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Trump picks the wrong issue to target Alabama's Doug Jones

11/22/17 10:06AM

The day before Virginia's gubernatorial election, Donald Trump lashed out at then-candidate Ralph Northam (D) as being "weak" on veterans -- despite the fact that Northam, unlike Trump, actually is a veteran, serving honorably in the Army for eight years.

So why is it, exactly, Trump pursued this line of attack? Probably because he thought it sounded good. There are a lot of veterans in the commonwealth, so Trump likely made the attack, without concern for whether it made sense or not, in the hopes that it'd encourage veterans to vote Republican.

I thought of this yesterday watching the president go after Doug Jones' (D) Senate candidacy in Alabama.

"I can tell you one thing for sure: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat -- Jones. I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime.... I can tell you for a fact, we do not need somebody that's going to be bad on crime."

Asked soon after if he intends to campaign in support of Roy Moore, the president added, "I'll be letting you know next week, but I can tell you, you don't need somebody who's soft on crime, like Jones."

Let's pause for a moment to take stock. Doug Jones is a former federal prosecutor -- a role in which he went after criminals. He's perhaps best known for convicting a pair of KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which left four children dead.

Roy Moore, who's been accused of sexual assault, is an alleged child molester. Up until two weeks ago, he was best known for having been removed from the bench -- twice -- for ignoring federal court rulings he disagreed with.

In Trump's mind, one of these two men are "soft on crime" -- and it's not the one common sense is pointing at.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

'Putin's favorite congressman' received a Kremlin code name

11/22/17 09:20AM

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who's been described as "Putin's favorite congressman," has earned quite a reputation. In a closed-door event last year, for example, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told GOP lawmakers, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."

The House GOP leadership later said McCarthy was kidding. Of course, if it didn't reflect Republicans' thinking, officials in the room wouldn't have laughed.

Keep this anecdote in mind when reading the New York Times' latest reporting on the California congressman.

For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name.

The following year, the California Republican became even more valuable, assuming the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that oversees Russia policy. [...]

Mr. Rohrabacher has laughed off suggestions that he is a Russian asset, and said in an interview that he did not remember being briefed that the Russians viewed him as a source. The F.B.I. and the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee sat Mr. Rohrabacher down in the Capitol in 2012 to warn him that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, according to two former intelligence officials.

"I remember them telling me, 'You have been targeted to be recruited as an agent,'" Rohrabacher told the Times. "How stupid is that?"

I don't know, big guy. You're the one with a Kremlin code name, so maybe you should tell us.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Despite the risks, Murkowski backs ACA mandate repeal

11/22/17 08:40AM

When Senate Republican leaders added the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to their tax plan, it looked like an enormous gamble. After all, the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were derailed by bipartisan opposition, and by tying tax cuts for the wealthy to health care policy, it raised the prospect of greater opposition to the latest Republican gambit.

But that only works if the GOP senators who helped rescue the health care system over the summer are willing to do so again now. Evidently, that may not be the case.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would support repealing the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance mandate, giving a potential boost to the Republican effort to pass a massive tax cut package next week.

"I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy, in order to avoid being taxed," Murkowski wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Let's back up for a minute in order to better understand the landscape here. The original Republican plan was to overhaul the federal tax code in order to benefit the wealthy and corporations, but the effort ran into trouble when GOP officials couldn't get their numbers to add up. They needed more money to cover the cost of a permanent corporate tax break.

At Donald Trump's urging, Republicans determined they could repeal the "Obamacare" individual mandate and have an additional $338 billion over the next decade to pay for more tax breaks. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, for the right, this represented the best of both worlds: the GOP could gut the health care law they love to hate, and at the same time, they could redirect that money to finance tax cuts.

There was, however, a catch: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office explained to lawmakers that repealing the ACA's individual mandate would destabilize the insurance market, force many consumers to pay higher premiums, and end coverage for 13 million Americans over the next decade.

The result was effectively a caricature of Montgomery Burns-style policymaking: Republicans are pursuing a plan that would leave millions of families without health security, disproportionately hurt the poor, all in the hopes of redistributing wealth from the bottom up.

As of yesterday, Lisa Murkowski isn't yet prepared to say no to this.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Trump World has big changes in mind for your internet access

11/22/17 08:00AM

When Donald Trump chose a fierce opponent of net neutrality to lead the Federal Communications Commission, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before the very idea of an open internet came under fire.

As Americans get ready for Thanksgiving, Trump's FCC chief decided yesterday would be a good time to announce a major change to how the country will access online content.

The FCC's mission -- essentially gutting the internet as we know it -- would allow service providers to create so-called fast and slow lanes for subscribers.

Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, announced on Tuesday a plan to put an end to what he called the federal government's "micromanaging" of the internet. Details of the proposal will be released on Wednesday, three weeks before it will be put to a vote by the FCC on Dec. 14.

It's important to understand that what Pai describes as "micromanagement" are existing safeguards, established by the Obama administration, mandating that all online content be treated equally by service providers. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has long opposed those safeguards, and Donald Trump has empowered him to rewrite the rules.

