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House Members-Elect Pose For Group Photo At The U.S. Capitol

Democratic veteran takes aim at 'Cadet Bone Spurs'

01/22/18 09:20AM

In the runup to the current government shutdown, Donald Trump tweeted  almost  obsessively  about the military, attacking Democrats' patriotism by arguing that failing to endorse the Republican proposal would hurt U.S. troops. It's a cheap line about an issue the president doesn't understand.

And as the L.A. Times  reported, it wasn't just Trump.

Speaking to U.S. troops involved in bombing Islamic State militants in Syria, Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday launched a broadside at Democrats over the government shutdown, accusing the opposition party of "playing politics with military pay."

It is unusual for a sitting vice president to use a meet-and-greet with service members to make political attacks.

We could note at this point that Pence, a fringe congressman in the not-too-distant, used to be rather enthusiastic about his support for government shutdowns. Or we could note how dangerous it is for national officeholders to take steps like Pence's to mix partisan politics and military service. (Phillip Carter wrote last summer, "This is what leaders do in banana republics: Instruct the people with guns to join the political fray.")

But perhaps the most important detail is the simple fact that Pence appeared to be brazenly lying to servicemen and women. Almost immediately after the shutdown began, it was a Democrat -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- who sought support for a measure that would protect the troops' paychecks from the effects of the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected it. Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) pushed the same idea, and again Republicans balked.

This stands in sharp contrast to the 2013 shutdown. On the first day of the shutdown, Barack Obama not only signed a bipartisan measure to protect military paychecks, he also recorded a video message to the troops to assuage their concerns.

This year, Trump has made no comparable message to the military, has signed no legislation to protect servicemembers' paychecks, and watched his vice president play politics with the troops in ways that pushed the boundaries of propriety.

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Image: Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March in Washington

As millions participated in Women's Marches, Trump sought credit

01/22/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump was probably feeling a little antsy on Saturday. On the first anniversary of his presidential inaugural, the Republican expected to be at his private club in Florida, but was instead stuck at the White House, detached from the process surrounding the government shutdown, pretending to be busy.

Assuming Trump turned on the television -- as is his wont -- the president likely saw coverage of a shutdown he helped create, but was powerless to end, coupled with coverage of massive national protests, featuring legions of activists who are resisting his agenda.

So, naturally, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to take credit for the progressive activism. "Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months," the president declared.

In reality, of course, Trump's presidency hasn't had any "historic milestones" -- at least none that he should be bragging about -- and the health of the economy has plenty of precedent. But even putting that aside, if Trump wasn't clear on the motivation behind the events over the weekend, he wasn't paying close enough attention.

Demonstrators and activists gathered in cities worldwide on Sunday for a second day of Women's Marches, a year after millions worldwide rallied to highlight women's issues and challenge the presidency and policies of Donald Trump. [...]

The largest demonstrations [on Saturday] appeared to take place in Los Angeles, where authorities said there were about 600,000 attendees, and in New York, where about 200,000 people participated. Tens of thousands has also gathered in Oakland and San Diego, according to authorities. Demonstrators also rallied in Milwaukee, Denver, Dallas, as well as Montgomery, Alabama, and many other towns and cities all over the country.

The NBC affiliate in Chicago put the estimated total of participants in the city's Women's March at 300,000, a figure that "exceeded both expectations on turnout as well as the attendance at last year's march, organizers said."

One of the core messages of the marches from last January was participants declaring, "We will not go away." Twelve months later, it's clear they've honored that commitment: this is a movement that endures.

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

As the shutdown continues, Trump relegated to bystander status

01/22/18 08:00AM

In Barack Obama's first term as president, many of his critics embraced a curious line of criticism. New Jersey's Chris Christie (R) insisted in 2011, for example, that the Democrat "stop being a bystander in the Oval Office."

It wasn't long before other presidential detractors echoed the sentiment. Charles Krauthammer pushed the "bystander" line on Fox News, and even the Washington Post's Dana Milbank said he too saw Obama as a "bystander."

The reproach always struck me misguided, if not bizarre, given Obama's actual record, but it turns out the "bystander" thesis was simply too early: Donald Trump is in the White House during a government shutdown he helped create, and instead of working on a deal to resolve the problem, the Republican president is doing effectively nothing.

The Washington Post reported that Trump, at least for now, prefers a "hide-and-tweet strategy" that White House officials like because it means he won't work on an agreement the far right disapproves of. CNN added that the president has already told congressional leaders that they should work out a deal on their own and present it to him once it's done -- as opposed to Trump taking a hands-on role in the negotiations.

And the New York Times  reports that Trump has very little understanding of the current debate and is passively disinterested in getting up to speed. Worse, the article suggested the "unusually disengaged" president isn't really in control of the White House's role in the process.

As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.

Both sides have reason to be confused. Each time Mr. Trump has edged toward compromise with Democrats, he has appeared to be reined in by his own staff, which shares the hawkish immigration stance that fueled his campaign. And Republican leaders, bruised by past experience with a president who has rarely offered them consistent cover on a politically challenging issue, are loath to guess at his intentions.

