist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville last weekend. Trump had a terrible week of responding to the violent Charlottesville attack, but he quickly made a statement on Twitter about today's Boston protests:

Why it matters: Trump called for a "swift restoration of law and order" in his initial remarks about the Charlottesville rally last weekend. Today's response echoes that sentiment and, similar to his remarks on Tuesday doubling down on the "both sides" argument in which he only condemned the "alt-left," today Trump labeled the left-wing protestors as "anti-police agitators" deserving of "tough" police presence.

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Ben Sasse doubts if Trump can calm the nation after more violence

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been trying to understand last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, much like the rest of the country. Between his talks with constituents —one of whom is a self-described Trump supporter who told Sasse "we should admit that the President has done a bad job getting us through this" — and his discussions with family, Sen. Sasse has a prediction for what's next: By equalizing the "alt-right" and "alt-left," Trump's comments could lead to future clashes because his lousy responses don't calm tensions between the groups.

Key quote: "What will happen next? I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment. He (and lots of others) will probably tell an awful combination of partial truths and outright falsehoods. On top of the trust deficits that are already baked so deeply in, unity will be very hard to come by."

Why it matters: Sen. Sasse has never liked Trump. He's consistently stood up to him, calling him a "megalomaniac strongman" and refusing to say whether or not he even considers Trump an adult. But his public (and blunt) Facebook message against Trump's handling of Charlottesville reflects a larger trend of Republican lawmakers distancing themselves from the president after his week of flip-flopping on whether to denounce violent white nationalists.

Other highlights from Sasse's post:

  • "I expect that violence will come when white supremacists and the alt-right fight anarchist groups aligned with the extreme left."
  • "Besides ability and temperament, I also worry that national unity will be unlikely because there are some whispering in the President's ear that racial division could be good politics for them."

Why it really matters: September is just a few days away and Trump will need to push forward (and pass) various important legislation that will require the support of Republican lawmakers. (Think: increasing the debt ceiling, passing a budget to avoid a government shutdown, moving ahead on and introducing a proper tax reform plan, possibly revisiting the health care repeal.) Trump willingly ostracized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake when he repeatedly attacked them on Twitter. But reactions like Sasse's show that other Republicans, who Trump hasn't targeted in recent weeks, are now choosing to alienate themselves from the president after months of seeing how little he values words and uniting the country.

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Jeff Sessions goes after Chicago in sanctuary cities speech

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about sanctuary cities yesterday at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia (AP's Matt Rourke)

Today, Jeff Sessions gave a speech from Miami on the administration's sanctuary cities crackdown and he focused largely on Chicago: "Respect for the rule of law has broken down. In Chicago, the so-called sanctuary policies are one sad example of that."

But administration officials told Axios Sessions' speech was "not a personal issue, it's not like you seek retribution against [Mayor] Emanuel. ... We're simply saying you should put the safety of your people first."

Chicago Mayor Emanuel announced his lawsuit last week, arguing the admin's requirements for cities to receive federal funding are unconstitutional. Administration officials said they're "totally confident that the policy is constitutional."

Bottom line: "Trump sent me an executive order and it was pretty simple: reduce crime in America. And that's what we intend to do. But these grants that we have can help in crime reduction — we want all cities to have them, but we can't keep giving taxpayer money to [sanctuary cities]."

Miami Dade is a sanctuary cities "success story," administration officials said, and they wanted to point to it as an example for other cities, like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. "Work with us," Sessions said. "Please help us enforce a lawful system of immigration that keeps us safe."

Sessions didn't name any other city besides Chicago when pointing to example of "lawless" sanctuary cities. He cited various violent crime stats about the city of Chicago and Cook County, all involving illegal immigrants who were repeat violent crime offenders. "How can politicians hear these stories and do nothing?" he asked, before adding: "This is happening all over the country. These policies do far greater damage to our country than many understand and it's a rejection of our immigration laws."

Highlights from Sessions' speech:

  • Sanctuary cities are "a trafficker, smuggler, or a predator's best friend."
  • "Crime is not a force of nature like a tide coming in. It can be dealt with effectively."
  • "Chicago has chosen to sue the federal government. It complains our focus on enforcing the law would require 'a reordering of law enforcement practice in the city.' But that's exactly the point. Chicago's leaders need to recommit to policies that punish criminals instead of protecting them."
  • "These lawless policies do more than shield illegal aliens; they also shield and protect gangs and criminal organizations. These predators thrive when crime is not met with consequences."
  • "This state of lawlessness allows gangs to smuggle drugs and even humans across communities."
  • "Violent crime is surging. Miami Dade is an example of what is possible through hard work, policing and dedication to the rule of law. It's an example all of us can do better throughout this country."

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Strange and Moore advance to Alabama runoff election

AP

Republican Sen. Luther Strange and conservative Roy Moore will advance to a runoff election on Sept. 26 after the Alabama Republican Senate primary tonight, per NYT. Moore had consistently polled ahead of Strange leading up to this special election, and the results show a clear divide among Alabama voters who have an affinity for Trump but hate the Washington elite — something Strange largely represents to Alabama Republicans.

