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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

House GOP leaders suffer another setback, fail to pass farm bill

05/18/18 01:03PM

Nearly everything about the House Republicans' farm bill was a mess.

At GOP leaders' insistence, for example, it would've increased food insecurity for millions of struggling Americans by cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. What's more, the traditionally bipartisan bill was, this year, put together exclusively by Republicans. Donald Trump's demand for punitive work requirements was, of course, also included in the package.

Making matters slightly worse, as the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell explained, the GOP bill would also create a new layer of government bureaucracy, which "eats up nearly all the 'savings' from kicking people off food stamps," intended to make it more difficult for qualifying Americans to receive benefits.

And in case all of this weren't quite messy enough, when the House Republican leadership brought the bill to the floor this morning, it failed. Roll Call  reported:

In a major blow to Republican leaders and after a week full of drama and last-minute vote wrangling, the House failed to pass a farm bill Friday, with several Freedom Caucus members voting no in protest to a lack of immediate action on immigration.

The bill failed 198-213. House GOP leaders had been touting the bill as a fulfillment of their campaign promise to overhaul welfare programs. The vote also brings the GOP’s intraparty fissures further into public view.

This was a fight with several moving parts, and much of the debate was tied to an unrelated debate over immigration: the right-wing Freedom Caucus' members said they would withhold support for the farm bill unless GOP leaders agreed to first hold a vote on a far-right immigration plan.

Republican leaders thought they'd made progress on reaching some kind of deal with the Freedom Caucus -- it's why they brought the bill to the floor, rather than punting -- but in the end, it wasn't enough.

Complicating matters is that many in the GOP thought the proposal just wasn't far enough to the right. It was a striking reminder of just how difficult governing can be in this Congress.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.18.18

05/18/18 12:00PM

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

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged yesterday that control of the Senate is "absolutely" in play this year. The GOP leader also listed the Senate races he considered competitive, but he didn't mention contests in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- where there are Democratic incumbents in states Donald Trump won in 2016.

* In Florida's Senate campaign, Gov. Rick Scott (R) launched a new Spanish-language TV ad this week, and according to the Tampa Bay Times, that brings his total amount of campaign spending to "more than $8 million in just over a month, an astounding figure." Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) has so far spent nothing, though he has roughly $10 million in the bank.

* In his latest fundraising appeal to supporters, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) brags about Trump calling him a "Great American Hero." In the same letter, the far-right congressman claims he "exposed the scandal" of surveillance of Carter Page.

* Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R), the right-wing congresswoman whose Senate campaign is off to a difficult start in Tennessee, may soon benefit from some presidential attention: Trump will head to the Volunteer State to help Blackburn on May 29.

* Ahead of a possible 2020 presidential bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has so far backed 21 candidates this election cycle, 11 of whom have lost. Our Revolution, a group that grew out of Sanders' unsuccessful 2016 campaign, has backed 111 candidates, 65 of whom have lost.

* While much of the Republican establishment is rallying behind Rep. Martha McSally (R) in Arizona's U.S. Senate race, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has apparently thrown his support behind her more radical primary rival, former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R).

* In former Rep. John Conyers Jr's (D) district in Michigan, the race to replace him may not be a family affair: in response to a challenge from state Sen. Ian Conyers (D), local election officials found that John Conyers III failed to submit the proper number of signatures to appear on the ballot.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's latest 'Watergate' appears to be as misguided as his others

05/18/18 11:23AM

Donald Trump, hardly a student of history, would benefit from a broader understanding of presidential scandals -- because as far the Republican is concerned, he keeps finding new Watergates behind every corner.

According to the current president, Uranium One, for example, is Watergate. So is the non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower. Benghazi, Trump has assured us, is “bigger than Watergate.” What’s more, Joe Arpaio’s investigation into Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Trump wrote in 2012, “could dwarf Watergate.”

In March, the president said the Justice Department's investigation into his campaign is "bigger than Watergate," and yesterday, worked up by something he saw in conservative media, Trump added that the FBI had an "informant" in his political operation, which he said is -- you guessed it -- "bigger than Watergate!"

Maybe he can't think of any other controversies from history worth referencing?

Regardless, Trump continued to play with his new conspiracy theory this morning.

President Donald Trump on Friday quoted a claim that the Department of Justice put a "spy" inside his presidential campaign as part of an effort to "frame" him for "crimes" he "didn't commit."

"'Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn't commit,'" Trump wrote in a tweet Friday morning, quoting Fox Business Network anchor David Asman. He also tagged FBN anchor Lou Dobbs and Fox News Channel anchor Gregg Jarrett. He added, "Really bad stuff!"

The president added soon after that he thinks this may be the "all time biggest political scandal," which might be more compelling if (a) his latest claims weren't so dubious, and (b) all of the other times Trump said he'd uncovered the all-time biggest political scandal hadn't turned out to be nonsense.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump White House scraps meeting for its own communications staff

05/18/18 10:40AM

It's now been eight days since Kelly Sadler, a White House communications aide, mocked Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) failing health during a private meeting, the contents of which soon leaked to the press. For some in the political world, Team Trump's refusal to apologize for the comments are reflective of this presidency's coarseness and stubborn mean-spiritedness.

But in the West Wing, the real problem wasn't Sadler's comment, but rather, the fact that the public learned about Sadler's comment. As the New York Times  reports, the fallout is still unfolding.

The big daily meeting that past administrations have used to keep the White House on message has been scrapped in favor of something smaller. West Wing aides are instructed to drop their personal phones into small storage lockers when they come to work, periodically checked up on by a scanning device that detects nongovernment phones.

And in the Oval Office, there is President Trump, who is prone to erupt about his communications team as ineffective and leak-ridden, complaining he has the biggest team and yet he gets "the worst press."

The report added that the White House, among other things, is considering "reducing the size" of its communications staff.

As for who's leading that team, let's also not forget that Trump has already gone through four communications directors since his election -- five if you count Sean Spicer -- and two months after Hope Hicks' departure, the office remains empty.

All things considered, I imagine many will see behind-the-scenes drama like this as inside baseball, of no real concern to the country at large. Perhaps. But it's nevertheless difficult to get over the fact that 15 months into the Trump presidency, the White House finds it necessary to scrap a daily meeting because West Wing officials no longer trust their own communications staff.

It's emblematic of a larger truth.

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Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill Gates offers behind-the-scenes insights into Trump

05/18/18 10:00AM

Given everything we know about Donald Trump and his, shall we say, idiosyncrasies, it's only natural to wonder what the president is like behind the scenes, away from the cameras. With this in mind, Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently spoke to the staff at his charitable Gates Foundation about his conversations with Trump -- and MSNBC's Chris Hayes obtained a recording.

The "All In" segments are worth watching in their entirety, in part to get the full context, and in part because the audience's reactions were interesting, but a few things stood out as notable. Gates noted, for example, that after meeting Trump for the first time after the election, the president seemed to know a "scary" amount about Gates' daughter's appearance -- which Melinda Gates apparently didn't appreciate.

Just as striking was Gates' description of two meetings he had with Trump in Trump Tower, where the Microsoft founder encouraged the president to focus on science and innovation, recommending renewed energies toward finding an HIV vaccine.

"In both of those two meetings he asked me if vaccines weren't a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines," Gates said. "And somebody, Robert Kennedy Jr., was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things and I said, 'No, that is a dead end, that would be a bad thing, do not do that.'"

There were laughs and groans from the audience after Gates added: "Both times he wanted to know the difference between HIV and HPV and so I was able to explain that those are things that are rarely confused with each other."

As amazing as this anecdote is, the word that jumped out at me was "both."

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

Defamation lawsuit just became more alarming for Donald Trump

05/18/18 09:20AM

As much of the world no doubt recalls, Donald Trump was recorded in 2005 bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive – “I don’t even wait,” Trump claimed at the time – which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p—y.”

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, more than a few women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct – one of whom, Summer Zervos, is currently suing the president for defamation, after Trump insisted each of his accusers were liars.

Trump’s lawyers have tried a variety of arguments to make the case go away – the president has denied any wrongdoing – but as of yesterday afternoon, those efforts have now failed in two New York courts. And as Rachel noted on the show last night, the next phase in the process is the one Trump and his team have been eager to avoid. The New York Times  reported:

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice" who accused President Trump of sexual assault, is seeking records to prove that he defamed her by calling her a liar.

A lawyer for Ms. Zervos, who is suing Mr. Trump for defamation in New York, said on Wednesday that subpoenas had been issued both to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer [MGM], which owns archives of the reality show, and to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Ms. Zervos says he groped her in 2007.

This is a story with a lot of potential.

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House Continues To Work On Spending Bill As Gov't Shutdown Looms

GOP member of Science Committee blames falling rocks for sea-level rise

05/18/18 08:40AM

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has developed an unfortunate reputation for saying all kinds of bizarre things, but this week's addition to his greatest-hits list is a doozy.

The House Science Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss technology's role in addressing climate change, and the Alabama Republican took the opportunity to share an idea about sea-level rise with Philip Duffy, president of Woods Hole Research Center, who was one of the witnesses participating in the hearing. USA Today  noted Brooks' creative new idea:

"Every single year that we're on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system — and for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems," Brooks said. "And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you've got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up."

Brooks pointed to the White Cliffs of Dover and to California "where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines" and "you have the cliffs crash into the sea."

"All of that displaces the water which forces it to rise, does it not?" Brooks asked.

"I'm pretty sure that on human time scales, those are minuscule effects," Duffy answered.

I imagine climate deniers may appreciate Brooks' child-like logic: if a swimming pool, for example, were half filled with water, the water level would rise with the addition of many rocks. Maybe the congressman has even heard something about Archimedes.