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt added over the weekend that the "stunning reality" is that the president isn't even on the same page as his own White House team.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's Obama-era rhetoric on shutdowns comes back to haunt him

01/20/18 10:01AM

Just a few weeks after the 2013 government shutdown was resolved, Donald Trump published a tweet offering his definition of leadership: "Whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible."

It's a safe bet the Republican didn't realize at the time that he'd soon be president, desperately trying to avoid responsibility for his own failures.

In 2011, when Republicans appeared poised to shut down the government, Trump sat down with NBC's Meredith Vieira and focused his attention on one man: Barack Obama.

VIEIRA: So if there were a partial shutdown of the government come Friday, that would be OK with you.

TRUMP: In my opinion -- you know, I hear the Democrats are going to be blamed and the Republicans are going to be blamed. I actually think the president would be blamed. If there is a shutdown, and it's not going to be a horrible shutdown because, as you know, things will sort of keep going.... If there is a shutdown I think it would be a tremendously negative mark on the president of the United States. He's the one that has to get people together.

He kept going (and going). "I'm a deal man," Trump added. "I've made hundreds and hundreds of deals and transactions. He never did deals before. How can you expect a man that's not a deal man that never did a deal, other than frankly becoming president of the United States, he never did a deal, how's he going to corral all these people to get them to do a deal?"

Asked how he would prevent a shutdown, Trump boasted, "I would get everybody together and we'd have a budget and it would get done." Reminded that the relevant officials had already gotten together, he added, "[T]hey don't have the right leader. You don't have the right leader."

By this reasoning, the fact that the government shutdown is apparently proof that we don't currently have the right leader.

What's more, this wasn't the only quote along these lines.

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As the government shuts down, 'it's as bad as it looks'

01/20/18 09:07AM

Americans have seen a few government shutdowns in recent decades, but they've never seen one when one party controls all of Congress and the White House.

The fact that the latest shutdown happened on the anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration is a little on the nose for my tastes, but clearly, the political gods are not without a sense of humor.

It's entirely possible that the current shutdown, which began just nine hours ago, will be resolved fairly quickly. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Capitol Hill this afternoon, at which point they'll begin work anew on an agreement that will need bipartisan support. Several senators suggested overnight that a deal was near, so it's at least possible that this won't be a prolonged breakdown.

But while we wait for that work to continue, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the circumstances that led to last night's failure. NBC News' report touched on a detail that stood out for me after Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House yesterday:

Schumer presented a proposal to break the logjam to Trump in a mid-day meeting over cheeseburgers at the White House, according to multiple Democrats -- a plan to fund the government over the next two years, including money for disaster aid, the low-income children's health insurance program, opioid funding, border security and relief for those Dreamers covered by DACA.

"I even put the border wall on the table," Schumer said.

But when Schumer left the meeting, the concept started to unravel when McConnell and Trump's chief-of-staff John Kelly opposed it, according to a person familiar with the situation.

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt added that it was Kelly who called Schumer after the meeting, telling the senator that the framework Schumer and Trump agreed to wasn't far enough to the right.

And if these details sound ridiculous, there's a very good reason for that. It suggests we have a person in the office of the presidency, but we don't have a president in any meaningful sense.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.19.18

01/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* There are only six-and-a-half hours remaining: "With hours left before a possible shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he and President Trump made 'some progress' in a private meeting about keeping the government open but did not strike a final deal."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would consider a challenge to President Trump's latest effort to limit travel from countries said to pose a threat to the nation's security, adding a major test of presidential power to a docket already crowded with blockbusters."

* The first attempt didn't go well: "The Department of Justice announced on Friday that it will retry Senator Robert Menendez, the senior Democratic senator from New Jersey, on federal corruption charges, two months after his initial trial ended in a mistrial after a jury said it could not reach a verdict."

* I'm a little skeptical of this: "In a major change announced Friday to the Newsfeed used by 2 billion users every month, Facebook will now ask users to rank the news organizations they trust and abdicate its role as an arbitrator of what content people see."

* Climate crisis: "President Trump may have doubts about climate change, but a pair of new federal reports indicate that our planet's long-term warming trend continues -- and that 2017 was one of the hottest years on record."

* HHS: "Citing President Trump's 'pro-life mission,' the Health and Human Services Department announced actions on Friday that are designed to roll back key health-care policies of the Obama administration."

* Noted without comment: "Former Trump White House staffer Sebastian Gorka has an active warrant out for his arrest in Hungary, according to the Hungarian police's website."

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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

FBI examines whether Russian money went to the NRA

01/19/18 04:42PM

The National Rifle Association's interest in recent presidential elections is, at face value, mundane. The NRA has repeatedly expressed its support for Republican candidates, and the fact that it backed Donald Trump in 2016 was one of the least surprising developments of the year.

But many have wondered about the degree to which the NRA intervened on the GOP ticket's behalf in 2016. Four years earlier, for example, the far-right group was eager to defeat Barack Obama, and to that end, it spent $10 million to boost Mitt Romney's candidacy.

In 2016, the NRA spent triple that to support Trump.

What's more, most of money the group spent on the election was spent by part of the NRA's operation that isn't required to disclose its donors. McClatchy News reported this week that the FBI, according to the reporting, is exploring possible connections to Russia.

