What to know about the final day of Senate cabinet hearings this week
Man who criticizes government welfare programs makes case to run government welfare agency
Ben Carson told senators Thursday to look past his lack of government experience and focus on his childhood. Growing up in Detroit and relying on resources like food stamps while experiencing housing insecurity, Carson said, qualifies him to become secretary of housing and urban development. (CNN) But Democrats did not buy the argument, especially noted progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown.
Warren questioned whether Carson could guarantee no federal housing dollars would go to a housing project coordinated by Trump — something Carson would not rule out. (NBC News) And Brown pressed Carson to answer for statements that welfare programs, like public housing, make the poor "dependent" on government support. Carson has argued that the poor should receive less government support to incentivize greater personal responsibility.
Carson did say he would not gut the agency that helps Americans find affordable housing. He also scored points with Democrats by saying he would focus on fighting lead poisoning in urban neighborhoods. And Carson clarified that he does support federal laws, in moderation, to prevent racial bias in housing. (Politico) But the main headline out of his testimony was a misstatement. When asked by Warren whether any federal housing dollars would go to Trump or his family, the gaffe-prone Carson answered: "It will not be my intention to do anything that will benefit any American." (Mic)
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America — and how it affects you. Welcome to the political newsletter that won't do anything to benefit any American.
— Today: Ben Carson went to Capitol Hill — and accidentally made a promise that many think he'll have no trouble keeping.
— More from Cabinet hearings: James "Mad Dog" Mattis and Mike Pompeo testified as Trump's nominees for defense secretary and CIA director, respectively.
— Up next: TGI(a confirmation-hearing free)Friday! We'll be back to your regular scheduled grillings next week.
— More: Those unverified allegations against Donald Trump that are so salacious we won't even dignify them by mentioning them here golden showers? We'll explain why, even if they're true, it's unlikely they constitute treason.
— Even more: The Justice Department inspector general will investigate how the FBI handled its inquiry into Hillary Clinton's private email server. (Mic)
— Where's Trump? New York City — along with Marine Le Pen, France's leading Eurosceptic xenophobe who currently leads the French election polls. Say quoi?! (Mic)
— 7 days until Trump becomes president.
Two key takeaways from Mike Pompeo's hearing for CIA director
1) In spite of the salacious headlines and speculation around Trump's contentious relationship with the intelligence community, Pompeo's hearing was more whimper than the bang some anticipated. As Trump's nominee to become CIA director, Pompeo is set to become a leader in a community that has been investigating Trump and Russian hacking for months. But his Thursday hearing did little to suggest he was entering such a potentially contentious role. The usually stridently partisan Kansas congressman calmly answered questions from senators and said he would act methodically when evaluating matters of national security. (Politico)
2) Pompeo will be Trump's appointment — but he swears he won't be Trump's stooge. Like other top nominees who appeared before the Senate this week, Pompeo assured skeptical Democrats he would be his own man. He aggressively criticized Russian hacking during the 2016 election. (CNN) And he said the U.S. would not return to torture techniques used during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (ABC News) And Pompeo promised to keep politics away from the CIA and focus on the facts — even as Trump expresses his disdain for the intelligence community.
Mad Dog, new tricks: two takeaways from James' Mattis hearing for defense secretary
1) Senators found consensus around James "Mad Dog" Mattis. Unlike Ben Carson and other nominees who faced criticism after their hearings, Republicans and Democrats alike rallied around the retired general's nomination to lead the American military. The Senate voted 81 to 17 to grant Mattis a waiver to become defense secretary within seven years of serving in the military. (CNN)
2) Mattis came out swinging on Russia. The former Marine general, who has a notable distaste for Iran, said he would support a Trump effort to improve relationships with Moscow. But Mattis framed Russia as an adversary that the U.S. must be ready to confront. (Reuters) Mattis did not mince words in describing how unstable he believes the world is. When asked by GOP Sen. John McCain about the state of world order, Mattis said: "I think it's under the biggest attack since World War II, sir. And that's from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China sea." (Daily Caller) He also squared up the United States for a confrontation with Iran, blaming systemic unrest in the Middle East on the ally of Russia and Syria. (New York Times)
Notice a theme here? At varying levels, multiple cabinet nominees have told senators they see Russia as a serious threat to American security. They've also advised against taking actions by Vladimir Putin lightly. Meanwhile, Trump continues to articulate a goal of warmer relations with Russia. Further, Cabinet nominees have said they will act independently and be apolitical — the antithesis of Trump's campaign trail rhetoric.
Navigating Trump's America will cover the hearings all next week, in this space and at mic.com/navigatingtrumpsamerica.
Barack Obama reminds us he's still president
To his surprise, Vice President Joe Biden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in an emotional ceremony Thursday. Obama surprised his colleague of eight years and someone he calls his "brother" during an event at the White House. Obama gave Biden — whose half-century of public service he cited in his address — the award with "distinction," an almost-unique level of veneration reserved for the likes of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Biden turned around to cry when Obama made the announcement. (Mic)
The president named five new national monuments on Thursday evening, including sites critical to the civil rights movement in the South. (Washington Post) Obama also announced that the U.S. will no longer allow Cubans who enter the U.S. illegally the opportunity to stay. Ending the "wet foot, dry foot" policy — which derives its name from giving Cubans protection once they arrive on American soil — will no longer give those fleeing the country the default chance to apply for residency in the U.S. (Mic)
And here's your Trump tweet for the weekend, a reminder that elections have consequences: