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Image: FILE PHOTO -  U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during rally in Denver

After Trump's warning, McCain says, 'I have faced tougher adversaries'

10/18/17 10:02AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center on Monday night, and delivered remarks that sounded like a not-so-subtle shot at Donald Trump. The veteran senator said that "some half-baked, spurious nationalism" should be considered "as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."

Asked yesterday whether this was a rebuke of his party's president, McCain added that he was really referring to "America Firsters" -- which only reinforced impressions that Trump and his followers were his intended targets.

As the Washington Post reported, the president was asked about this during a radio interview yesterday.

"People have to be careful because at some point, I fight back," Trump said in an interview Tuesday with WMAL, a D.C. radio station.

"I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won't be pretty," Trump said.

Soon after, McCain didn't sound overly concerned about the president's warnings. "I have faced tougher adversaries," he said of Trump.

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Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

Trump's boasts about ISIS crumble under scrutiny

10/18/17 09:20AM

By any fair measure, ISIS is on a losing streak. As Rachel noted on last night's show, ISIS militants have suffered a series of setbacks and defeats in places such as Dabiq, Mosul and Raqqa, offering hope that the network is on its heels.

Take a wild guess who wants credit.

President Trump gave himself a pat on the back during an interview Tuesday, taking credit for the Islamic State "giving up." U.S.-backed forces liberated Raqqa, Syria, on Tuesday, seizing ISIS's de facto capital, and Trump declared his strong leadership was the reason.

During the interview on The Chris Plante Show, a talk show hosted by Plante and broadcast in Washington, D.C., Trump claimed that the U.S. was losing the war on terror before his administration took charge. CNN notes that Trump has applauded himself before for efforts against ISIS, glossing over the fact that operations in Iraq and Syria began under former President Barack Obama.

Asked why ISIS is "giving up," Trump immediately praised himself. "Because you didn't have Trump as your president," he replied.

To be sure, this isn't surprising in the least -- he'd take credit for the sunrise if he thought he could get away with it -- but whether the White House likes it or not, reality keeps getting in the way.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump's confusion puts bipartisan health care compromise at risk

10/18/17 08:41AM

Bipartisan compromises on Capitol Hill aren't especially common, so the news out of D.C. yesterday afternoon understandably caused a stir. The top two lawmakers on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy -- Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced the outline of an important agreement that would undo some of the systemic damage done by Donald Trump.

The basic contours of the Alexander/Murray deal are pretty straightforward: Democrats would get funding for cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments through 2019 and renewed investments in ACA outreach programs, while Republicans would get expanded state flexibility and lower eligibility standards for catastrophic plans. Essential health benefits under the existing law would remain unchanged.

While there are still some details to be worked out, all things considered, it's a good, bipartisan package. The plan is probably too late to help consumers in the short term who've already been hurt by Trump's antics, but it would it nevertheless help bring some stability to markets that need it.

The question, however, is whether it can pass. The answer may depend on the wishes of the president who created the mess Alexander and Murray are trying to clean up.

So, what does Donald Trump think of the compromise? It depends on the day and time you ask him -- because at this point, he's starting to sound a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

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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's call to slain soldier's widow sparks controversy

10/18/17 08:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reported that White House aides felt anxiety over what Donald Trump might say (or tweet) about the mass murders. They were nervous, of course, because of the president's "troubled track record in such delicate moments."

As the AP explained, "Trump often has had difficulty embracing a central role of the American presidency: consoling people dealing with intense grief."

There's a growing body of evidence to bolster the point.

A Florida congresswoman said that the family of a U.S. service member killed in Niger was "astonished" when President Donald Trump suggested in a phone call that the soldier "must've known what he signed up for."

Rep. Frederica Wilson told NBC Miami that she heard the president's comment to Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow, Myeshia, on speaker phone as they traveled together to meet his body on Tuesday.

"He said, 'But you know he must've known what he signed up for,'" the Democrat recounted Trump saying more than once during the call to express his sympathy. According to Wilson, the conversation lasted somewhere from three to five minutes.

Myeshia Johnson has not yet spoken publicly about the call, and the White House declined to discuss the conversation, telling NBC News it's "private." For his part, Trump wrote on Twitter this morning, "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" (The last time he claimed to have "tapes" of a private conversation, he was lying.)

Nevertheless, if the Democratic congresswoman's account is accurate, it fits into a larger pattern in which the president's capacity for human empathy is in doubt.

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Statement on DHS nominee Kirstjen Nielsen

10/17/17 09:02PM

Statement to The Rachel Maddow Show from Blain Rethmeier, who is assisting Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen in her confirmation process:

“Ms. Nielsen’s role in the response to Katrina has been vastly overstated by the media.  As a policy director, she was responsible for coordinating policy and information flow. After she left the White House, she took the lessons of Katrina and put them to good use.  First she worked with Fran Townsend to draft the Katrina Lessons Learned Review that objectively looked at many of the flaws in the state, local and federal response. Second, she worked with members on the Hill to draft the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that radically improved the way the Federal Government is structured to respond to major disasters. And finally, she worked to develop the National Response Framework, from which all major disasters are addressed.”  

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.17.17

10/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another legal setback for Team Trump: "Hours before it was to take effect, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order on Tuesday blocking, for now, President Trump's third attempt at a travel ban. It would have indefinitely stopped almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the Muslim-majority nations included in his original travel ban."

* Staggering death toll keeps rising in Somalia: "More than 300 people were killed by twin bomb explosions in Mogadishu, an official said on Monday, as locals packed hospitals in search of friends and relatives caught by Somalia's deadliest attack in a decade."

