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Alicia Machado campaigns for Hillary Clinton on Aug. 20, 2016 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty)

Targeting former Miss Universe, Donald Trump goes off the rails

09/30/16 09:22AM

One of the most memorable moments of this week's presidential debate came at the very end of the event. Hillary Clinton noted an incident in which Trump called a Miss Universe pageant contestant "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping" because she was Latina.

"Donald, she has a name," Clinton said. "Her name is Alicia Machado. And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet she's going to vote this November."

The smart move for Trump would have been to change the subject and stick to issues that play in his favor. The day after the debate, however, the Republican did the opposite, calling into Fox News to complain -- unprompted -- about Machado's weight. Trump campaign surrogates, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, quickly piled on.

Four days after the debate, Trump still can't help himself.
The GOP nominee unleashed a tweetstorm early Friday in which he called Alicia Machado "disgusting" and ripped into Hillary Clinton for mentioning her in the first presidential debate.

The purported "sex tape" appears to be a reference to reports about explicit footage from Machado's time on a Spanish reality television show called "The Farm."
Note, in one of his early-morning tweets, Trump specifically urged American to "check out" a non-existent "sex tape" -- making the 2016 Republican the first major-party presidential nominee to encourage the public to seek out porn. (Congrats, again, Christian conservatives.)

Gingrich, meanwhile, has begun equating the former Miss Universe with Benghazi because, well, just because.

Honestly, is there something in the water?
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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.

GOP leaders flunk Governing 101 test on 9/11 bill

09/30/16 08:42AM

The Associated Press had a report yesterday on just how little the Republican-led Congress has done over the last two years, and the criticism is, to be sure, richly deserved. But there's one thing the conservative House and Senate accomplished with striking efficiency.

Though members are starting to think that might have been a mistake, too.

The bill has an odd name: JASTA, which stands for the "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act." The point of the legislation is to allow Americans, most notably the loved ones of 9/11 victims, to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged al Qaeda support in advance of the 2001 attacks. As Vox explained this week, President Obama has long urged Congress not to pass the bill, arguing that it would undermine the principle of "sovereign immunity" and put the United States at risk of prosecution in foreign courts.

Congress, afraid of an election-year backlash for standing opposite 9/11 families, passed JASTA anyway -- with sweeping, bipartisan majorities. The president vetoed the bill, once more urging lawmakers not to be too hasty with a complex measure that could have lasting international consequences. This week, bipartisan majorities in Congress once again ignored the warnings, and for the first time in the Obama era, members easily overrode a veto, making the bill law.

Incredibly, after already creating the law, Republican leaders said yesterday they may need to correct the mistake they were so eager to make. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:
The two top Republicans in Congress said they're prepared to rewrite legislation allowing victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia -- less than 24 hours after Congress took the extraordinary step of overriding President Barack Obama's veto of the measure to make it law.

Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the measure could have unintended consequences -- including the fact that it could leave U.S. soldiers open to retaliation by foreign governments.
Ryan conceded Congress should look for a "fix" to the new law to protect American service members from "legal problems" while serving abroad. McConnell added his new law "may" carry "some unintended ramifications." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who criticized the bill before voting for it, added, "There will be an attempt to narrow the effect of what we've done."

Congressional Republicans this week followed an astounding trajectory: they (1) abruptly passed a law while ignoring substance objections; (2) stopped to think about the new law after the fact; and (3) blamed the White House for not doing more to stop Congress from acting irresponsibly.
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German Chancellor Merkel and U.S. President Obama walk together during the family picture event during the G20 summit in St.Petersburg

Trump flubs 'favorite world leader' test in a surprising way

09/30/16 08:00AM

Late Wednesday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson an interesting question: "Name one foreign leader that you respect and look up to." Johnson was stumped. Unable to name anyone, the former governor conceded he was having a "brain freeze."

It was, to be sure, painful to watch. But the exchange, which generated quite a bit of media attention, also served as a reminder to the other national candidates: you're bound to get the same question, so have a good answer ready.

