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Image: President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

Why top members of Trump's team still haven't resigned

08/16/17 01:02PM

On "NBC Nightly News" last night, Chuck Todd expressed a sentiment that was very much in line with my own thinking. Reflecting on Donald Trump's depraved press conference, Todd said, "This is so bad that I think John Kelly, the chief of staff, is going to have more than one phone call trying to talk staffers or administration officials from resigning."

And that would certainly make sense. The president of the United States yesterday had just defended racist activists and equated opponents of racism with white supremacists. Trump publicly insisted that some of the torch-wielding extremists are "very fine people" who've been treated "unfairly" by journalists.

Of course this would lead some White House officials to walk away in disgust, right? Who'd want to be associated with an unhinged leader expressing such ugliness?

Apparently, all of them.

There have been plenty of pieces published since the president walked away from podium yesterday afternoon, featuring quotes from members of Team Trump distancing themselves from their boss. Staffers were reportedly "frustrated," "startled," and "stunned." A New York Times reporter said Gary Cohn, the chair of the White House Economic Council, was "disgusted" by Trump's comments.

Whether these accounts are true or not is hard to say. It's awfully easy for various officials -- many of whom are unnamed -- to quietly tell reporters that they're uncomfortable with their boss' racist display. It's less easy to do something meaningful, such as typing a resignation letter.

And yet, at least as of this morning, that hasn't happened. It's worth considering why.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.16.17

08/16/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Utah's 3rd congressional districts, Provo Mayor John Curtis won the GOP's special election primary yesterday, and given the district's partisan leanings, is now the favorite to succeed former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) in Congress.

* Despite the fact that his preferred candidate came in second in Alabama's Republican Senate primary yesterday, Donald Trump this morning took credit for Sen. Luther Strange (R) picking up "a lot of additional support" thanks to the presidential endorsement.

* It looks like some Texas lines will need to be redrawn: "Federal judges invalidated two Texas congressional districts Tuesday, ruling that they must be fixed by either the Legislature or a federal court. A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act."

* Trump's re-election campaign announced this morning that the president will host a rally in celebration of himself in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday. It's worth noting that Phoenix is in Maricopa County. I wonder if Joe Arpaio will be on hand to pick up a presidential pardon?

* A new national Marist poll shows the president's approval rating dropping to 35%, Trump's lowest support in this poll to date. He fared better in the latest Monmouth University poll, which put Trump's support at 41%.

* The National Republican Senatorial Committee has launched a new ad campaign in Montana this week, attacking Sen. Jon Tester (D) for partnering with "ultra-liberal" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

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Trump claims with a straight face he needs 'facts' before speaking

08/16/17 11:20AM

It was hardly the most important thing Donald Trump said at yesterday's press conference, but when the president was asked why it took so long for him to denounce white supremacists after Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, he launched a rant about the value he places on accuracy.

"I didn't wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me. And it's a very important statement.

"So, I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.... When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn't even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts."

How reporters in attendance didn't burst into immediate laughter remains something of a mystery.

Look, I'm not even going to talk about the astonishing number of lies Donald Trump tells on a nearly daily basis, contradicting the idea that he "likes to be correct" when speaking. In this case, we can instead narrow the focus to instances in which the president rushed to make statements in response to violence and suspected attacks -- often without having any idea what he was saying, occasionally pointing to attacks that didn't actually happen.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un salutes during a visit to the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces on the occasion of the new year, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Jan. 10, 2016. Photo by KCNA/Reuters

Why the North Korean crisis has suddenly cooled

08/16/17 10:40AM

It was literally last week when the United States appeared to be confronting a nuclear crisis with North Korea. Sebastian Gorka, a top White House adviser on national security, told a national television audience, "This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis."

There were days last week that some of us woke up and quickly checked the news to see if any missiles had launched while we were sleeping.

And yet, North Korea is no longer front-page news. In fact, Donald Trump held a press conference yesterday, and no one thought to ask any questions about the burgeoning crisis, since it didn't seem especially important.

So how is it, exactly, that a week ago today a White House official compared the circumstances to the Cuban missile crisis, and now the story is an afterthought? Zack Beauchamp made a compelling case that the American president got distracted -- which turned out to be a very positive development for international stability.

Experts think this deescalation -- what analyst Robert Carlin calls "a decisive break in the action" -- happened in part because the president's focus has been on Charlottesville since Friday night.

"The media (and the president) was distracted over the weekend, which gave some breathing space for the situation," Jenny Town, the assistant director of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins, tells me.

It's important to understand what made last week scary. North Korean bluster wasn't new; Kim Jong-un's threats against Guam weren't new; and intelligence pointing to advances in the regime's nuclear capabilities weren't entirely new. As Rachel explained on the show last week, what changed the equation was Donald Trump and his alliterative tirades.

The more the American president threw around phrases about "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded," the more serious the crisis became. What everyone needed to improve the security environment was for Trump to simply stop talking.

Or in this case, to start talking about something else.

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Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla.  (Joe Raedle/Getty)

An important 'Obamacare' problem starts to disappear

08/16/17 10:00AM

Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act thought they'd finally identified a serious problem with the current system: several U.S. counties found themselves without a private insurer participating in exchange marketplaces. Some began calling it the ACA's "bald spot" problem: consumers in those areas might be ready to buy coverage, but their options no longer exist.

As of yesterday, however, what was poised to be a big problem became a much smaller one. The New York Times reported:

A few months ago, it looked as if large swaths of the country might end up without any insurers willing to sell Obamacare insurance in 2018. But in the last few weeks the "bare county" problem, which President Trump had cited as a sign the markets were failing, has nearly solved itself.