* Trump-Russia scandal: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents and testimony from Michael G. Flynn, the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but has not received a response, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News."

* Puerto Rico: "President Donald Trump said military personnel assisting in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts 'shouldn't have to be' distributing food in Puerto Rico, again casting the U.S. territory's challenges as partially self-inflicted during a Monday press conference."

* Brexit was a spectacularly bad idea: "Brexit threatens to reopen wounds in Northern Ireland, where the physical border was a flashpoint during the 30-year conflict known as 'the Troubles.'"

* Once again, you don't need military commissions to try suspected terrorists: "A Manhattan jury needed less than four hours to find terror bomber Ahmad Rahimi guilty of detonating a shrapnel-packed bomb that injured 30 people last year on a terrifying night in Chelsea."

* More on this tomorrow: "An emotional Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) launched a thinly veiled critique of President Trump's global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn 'people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.'"

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Trump clarifies one of his favorite lies (but ends up lying again)

10/17/17 04:12PM

For quite a while, on a nearly daily basis, Donald Trump claims that the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world." And every time he repeats the line, reality-based observers remind the president that he's lying, which apparently has no effect on him, since he keeps saying it anyway.

This morning, reporter Mike Sacks asked Trump why he keeps publicly pushing a line he knows to be objectively false.

SACKS: With the credibility you need to pass tax reform, why do you--

TRUMP: Some people say it differently, and they'll say we're the highest developed nation taxed in the world.

SACKS: And why don't you say it that way?

TRUMP: Because a lot of people know exactly what I'm talking about it and in many cases, they think I'm right when I say the highest. As far as I'm concerned, I think we're really essentially the highest, but if you'd like to add the "developed nation," you can say that too. But a lot of people agree that the way I'm saying it is exactly correct.

What we're left with is a situation in which the president has tried to clarify a lie by telling new lies, which is almost impressive in its own exasperating way.

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Trump remains focused on Obama, calls to fallen soldiers' families

10/17/17 12:52PM

The ostensible point of Donald Trump's press event at the White House yesterday was for the president to make the case that his presidency is succeeding, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. But the message ended up focusing on one thing that made Trump look even worse than usual.

Nearly two weeks after four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, a reporter asked Trump yesterday why he's been silent on the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since he took office. The president responded by answering a question he wasn't asked: Trump said he, unlike Barack Obama and his other predecessors, likes to call the loved ones of Americans killed in action. (Trump hadn't actually called these families, and letters he claims to have written hadn't been sent.)

Reminded that he was brazenly lying, Trump soon after conceded that he didn't know whether Obama called these families or not.

Today, facing criticism, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to keep the story alive for another news cycle.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his false claim that his predecessor didn't call the families of soldiers killed in action by alluding to former Gen. John Kelly's son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan.

"You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" Trump said in a radio interview with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade.

Something Rachel said on the show last night struck me as important. "If there's one thing a country should keep faith about, it's the thanks and respect to the family of people who gave their lives for this country... If there is anything that everybody can agree should be taken seriously and treated with solemnity and respect, it must be this."

I desperately wish the current president of the United States agreed. Evidently, he does not.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.17.17

10/17/17 12:00PM

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

* After blaming Senate Republicans for undermining his agenda, Donald Trump said yesterday he'll try to dissuade Steve Bannon from launching primary campaigns against several Senate Republican incumbents.

* Trump also returned to the campaign trail again yesterday, appearing at a South Carolina golf resort to help raise money for Gov. Henry McMaster (R), the nation's first statewide officeholder to endorse Trump during the 2016 GOP primaries.

* With only three weeks remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, two new statewide polls show Ralph Northam (D) leading Ed Gillespie (R) by four and six points, respectively. And while that probably offers hope to Dems in the commonwealth, it's worth remembering that four years ago, statewide polls overstated Democratic support by a few points.

* And speaking of this year's gubernatorial races, a new Stockton University poll in New Jersey shows Phil Murphy (D) holding onto his significant advantage over Kim Guadagno (R), 51% to 33%.

* Add the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the list of Republican-friendly groups that aren't backing Roy Moore's U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama.

* The extremist candidate nevertheless continues to pick up support from GOP partisans, including new endorsements from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both of whom ostensibly represent the party's more libertarian wing.

* Though most recent polling shows Democrats with a 7-to-10-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot, a new CNN poll points to an even bigger lead of Dems: 51% to 37%.

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrival ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

NAFTA negotiations aren't exactly going well for Team Trump

10/17/17 11:20AM

In the spring, as Donald Trump's presidency reached the 100-day mark, he was reportedly looking for some kind of bold and dramatic action -- and he settled on canceling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) As Trump acknowledged in April, "I was all set to terminate. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it."

As we've discussed, this obviously didn't happen, thanks in large part to conversations the American president had with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Instead, officials from the three North American countries are engaged in ongoing talks to update the trade agreement, and by all accounts, the NAFTA negotiations aren't going especially well, and already expected to go well beyond their original deadline. The CBC reported this morning on one of the problems plaguing the process:

The source says it appears some members of the U.S. delegation are uncomfortable with the demands they are presenting, which appear to have been dictated to them by the Trump administration.

"They don't like what they are doing," says the source, who was not authorized to speak about the talks on the record.

There also appears to be a sense of confusion about the overall U.S. vision for NAFTA and who is really running the show.

I haven't seen comparable reports from U.S. news outlets, but this story out of Canada is very easy to believe.

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