Somehow, Donald Trump flubbed it anyway. NBC News reported late yesterday:
In a shock move, Donald Trump told an interviewer that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the world leader he most admires, before immediately clarifying he was also disappointed with her.

Trump was asked by NECN to name his favorite global politician after Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson flubbed the same question at an MSNBC town hall on Wednesday, struggling to come up with an answer.
"Well I think Merkel is a really great world leader but I was very disappointed that, when she, this move with the whole thing on immigration," Trump told the New England Cable Network. "I think it's a big problem and really you know to look at what she's done in the last year and a half. I was always a Merkel person. I thought, really fantastic, but I think she made a very tragic mistake a year and a half ago."

Look, it wasn't a trick question. Asked to name his favorite international leader, Trump had plenty of credible choices and plenty of time to come up with a compelling answer. If he was tempted to point to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose authoritarian style Trump has repeatedly praised, his staff had an opportunity to steer him away from the answer.
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USA Today publishes Trump anti-endorsement

USA Today publishes Trump anti-endorsement

09/29/16 09:28PM

Rachel Maddow updates the count of newspapers that have historically endorsed Republican candidates who have rejected Donald Trump this year, and reports on the USA Today editorial board taking a position on a candidate for the first time ever, encouraging readers not to vote for Donald Trump. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.29.16

09/29/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New Jersey train crash: "A speeding commuter train plowed into a platform inside NJ Transit's Hoboken Terminal Thursday morning, killing at least one person and injuring 108 others, officials said."

* Shutdown averted: "Congress averted a government shutdown Wednesday as the Senate and then the House approved a short-term spending bill, allowing lawmakers to avoid a crisis and return home to campaign. The stopgap spending bill, which would fund the government through Dec. 9, had been ensnarled in a debate over financing for the lead-tainted water system in Flint, Mich."

* Keep an eye on this one: "Sporadic shelling broke out along India and Pakistan's disputed border in Kashmir on Thursday after India said it conducted an anti-terrorism strike inside the section controlled by Pakistan -- marking a significant rise in tension between the two nuclear-armed rivals."

* This is going to help a lot of people: "The Obama administration, in its latest effort to update workplace policies it says have lagged far behind the realities of Americans' lives, will require federal government contractors to provide paid sick leave to their workers."

* Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf "faced down a furious panel of lawmakers Thursday as the House Financial Services Committee grilled him on his bank's shady practices."

* Given widespread public misperceptions about crime rates, these Pew Research findings are unexpected: "As the Supreme Court prepares to hear the first of two death penalty cases in this year's term, the share of Americans who support the death penalty for people convicted of murder is now at its lowest point in more than four decades."
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U.S. & Cuba Formally Restore Diplomatic Relations, Open Embassies (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty).

Donald Trump's Cuba problem comes with big risks

09/29/16 04:15PM

The Newsweek cover story Rachel discussed at the top of last night's show is a doozy: investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald, citing internal company records and court filings, reported that Donald Trump "secretly conducted business" in Cuba, spending $68,000 through a consulting firm to explore a business venture on the island.

If accurate, the allegations raised in the report are problematic for all sorts of reasons. First and foremost, it would have been illegal for Trump's enterprise to spend money in Cuba under a U.S. economic embargo. There are also political considerations, given that many Cuban Americans in South Florida would not be pleased to learn Trump illegally spent this money, as alleged.

Complicating matters, Trump was on record defending the economic embargo at the same time he was reportedly violating it, according to the Newsweek article.

Today, Trump's campaign manager made a television appearance in which she appears to have made the story quite a bit worse for her boss. The Washington Post noted:
Donald Trump's campaign manager denied Thursday that one of the GOP nominee's businesses violated the U.S.-Cuban embargo in 1998, dismissing an investigative report that accused Trump of knowingly spending $68,000 staking out an investment on the island.