Moore led Strange throughout the night, leading to a runoff election in September between the two men and Democratic contender Doug Jones.

Why it matters, from The Atlantic's Molly Ball: "In Alabama, the feud is playing out as a test of conservative voters' loyalties in the Trump era—one of the first referendums on Trump's ability to command his own partisans, and by extension to shape the GOP that he leads."

Moore, from The Atlantic: "Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was twice removed from his post for defying federal court orders—once when he refused to remove a giant monument of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse building, and again (after voters returned him to the position) when he refused to implement the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Folksy and genial, the 70-year-old Moore has the lacquered look of an aging televangelist."

Strange: "Strange has been a senator for just six months, having been appointed to the position when his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, became Trump's attorney general. Before that, Strange was the attorney general of Alabama, overseeing the ethics investigation of the governor who, after appointing him, would resign to avoid impeachment. Before that, he was a Washington lobbyist."

The Strange scandal:

  • "The governor, Robert Bentley, was a dermatologist and Baptist deacon who was fairly well-liked until, halfway through his second term, he was publicly accused of carrying on an extramarital affair with an aide and using state resources to try and cover it up."
  • "Explicit audio recordings and text messages soon surfaced, and the state House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings."
  • "But Strange, the state attorney general, asked the lawmakers to put their investigation on hold so that his office could examine the matter."
  • "A few months later, Bentley appointed Strange to the Senate. Strange denied there was any conflict of interest or quid pro quo."
  • "Two months after that, Bentley resigned, making a deal with state prosecutors that involved pleading guilty to two misdemeanors and avoiding jail time."

Bottom line: Despite Trump's emphatic endorsement, Strange represents a so-called "swamp creature" among Republicans and conservatives in Alabama — the very type of establishment politician POTUS has vowed to drain from the swamp. "The other candidates have criticized Strange, calling him corrupt and unethical," Ball writes in The Atlantic. This proved troublesome for him in tonight's special election, and it could follow him to the runoff election on Sept. 26, ultimately revealing a seismic shift in the GOP in Trump county.

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Trump's solution for improving race relations: jobs

After answering questions about his latest views on Charlottesville, Trump's last question was about how he plans to improve race relations in America. His response? Jobs.

Why it matters: He doesn't know how to talk about race relations because he doesn't try to understand them. Instead of thinking critically and analyzing the facts that he has received, including a report from the FBI and DHS in May, he relies on an economic talking point and offers "jobs" as the solution for improving race relations in America.

Don't forget: Trump failed to condemn white nationalists and "alt-right" groups that organized a violent protest in Charlottesville on Saturday. He waited a full 48 hours to do so on Monday, ultimately saying "racism is evil." Today, he reverted back to his original statement, saying "there is blame on both sides."

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Trump went off script during his initial Charlottesville remarks

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Trump gave two starkly different statements about the violence in Charlottesville. But according to one senior White House aide who spoke with Politico, Trump was given prepared remarks for Saturday that were similar to what he delivered yesterday.

  • Saturday, in part: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."
  • Monday, in part: "Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
After the swift bipartisan backlash he received for his weak comments, especially from the media, Trump had to revise his statement on Monday to try to redirect the negative coverage of his remarks.
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Understanding the Charlottesville chaos

AP

Jason Kessler organized the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday to gather those who oppose the city's decision to remove the statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Thousands marched on the University of Virginia campus late Friday night wielding torches and chanting things like "Jews will not replace us."

Things took a turn on Saturday, when counter protesters showed up to demonstrate against the white nationalists filling Charlottesville's streets. Here's all that went down during the "Unite the Right" rally and what comes next:

Who was there

  • Kessler, a freelance journalist who has written for various conservative-leaning websites and president of a conservative political advocacy group, organized the whole thing.
  • Former KKK Leader and Trump supporter David Duke was there. He called the rally "a turning point" and said that white nationalists will "fulfill" Trump's agenda.
  • Richard Spencer, one of the most prominent white supremacists and president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. He was arrested after acting unlawfully with local police.
  • Anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter activists among other anti-fascist and anti-racist groups held counter protests during the rally.

What it was like on the ground

Hawes Spencer, a friend of Axios' Mike Allen, covered Friday night's protest for the N.Y. Times and Richmond public radio station WCVE. Mike asked him what it was like:

  • "The entirety of Downtown Charlottesville looked like a war zone. Protesters maced each other, threw water bottles and urine balloons — some of which hit reporters — and generally beat the crap out of each other with flagpoles."
  • "With many armed militia present, we thought bullets might be a problem. But as it turned out, it was just like European terrorism: a car aimed at pedestrians.
  • "Some of the photographers were braver than I and just dove right in to the middle of these constant melees. A month ago, my two oldest teens showed up for the KKK rally out of curiosity. Thankfully, they took a hike up a mountain today!"

