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Image: GOP Congressional Candidate Greg Gianforte Campaigns In Great Falls, MT

Montana's Gianforte draws mild GOP rebukes following violent incident

05/25/17 12:56PM

It seems a little too easy to under-react to last night's developments in Montana. On the eve of the state's congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte, who said he'd take a position on his party's health care plan once a CBO score was available, was approached by a reporter to ask for his stance. The candidate appears to have assaulted that reporter, sending him to the hospital.

Gianforte's campaign was then caught lying about the incident, making claims that were clearly contradicted by an audio recording of what transpired.

NBC News' First Read team wrote this morning, "What is wrong with our politics? It's shameful that ANYONE considers this good strategy. Also in this current state of politics -- where winning is everything -- there is notable silence from the Republican Party. A little bit more of our democracy was weakened last night.... Don't we deserve better than this?"

While GOP officials had very little to say last night as the story unfolded, we started hearing some comments this morning. Most of reactions fall into the "violence is wrong, but..." category.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for example, was quoted by the Associated Press saying, "It's not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it." Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) denounced violence, but said "the left" has "precipitated this tense, confrontational approach" nationwide. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went further, but even his concerns came with a caveat.
"I do not think this is acceptable behavior, but the choice will be made by the people of Montana," Ryan said during a press conference in Washington.

"There is no time when a physical altercation should occur with the press and just between human beings. So that is wrong and it just should not have happened.... I think he should apologize."
It's the "but the choice will be made by the people of Montana" part of the answer that stood out for me.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.25.17

05/25/17 12:00PM

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

* In Montana's congressional special election, which is today, Republican Greg Gianforte said he'd publicly take a position on his party's far-right health care plan once the Congressional Budget Office's score came out. Last night, however, when asked about the CBO report, Gianforte sent the inquiring reporter to the hospital.

* On a related note, Donald Trump recorded a newly released robocall in support of Gianforte, describing him as a "wonderful guy."

* In a new Fox News poll, Trump's approval rating is down to 40%, dropping five points since last month's poll. His disapproval rating is now up to 53%, climbing five points since April.

* Speaking of polling, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows the president's approval rating down to 37%. The same survey found that a 54% majority believe Trump is abusing the powers of his office.

* Mike Pence headlined a political rally in Louisiana yesterday and touted the White House's far-right budget.

* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), apparently worried about his political standing, has agreed to host a local event on June 5, but only "a select group of constituents" have received invitations, and these guests have been provided with "a special promotional code" to obtain tickets.
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Image: File Photo: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing

Betsy DeVos struggles to defend taxpayer-subsidized discrimination

05/25/17 11:25AM

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is having an interesting week. On Monday, for example, the Republican opponent of public education argued that "defenders of current system" of education are "flat-earthers." I don't think she was kidding.

Yesterday, DeVos was on Capitol Hill, testifying at a House Appropriations subcommittee, where the education secretary was eager to defend Donald Trump's budget request for directing taxpayer money to private and parochial schools. Most of the hearing went about as one might expect, but an exchange between DeVos and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) was of particular interest, because it focused on the voucher movement's Achilles' heel: taxpayer-subsidized discrimination.

Slate had a good piece on what transpired:
Clark used Bloomington, Indiana's Lighthouse Christian Academy as an example. The school currently gets more than $665,000 in state funding through a school voucher program, Clark said. It also openly reserves the right to deny admittance to any student in a family where there is "homosexual or bisexual activity" or family members who practice "alternate gender identity." If Indiana applies for federal funding for schools like these, Clark asked DeVos, would her Department of Education require them to stop discriminating against LGBTQ students and families?

DeVos didn't say yes or no. She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. "The states set up the rules," she said. "I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs."
The Massachusetts Democrat reminded DeVos that the Department of Education is "the backstop for students and the right to access a quality education." Asked whether she'd be prepared to prevent discrimination with federal funds, DeVos was non-committal.

In fact, the Slate piece added, the education secretary "declined to provide even one example of any kind of discrimination that might preclude a school from receiving federal funding."
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Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Why Ben Carson's bizarre perspective on poverty matters

05/25/17 10:46AM

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's propensity for saying ridiculous things has become the stuff of legend. It was, after all, just two months ago that Carson, the retired brain surgeon who was put in charge of a cabinet agency he knew nothing about, insisted that slaves should be seen as "involuntary immigrants."

Yesterday on SiriusXM Radio, Carson added to his greatest-hits collection, which is notable in its own right, but which is even more important when considered in a broader policy context.
"If everybody had a mother like mine, nobody would be in poverty," Carson started. "She was a person who absolutely would not accept status of victim."

Carson said it's mind over matter. "I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind," said Carson. "You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee you in a little while they'll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they'll work their way right back down to the bottom."
This is not an argument that anyone should take seriously. The causes of chronic, generational poverty are complex, but "the wrong mindset" isn't among them.

But Carson's comments nevertheless offered a peek into an important perspective. Just this week, Donald Trump's official White House budget was unveiled, and it laid a brutal blueprint, with needlessly cruel cuts to programs that benefit the nation's most vulnerable communities.
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Blake Farenthold, Chris Matthews - 09/20/2013

GOP's Farenthold relies on 'stuff circulating on the internet'

05/25/17 10:09AM

About a year ago, an Ohio man rushed the stage where Donald Trump was speaking, prompting Secret Service agents to intervene to protect the Republican candidate. The then-candidate soon after claimed the man has ties to ISIS, pointing to online evidence that turned out to be a hoax.