"Read the entire story. It starts out with a screaming headline, as it usually does, that he did business in Cuba. And it turns out that he decided not to invest there. I think they paid money, as I understand from the story, in 1998 -- and we're not supposed to talk about years ago when it comes to the Clintons," Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said on ABC's "The View" Thursday, amid cross talk.
Conway emphasized repeatedly that Trump ultimately chose not to follow through on the Cuban venture. By all appearances, that's correct. But the question is whether Trump spent $68,000 in Cuba in 1998, as the report claims, in violation of the U.S. embargo.

And on that front, Conway said this morning, "I think they paid money, as I understand from the story, in 1998." Trump's campaign manager may not have intended to be quite so candid: she effectively endorsed the point of the Newsweek article she hoped to dismiss.

Indeed, the Trump campaign also issued these talking points to surrogates today, trying to offer a defense of the candidate's alleged efforts in Cuba, and there's literally nothing in the talking points that refutes any of the concerns raised in the piece.

In other words, if Team Trump has found any factual errors in Eichenwald's Newsweek reporting, the campaign hasn't identified those mistakes to anyone else.
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A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner taxis in Seattle, Washington. Sept. 17, 2013.

Trump tells a familiar falsehood about Chinese manufacturing

09/29/16 12:39PM

Four years ago, just a few weeks before Election Day, Mitt Romney suggested to voters that Chrysler was poised to move Jeep production from Ohio to China. As longtime readers may recall, that wasn't true -- and Romney knew it wasn't true. But when confronted with the truth the candidate doubled and tripled down on the falsehood, even as auto industry executives called him out for deceiving the public.

The New York Times editorialized, “It’s bad enough to be wrong on the policy. It takes an especially dishonest candidate to simply turn up the volume on a lie and keep repeating it.” What’s more, the Toledo Blade chastised Romney for "conducting an exercise in deception about auto-industry issues that is remarkable even by the standards of his campaign."

Four years later, Donald Trump campaigned in Florida and repeated a similar claim, except this time, it was a Republican accusing Boeing of moving 757 production from the United States to China. The New York Times reported this week:
[Trump] spoke before a packed crowd at an airplane hangar, lined rail to rail, each face shown bright by extra houselights hung by the campaign for the filming of an apparent advertisement.... At one point, Mr. Trump looked to his red, white and blue plane to illustrate a common point from the rally.

"See that plane, see that plane? That plane was built in America," he said. "Now that same company is going to start building these planes in China."
And this claim got me thinking about whether or not Trump's correct.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.29.16

09/29/16 12:00PM

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

* As Rachel reported on the show last night, the new national PPP poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by four percentage points, both in a four-way contest and in a head-to-head match-up.

* The latest PPP results also show Clinton up by six in Colorado (46% to 40%), two in Florida (45% to 43%), two in North Carolina (44% to 42%), six in Pennsylvania (45% to 39%), and six in Virginia (46% to 40%), In each case, these results reflect Clinton's advantage in four-way contests.

* The editorial board of the Detroit News has "backed a Republican every time it has made a presidential endorsement" since the paper's founding in 1873. This year, however, it's backing Libertarian Gary Johnson over Donald Trump.

* Trump's campaign manager, KellyAnne Conway, argued last night that Trump isn't receiving enough credit for referring to Clinton as "Secretary Clinton" during this week's debate.

* Employees at a Trump golf resort in California claim he wanted to fire women employees he considered insufficiently pretty. A separate report yesterday also noted an instance in which Trump said he hired an unqualified young woman for a job because he thought she was "hot."

* Newt Gingrich, a prominent Trump surrogate, is now going after former Miss Universe Alicia Machado's weight and spreading conspiracy theories about Clinton receiving the debate questions in advance of Monday night's event.

* Though South Carolina is likely to remain a "red" state, a new Winthrop University poll shows Trump leading Clinton in a four-way race by just six points, 42% to 38%.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Sept. 26, 2016. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Has Donald Trump paid federal taxes or not?

09/29/16 11:22AM

It was arguably one of the most important moments of this week's presidential debate. Hillary Clinton was speculating about why Donald Trump would choose to be the first modern American presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. "Maybe," she said, "he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes."

Unprompted, Trump interrupted to say, "That makes me smart."