When things turned violent

  • As Hawes Spencer described above, protesters and counter-protesters fought throughout the day.
  • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency after these violent clashes continued, allowing local officials to call in additional resources to regain control of the situation.
  • A 20-year-old man drove his car, estimated at 40 m.p.h., directly through a crowd of counter-protesters. He killed a 32-year-old woman and injured at least 19 others. Watch the video of the incident here. He has since been charged with second-degree murder.

Bipartisan reactions

  • FLOTUS Melania Trump: "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence. #Charlottesville"
  • President Trump tweeted: "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!" He added: "Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!"
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan: "The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry."
  • VP Mike Pence: "I stand with @POTUS against hate & violence. U.S is greatest when we join together & oppose those seeking to divide us. #Charlottesville"
  • Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner: "Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."
  • Hillary Clinton: "The incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets. ... Now is the time for leaders to be strong in their words & deliberate in their actions."
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch: "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. -OGH"
  • Ivanka Trump: "There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis."
  • Sen. John McCain: "White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special. As we mourn the tragedy that has occurred in Charlottesville, American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell: "The hate and bigotry witnessed in #Charlottesville does not reflect American values. I wholeheartedly oppose their actions."
  • Barack Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela: "'No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. ... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. ... For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
  • Sen. Nancy Pelosi: "Our nation is defined by the march of progress. Our strength lies in our diversity. We must reject hate."
  • Joe Biden: "No. Not in America. We must be stronger, more determined and more united than ever. Racism and hate have no place here."

Breaking down Trump's "on many sides" response

  • Speaking from Bedminster, NJ, Trump said: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides."
  • Why it matters: By addressing the "many sides" of this protest (which was organized by white nationalists upset with the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue), Trump failed to distinguish between those demonstrating in support of white supremacy and those who showed up in opposition to it.
  • Former KKK leader and Trump supporter David Duke said the protest was "a turning point" and that white supremacists will "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." Denouncing white supremacy in his remarks, or simply not blaming "all sides," would have allowed him to address this issue and set the record straight.
  • When asked by various reporters what Trump meant by on many sides, the White House responded: "The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protestors."
  • Be smart, courtesy of Mike Allen: Being a leader is taking your people where they don't want to go, or don't know they want to go. Being president is about rising to the occasion, not shrinking to your base. Large swaths of Trump's base don't think like this. The vast majority of conservative Americans aren't racists. Trump does them a disservice by creating that impression, and by coddling or fearing the few who resist loving one another.

What's next

  • The Department of Justice announced it's opening a civil rights investigation against the man who drove his car through the crowd.
  • Richard Spencer suggests things won't slow down. "You think we're going to back down to this kind of behavior to you and your little provincial town?" he asked during a video posted online. "No, we are going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe."
  • Many will continue to look to Trump to toughen his language against white nationalists and supremacists, particularly after events like this.
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Trump blames "many sides" for violence in Charlottesville

Steve Helber / AP

President Trump addressed the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, today: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."

  • Why it matters: By addressing the "many sides" of this protest (which was organized by white nationalists upset with the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue), Trump failed to distinguish between those demonstrating in support of white supremacy and those who showed up in opposition to it.
  • Former KKK leader and Trump supporter David Duke said the protest was "a turning point" and that white supremacists will "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." Denouncing white supremacy in his remarks, or simply not blaming "all sides," would have allowed him to address this issue and set the record straight.
  • When asked by various reporters what Trump meant by on many sides, the White House responded: "The president was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counter protestors."
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Mueller wants to interview Reince Priebus

AP

Special Counsel Bob Mueller wants to talk to Reince Priebus, NYT reports.

  • This suggests the investigation just got even closer to Trump's White House, as Muller is reportedly in talks with the West Wing to interview current and former administration officials, like Priebus.
  • Why it matters: Interviewing West Wing officials who have worked closely with POTUS moves Mueller's investigation even closer to Trump, which will likely be distracting for him as he will soon refocus on passing legislation (like tax reform) through Congress.
  • Mueller wants to talk to these officials to gather information on why Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, and about various specific meetings they've held, including any transcripts or notes from those meetings.
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Pentagon dials back Trump's tough talk

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Trump declared yesterday that he wouldn't rule out a "military option" in Venezuela, following the country's violent civil unrest. "Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering and they're dying," he said. "We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary."

But the Pentagon stepped in to say not so fast: "The Pentagon has not received any orders with regards to Venezuela," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told CNN. "The military conducts contingency planning for a variety of situations. If called upon, we are prepared to support ... government efforts to protect our national interests and safeguard US citizens."

Why it matters: Trump has a penchant for making tough, sometimes improvised statements that suggest forthcoming military action. The Pentagon's response is a reminder there's a team of defense officials considering the best solution forward and Trump's remarks aren't always direct orders.