You may not have realized last year that your internet access was on the presidential ballot, but it was, and we're now facing a rather severe elections-have-consequences moment.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.21.17

11/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Zimbabwe: "Robert Mugabe, the world's oldest ruler, resigned as Zimbabwe's president on Tuesday, signaling the final end of his decades in power after last week's military coup."

* A tragic story gets worse: "Four weeks after his funeral, more remains of slain U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson have been identified, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday. The remains were retrieved from the spot near the village of Tongo Tongo, Niger, where Johnson and three other American soldiers were ambushed and killed on Oct. 4 by ISIS-linked militants."

* Net neutrality: "Everything from the way you use banking apps to the speed of your Netflix stream could soon be changing, if all goes to plan for the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC's mission -- essentially gutting the internet as we know it -- would allow service providers to create so-called fast and slow lanes for subscribers."

* Rose destroyed his career: "Talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose was fired Tuesday by CBS News, PBS and Bloomberg in the wake of eight women accusing him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances in a report in The Washington Post."

* Franken, meanwhile, is not without defenders: "Three dozen women who worked with Sen. Al Franken during his tenure on 'Saturday Night Live' came out in defense of the Minnesota Democrat facing allegations of sexual misconduct."

* Uber didn't need more bad publicity: "Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing company ousted Joe Sullivan, chief security officer, and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps."

* If you thought Brett Talley's judicial nomination couldn't look worse, think again.

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Trump contradicts White House line, defends Alabama's Roy Moore

11/21/17 04:35PM

Donald Trump has said effectively nothing about Alabama Roy Moore (R) and his sexual-misconduct scandal, but on the White House's South Lawn this afternoon, the president finally addressed the controversy:

REPORTER: What is your message to women, sir, during this pivotal moment in our country, when we're talking about sexual misconduct -- you had your own allegations against you -- what do you say to women...

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it.

Note the disconnect between the question and the answer.

Specifically on the Senate race in Alabama -- which is three weeks from today -- the president seemed pleased to note that Moore's accusers are "Trump voters," leading him to add, "All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do."

For the record, I haven't the foggiest idea what that means.

But then Trump dropped the pretense. "I can tell you one thing for sure," he told reporters. "We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat. Jones."

Asked if "an accused child molester better than a Democrat," the president replied, "Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it."

In other words, Trump doesn't believe any of the women who've accused Moore -- even if they are "Trump voters."

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

In Russia scandal, Kushner finds himself in an awkward spot

11/21/17 02:19PM

To paraphrase a Simon Maloy joke, if I had a dime for every time Jared Kushner failed to disclose pertinent information, Republicans would try to give me a tax cut.

Vox had a good piece along these lines yesterday, rounding up every instance in which Donald Trump's powerful son-in-law kept hidden information he was supposed to share. The piece explained, "Jared Kushner insists he's got nothing to hide when it comes to Russia. Yet he keeps failing to disclose things that raise real questions about whether he tried to collude with Moscow during the campaign -- and whether he's been trying to cover it up ever since."

As Rachel noted on last night's show, this NBC News report from the weekend is of particular importance.

One source familiar with Kushner's testimony before congressional intelligence committees said he specifically denied, under oath, that he was familiar with any attempts by WikiLeaks to contact the campaign.

But, according to the source, Kushner was sent an email by Trump Jr. about his conversations on Twitter with WikiLeaks, which were first disclosed by the Atlantic this week. Kushner forwarded an email about the WikiLeaks conversations to communications director Hope Hicks, the source said. A second source familiar with Kushner's testimony did not dispute that account.

Well, that makes it sound as if Kushner wasn't exactly forthcoming during sworn testimony to Congress.

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People walk along Madison Avenue on Nov. 1, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump's eyes radical choice for the Census Bureau

11/21/17 01:02PM

The Census, conducted every 10 years by constitutional mandate, is one of those incredible important tasks that most people probably find rather dull. That's a shame because getting this right has an enormous impact on everything from federal spending to representation in Congress.

With that in mind, it was disappointing when Census Bureau Director John Thompson, in the midst of a funding fight, decided to resign unexpectedly in May. Making matters worse, we're just now getting a look at the replacement Donald Trump apparently has in mind. Politico reports:

The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau's plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled "Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America."

Some Trump personal choices are alarming, some are disheartening, and some belong in the you-have-got-to-be-kidding me category.

As Slate explained earlier this year, "The decennial census is critical to ensuring that Americans are fairly represented in Washington, since it's used as the basis for congressional redistricting. A mishandled census could undercount poor and minority populations, putting some states and many cities at a demographic disadvantage."

It's against this backdrop that Trump is eyeing someone who has not only played a direct role in helping Republican gerrymandering efforts, but who quite literally wrote a book criticizing competitive elections.

What's more, as Politico's report added, "The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics."

And before you start wondering about whether enough senators can be swayed to block Brunell, that's not how this process will work: Trump simply gets to pick the next Census Bureau director. It's a position in the Commerce Department -- it's not a Senate-confirmed job.

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