A Washington Post reporter, watching the debate with undecided voters in North Carolina, noted there were "gasps" in the room after the exchange. "That's offensive. I pay taxes," one said. "Another person would be in jail for that," another voter added.

With Clinton eager to let voters know about Trump's comments, the GOP nominee made yet another Fox News appearance last night, where Bill O'Reilly brought up the issue. From the transcript via Lexis Nexis:
O'REILLY: Now, they are going to come after you, they being the Clinton campaign, on the statement that you made that you were as smart for paying as few taxes as you could possibly pay. You know it's going to be in the next debate, it's going to be on campaign ads. Do you have any defense for that right now?

TRUMP: No, I didn't say that. What she said is maybe you paid no taxes. I said, "Well, that would make me very smart." ... I never said I didn't pay taxes. She said maybe you didn't pay taxes and I said, "Well, that would make me smart because tax is a big payment." But I think a lot of people say, "That's the kind of thinking that I want running this nation."
Perhaps now would be a good time to note that "That makes me smart" and "That would make me smart" are not the same sentences.

Indeed, let's also not forget that in the same debate, Trump talked about how the government doesn't have the necessary resources for public needs. "Maybe because you haven't paid any federal income tax for a lot of years," Clinton interjected. Trump fired back, "It would be squandered, too."

As we discussed the other day, the comment was striking because of its apparent acceptance of the underlying premise. By saying his tax money would have been "squandered," Trump seemed to be conceding that Clinton's argument was correct: he hasn't paid taxes.
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A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over Osan Air Base, Sept. 13, 2016, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Why the nuclear first-use debate matters in the 2016 race

09/29/16 10:54AM

It's difficult to choose the single most alarming thing Donald Trump said about foreign policy and national security at this week's presidential debate, in part because there are so many unsettling comments to choose from.

The Republican seemed to believe ISIS has been around for much of Hillary Clinton's adult life, which isn't even close to being true. Trump suggested China should invade North Korea. He took credit for NATO policies that he had nothing to do with, while suggesting the NATO alliance itself should be considered as some kind of protection racket.

Trump also insisted, as he has before, that the United States should have stolen Iraq's oil -- which would have been illegal -- in order to deny ISIS the resources it's actually getting from Syria.

But as Rachel noted on the show the other day, the real gem has to be Trump's woeful understanding of nuclear policy. Moderator Lester Holt asked an excellent question: "On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation's longstanding policy on first use. Do you support the current policy?"

Trump rambled a bit before eventually saying:
"I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.

"I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it's over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can't take anything off the table."
He then rambled some more, straying between a variety of loosely related topics, including his opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

But for those paying attention, the real problem was with Trump's obvious contradiction. Policymakers can adopt a "no-first-use" policy or they can endorse a "nothing-is-off-the-table" position, but Donald Trump is one of those rare politicians who wants to take both sides simultaneously.
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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a Hispanic Town Hall meeting with supporters, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump campaign defends its rejection of substance, policy details

09/29/16 09:50AM

If anyone on Donald Trump's presidential campaign should be willing to defend the importance of substantive details, it's Sam Clovis. He is, after all, one of the Republican candidate's top policy advisers.

And yet, as BuzzFeed noted yesterday, even Clovis doesn't want to bother stressing the importance of governing details in the campaign.
Sam Clovis, Donald Trump's national policy adviser and campaign co-chair, said Monday before the debate that voters don't care about policy specifics and would be "bored to tears" by them.

"Our approach has been to provide outlook and constructs for policy because if we go into the specific details, we just get murdered in the press. What we're dealing with [is] we're chasing minutia around," Clovis said on the Alan Colmes Show on Fox News' radio network.
In fairness, Clovis added that he cares about "specificity," but the campaign has chosen not to get into policy details because these kinds of campaign debates are of no interest to the electorate.

"I think the American people, the American voter, will be bored to tears if that is in fact the way this thing goes," he said.

It's a valuable insight, if for no other reason because Clovis' comments make clear that Team Trump is deliberately avoiding a substantive campaign debate over the issues. For the Republican candidate and his team, it's a feature, not a bug.
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