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

As Rachel explained on last night's show, Torshin, Putin's friend, has faced allegations of money laundering and connections to organized crime.

He's also a longtime NRA member who, during the 2016 campaign, made multiple efforts to arrange behind-the-scenes meetings between Trump and Russians.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

New polling highlights shutdown risks for Republicans

01/19/18 12:59PM

In early 2011, congressional Republicans moved the nation awfully close to a government shutdown, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents who'd they'd blame. It wasn't especially close: 45% said they'd hold GOP lawmakers responsible, while 31% would blame the Democratic president.

Nearly seven years later, with another potential shutdown on tap, conditions are slightly worse for the Republican majority.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds substantially greater Republican risk in a government shutdown, with Americans by a 20-point margin saying they're more likely to blame Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress than the congressional Democrats if one occurs.

Forty-eight percent in the national survey say they'd blame Trump and the GOP, vs. 28 percent who'd blame the Democrats in Congress. An additional 18 percent would blame both equally.

As is often the case in Washington mud fights, political independents make the difference: They're more likely to blame the Republican side by 46-25 percent.

The survey was in the field from Monday through Thursday, as the threat of a shutdown became more acute.

The results are more than just a peripheral curiosity. Ideally, elected officials would be principally concerned with how a shutdown would adversely affect the country, but even for those who have electoral interests on their minds, public opinion should matter: if you're a Republican lawmaker, and you're at all concerned about the 2018 midterm elections, today's polling is a reminder that the GOP is taking a big risk.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.19.18

01/19/18 12:00PM

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

* The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court's order on North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts yesterday. The impact will be significant: the move will almost certainly leave the current, Republican-rigged map in place for the 2018 midterms.

* A new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Donald Trump with a 39% approval rating, "the lowest mark in the poll's history for any modern president ending his first year." Last month, the same poll showed the president with a 41% approval rating.

* Speaking of polling, the new Pew Research Center survey shows Democrats with a sizable advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 53% to 39%.

* In Ohio, Republicans made every effort to recruit author J.D. Vance to run for the Senate this year, but this morning, he declined, saying, it's "just not a good time."

* In Mississippi, Brandon Presley, a leader on the state Public Service Commission, was the Democrats' top choice to run for the Senate, but he announced yesterday that he's skipping the race.

* Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) announced this week that he's running for re-election to the U.S. House, which wouldn't ordinarily be notable, except GOP officials hoped he'd run for either governor or the U.S. Senate.

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Trump's rhetoric about shutdowns and the military doesn't add up

01/19/18 11:21AM

Ahead of last night's House vote on the latest stopgap spending measure, Donald Trump said via Twitter that the bill had to pass because "our Military needs it."

This has quickly become the White House's standard line: a government shutdown, Trump said yesterday, would be "devastating to our military." (The draft-dodging president, who has a dubious record on the issue, then questioned Democrats' patriotism, arguing that Dems "care very little" about the military.) Vice President Mike Pence added, "At a time when we have U.S. soldiers in harm's way in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be unconscionable for Democrats in Congress to jeopardize funding for our military."

And that's effectively what the debate has come down to: if Democrats fail to go along with Republican funding plans, we're supposed to believe they don't support the troops.

It's a lazy and cynical argument for a wide variety of reasons -- not the least of which is that there are several Republicans who oppose their own party's plan, and they probably won't appreciate these attacks -- but as the Washington Post  noted today, the line isn't even true.

With the threat of a government shutdown looming, Trump repeatedly has warned that the military could be shut down or devastated and that his plans to "rebuild" the armed forces would be thrown into question. In support of the president's claims, the White House points to comments from the Pentagon's comptroller, who said in December that a shutdown could stop maintenance on weapons systems.

A federal law generally bars agencies from continuing to work at taxpayer expense during a shutdown, but that law provides major exceptions for military and intelligence operations, national security and emergencies.

The Defense Department's most recent contingency plan for a shutdown says all active-duty military personnel would stay on the job, as well as 22 percent of its civilian employees. Moreover, the president has broad authority to decide who stays on the job during a shutdown — an authority that extends to maintenance workers for military weapons systems.

That's right, but we can take this a step further.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The routinization of 'governing by near-death experience'

01/19/18 10:43AM

I remember several years ago the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty had a piece highlighting "the cumulative effect of ... governing by near-death experience." She added, "It is as though Washington has had backward evolution -- operating as a primitive, leaderless village where petulance passes for governance."

That was in 2013. The near-death experiences persist.

For most of American history, government shutdowns -- even threats of shutdowns -- weren't a credible option available to policymakers. There were some "funding gaps" in the 1970s, which some might consider shutdowns, but federal officials weren't furloughed and those brief interruptions didn't resemble what you and I consider shutdowns.

The incidents became a little more common in the 1980s and 1990s, but the routinization of shutdown politics didn't begin in earnest until Republicans took control of the House in 2011.

* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation’s debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.

* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.

* September 2015: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* November 2015: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* September 2016: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2017: Donald Trump threatens a shutdown, which is only avoided by Congress ignoring his demands.

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