On "Meet the Press," NBC News' Chuck Todd asked the Republican about his willingness to substantiate odds claims with bogus proof. "I don't know," Trump replied. "What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the internet."

It's a sentiment that's become a little too common among Republicans.

This week, for example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was asked about his role in peddling the garbage conspiracy theory about Seth Rich's murder. "I don't know anything about it," Gingrich said of the story he's been commenting on. "I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites."

All of which led to Rep. Blake Farenthold's (R-Tex.) appearance on CNN yesterday. The Washington Post reported:
Farenthold was suggesting that questions about any link between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian actors was "deflecting away from some other things that we need to be investigating in."

"There's still some question," he said, "as to whether the intrusion at the server was an insider job or whether or not it was the Russians."

CNN's John Berman interrupted. "I'm sorry," he said. "The insider job -- what are you referring to here? I hope it's not this information that Fox News just refused to be reporting."

"Again, there's stuff circulating on the Internet," Farenthold said.
For the far-right Texan -- a chair and vice-chair of several congressional subcommittees -- that's good enough.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump blurts out classified info again, worrying Pentagon officials

05/25/17 09:20AM

When Donald Trump chatted with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, it was unsettling enough that the American leader started their conversation with unprompted praise for Duterte's extra-judicial killings. But we now know that Trump also decided to tell Duterte that the United States dispatched two nuclear submarines, which are off the coast of the Korean peninsula.

BuzzFeed reported that some in the Defense Department are less than pleased.
Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.

"We never talk about subs!" three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission.
The Atlantic's James Fallows added that countries like China and Russia are likely to exploit the revelation, going back and calibrating their sensors accordingly for future detection.

Some may want to be charitable, cutting the amateur president some slack because he doesn't have any background in or understanding of sensitive intelligence, but let's not forget that this is the second time -- that we know of -- that Trump has been caught sharing classified information with a foreign country for no apparent reason.

The significance of a story like this goes well beyond marveling at Trump's ineptitude. As the president develops a reputation as someone who's recklessly blurting out secrets to foreigners, it's easy to imagine our allies abroad withholding intelligence from U.S. officials, U.S. officials withholding intelligence from the White House, or both.
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Image: Jeff Sessions

AG Jeff Sessions faces new disclosure questions in Russia scandal

05/25/17 08:40AM

We learned in March that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with a Russian official during the presidential campaign, despite saying the opposite while under oath. Much to Donald Trump’s chagrin, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into the Russia scandal soon after.

That did not, however, resolve the controversy. Many Democratic members of Congress called on Sessions to resign -- some even accused him of perjury -- and raised questions that remain unanswered. (Those questions recently took a turn when Sessions played a role in FBI Director James Comey's firing, a move that seemed to conflict with his stated recusal.)

For his part, the far-right attorney general has tried to steer clear of the controversies, but as this CNN report makes clear, the controversies are following him anyway.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.

Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn't note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list "any contact" he or his family had with a "foreign government" or its "representatives" over the past seven years, officials said.
There are two important angles to a story like this one. First is the pattern that's emerged on Donald Trump's team: Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Jeff Sessions all played leading roles on Trump's campaign; all met with Russian officials during Russia's attack on the U.S. election, all were required to disclose those interactions, and all failed to do so.

And at this point, Team Trump hasn't explained why.
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Image: GOP Candidate In Montana's Special Congressional Election Greg Gianforte Campaigns In Missoula

Republican candidate faces assault charge on eve of Montana election

05/25/17 08:00AM

Politics may have a reputation for being a rough-and-tumble business -- "politics ain't beanbag" endures as a cliché for a reason -- but at least in the United States, physical altercations and violence is exceedingly rare.

Three years ago, for example, then-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) made headlines for threatening to kill a reporter who bothered him, which seemed shocking enough, even though the GOP congressman never actually touched the journalist.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, the latest developments in Montana are altogether different.
A Montana sheriff has issued a citation for misdemeanor assault against Republican U.S. House candidate Greg Gianforte after a newspaper reporter said the politician "body slammed" him, an account that was backed up by witnesses.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said Gianforte was issued a citation Wednesday night. The incident occurred on the eve of Thursday's special election in which Gianforte faces a Democratic opponent for the state's open House seat.

Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs was covering an event in Bozeman and tweeted the encounter at about 7 p.m. ET.
Not long after police arrived on the scene, the Gianforte campaign issued a written statement, insisting that it was the reporter who instigated the confrontation with "aggressive" behavior, and it was the candidate who'd been assaulted by Jacobs. An audio recording of the incident made clear that this account was not true.

In other words, Gianforte not only sent a reporter to the hospital, the Republican's campaign was then caught lying about it.

Montana's three largest newspapers had already endorsed Gianforte's candidacy -- a point of pride that the GOP candidate has emphasized in his advertising -- but this morning, each of the papers' editorial boards rescinded those endorsements. The Billings Gazette's piece was especially notable: "If what was heard on tape and described by eye-witnesses is accurate, the incident in Bozeman is nothing short of assault. We wouldn't condone it if it happened on the street. We wouldn't condone it if it happened in a home or even a late-night bar fight. And we couldn't accept it from a man who is running to become Montana's lone Congressional representative. We will not stand by that kind of violence, period."
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