On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada announced that Centene would offer insurance in 14 rural counties of Nevada that had been bare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation maintains a national map showing counties at risk of having no participating private insurer, and as of now, that map shows just two counties: one in Wisconsin and another in Ohio. The number of affected consumers is just 381 people.

This is not to say that those folks are unimportant. There are steps the states can and should take to help those areas, and I hope those 381 people get a hand, sooner rather than later.

But for months, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have pointed to the "bald spots" as evidence of a systemic crisis for "Obamacare." But in a country of over 3,000 counties, just two are now facing this problem -- not 2 percent, just two individual counties.

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A statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest sits on a concrete pedestal at a park named after the confederate cavalryman in Memphis Tenn. (Photo by Adrian Sainz/AP).

What Trump struggles to understand about Confederate statues

08/16/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump unleashed several tirades yesterday in defense of racist protesters, but he seemed especially interested in expressing support for torch-wielding activists who rallied in support of a Robert E. Lee statue. From yesterday's unhinged press conference:

"[Y[ou take a look at some of the groups and you see -- and you'd know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not -- but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

"So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you all -- you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

This president doesn't just draw an equivalence between racists and their opponents, he also draws an equivalence between America's founders and those who went to war against the United States.

I rather doubt Trump has given this much thought, or has any meaningful familiarity with the history, but given his rant, it's worth taking a moment to set the record straight.

There is no meaningful comparison between George Washington and Confederate leaders. Yes, Washington, Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers had important flaws, and often fell short of their own principles, but they didn't commit treason. They didn't try to kill Americans on the battlefield. They didn't wage war against the United States in order to protect the ability to buy and sell human beings.

And so, memorials to their public contributions are secure.

We can also go a step further and acknowledge that the point of these Confederate statues has long been racist. The Southern Poverty Law Center published a report documenting when these statues were erected, and it wasn't immediately after the Civil War.

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

On Primary Day in Alabama, things don't go GOP leaders' way

08/16/17 08:40AM

Republican leaders, including Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had a plan for Alabama's U.S. Senate special election: go all in for appointed Sen. Luther Strange and propel him to victory on Primary Day.

GOP voters in the state had a different plan.

Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will meet in a runoff next month to determine who will earn the GOP nomination to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Senate seat, the Associated Press projected Tuesday.

Moore cruised to a first-place finish in the Republican side of the special Senate primary, getting 39.8 percent of the vote with 86 percent of the state's precincts reporting. Strange, the incumbent who received the backing of President Donald Trump, came in second, with 32.1 percent of the vote.

Moore and Strange will face off again in six weeks, in a Sept. 26 primary runoff.

And that makes Republican leaders nervous for a reason. Roy Moore, who was twice removed from the state bench for ethics violations, would be a constant source of annoyance for the Senate GOP, which is largely why McConnell and his team have worked so hard on Strange's behalf. Nevertheless, the former state Supreme Court chief justice now looks like the favorite.

For Trump, who recently became an enthusiastic cheerleader for Strange, Moore's success suggests the president's influence is waning -- even in a state he won last fall by nearly 30 points -- which is likely to affect how he's perceived on Capitol Hill between now and the 2018 midterms.

But while the Republican primary made most of the headlines, let's not overlook the Democratic primary.

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Image: Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York

Trump creates a 'moral reckoning' for his Republican Party

08/16/17 08:00AM

The lede in the New York Times' report on Donald Trump's press conference yesterday reads like a dystopian nightmare.

President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations -- equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Never has he gone as far in defending their actions as he did during a wild, street-corner shouting match of a news conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and "Trump/Pence" signs.

This is the world we live in now -- one in which a sitting president of the United States publicly praises racist activists as "very fine people" who've been treated "unfairly" by journalists.

It's a moment of national shame, but it's also the basis for a challenge to Donald Trump's partisan allies: what exactly does the Republican Party intend to do with its president in the face of such a scandal?

Steve Schmidt, a longtime GOP strategist, said on the show last night that this is "a seminal moment" for the party. "There can be no equivocation here; the moral failure is complete and it's almost irredeemable," Schmidt explained. "The Republican leaders have to condemn the president for this false equivocation directly by name. They have to censure him, or they risk sliding into a moral abyss with him." He added that this issue forces "a moral reckoning."

And yet, no one can say with confidence what, if anything, will happen.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.15.17

08/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm still trying to catch my breath: "President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that the counter-protesters demonstrating against white nationalism were also to blame for the violence at race-fueled riots in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend."

* He's quite a social media wiz: "President Donald Trump took about 20 minutes to delete a pair of tweets on Tuesday morning -- one in which a user called the president a 'fascist' and another showing a train with Trump's name on it running over the CNN logo."

* After this afternoon, I expect more rebukes along these lines: "Walmart's chief executive has issued a strong rebuke of President Trump's response to the protests that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., saying the president 'missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together.'"

* Quite a sight in Durham: "Chanting 'No K.K.K., no fascist U.S.A.,' the protesters slung a rope around the Confederate soldier's neck and pulled. The crowd stepped back, out of the way, and the soldier came crashing to the ground in a heap of crumpled metal."

* Trump-Russia: "Three days after Donald Trump named his campaign foreign policy team in March 2016, the youngest of the new advisers sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: 'Meeting with Russian Leadership - Including Putin.' The adviser, George Papadopoulos, offered to set up 'a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump,' telling them his Russian contacts welcomed the opportunity, according to internal campaign emails read to The Washington Post."

* Boston: "For the second time this summer, the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized when a 17-year-old allegedly threw a rock Monday evening through one of the glass panels, shattering it."

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