The trouble, which the poor congressman doesn't seem to appreciate, is the size of the planet's swimming pool: a Washington Post  analysis found that to explain the current rises, we'd have to take "the top five inches of every one of the United States' 9.1 million square miles of land area and use it to coat the bottom of the world's oceans" -- and we'd have to do that every year.

But as embarrassing as Mo Brooks' confusion is, there may be a way to put an encouraging spin on this.

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Trump scrambles to tell North Korea what it wants to hear

05/18/18 08:00AM

A few weeks ago, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton laid out a provocative vision for U.S. policy toward North Korea. "We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004," he told Fox News. The same morning, Bolton told CBS News, "I think we're looking at the Libya model."

This, not surprisingly, didn't sit well with North Korea, for reasons that should be obvious. Under the "Libya model," Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program, his government faced a domestic rebellion, his country faced an American military offensive, and he was killed soon after.

In a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump was asked about North Korea's objections to Bolton's comments. The American president seemed eager to throw his top national security aide under the bus.

"Well, the Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all, when we're thinking of North Korea. In Libya, we decimated that country. That country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gadhafi. The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong-un -- something where he'd be there, he'd be in his country, he'd be running his country. His country would be very rich. His people are tremendously industrious. [...]

"But the Libyan model was a much different model. We decimated that country. We never said to Gadhafi, 'Oh, we're going to give you protection. We're going give you military strength. We're going to give you all of these things.' We went in and decimated him.... This is just the opposite."

Part of the problem here is that Trump, even after weeks of discussion, doesn't seem to know what the "Libya model" is. The Republican appears to be under the impression that the model refers specifically to the NATO military offensive in 2011. It doesn't. What Bolton was describing was the model from 2003 in which a country voluntarily gave up its nuclear program and welcomed weapons inspectors.

But there's also a larger concern, which extends beyond the American president's confusion about a policy he really ought to understand.

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Manafort's ex-son-in-law pleads guilty, cooperating with feds

Manafort's ex-son-in-law pleads guilty, cooperating with feds

05/17/18 09:14PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the unusual financial entanglements of former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and reports breaking news that Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort's former son-in-law with some overlapping business interests has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Nathan Layne, white collar crime reporter for... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.17.18

05/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The final vote was 54 to 45: "The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel as the next CIA director despite opposition from most Democrats and a handful of Republicans who blasted her role in the agency's enhanced interrogation program."

* Quite an explosion: "Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupted anew before dawn Thursday, shooting a steely gray plume of ash about 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky that began raining down on a nearby town."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "A New York appeals court on Thursday rejected a request from President Trump to stay proceedings in a defamation suit filed by a former contestant on 'The Apprentice' who has claimed that he sexually harassed her."

* Mueller probe: "Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued a pair of subpoenas to a social media consultant who worked on Roger Stone's pro-Donald Trump super PAC during the 2016 presidential campaign."

* An acknowledgement of reality: "FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated his position that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia probe is not a witch hunt in an appearance before the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, continuing to stake a position opposite to President Donald Trump's."

* The latest in a series of bad headlines for the finance giant: "Some employees in a Wells Fargo & Co. unit that handles business banking improperly altered information on documents related to corporate customers, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Andrew Smith: "The new director of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection unit, a watchdog with broad investigative powers over private companies, stands out even in an administration prone to turning over regulatory authority to pro-industry players."

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

GOP reps looking for a promotion are struggling in 2018

05/17/18 12:40PM

There's a striking number of House members giving up their seats this year, but not every incumbent lawmaker is trying to exit politics. For example, of the 38 House Republicans who aren't running for re-election this fall, roughly a third are running for statewide office.

The trouble is, those efforts aren't going especially well so far.

This week, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R), widely seen as a strong contender in Idaho's gubernatorial race, came up short in a GOP primary. He has plenty of company: Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) lost in a House primary in North Carolina; Reps. Todd Rokita (R) and Luke Messer (R) both lost in a Senate primary in Indiana; and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) lost in a Senate primary in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) won their respective Senate primaries, but both prevailed by smaller-than-expected margins, despite strong support of Donald Trump and party leaders.

Slate's Josh Voorhees explained yesterday that, looking ahead to November, the results are a potential sign of trouble for the Republican Party.

The early losses are another troubling trend for the GOP, which is betting on House Republicans to win a half-dozen key statewide races this fall at the same time the president has made "Washington" an even dirtier word among conservatives than it already was. [...]

Four congressional Republicans are currently running for governor, two of which non-partisan handicappers believe have, at best, even odds of preserving GOP control in those states. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are betting on a handful of House Republicans to win high-profile races that could decide control of the upper chamber in November.

And as we discussed last week, the fact that current House GOP lawmakers are running into trouble isn't just unexpected; it's also a departure from the historical norm.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.17.18

05/17/18 12:00PM

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

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, a very well-funded super PAC allied with the House Republican leadership, has reportedly created "34 offices running mini-campaigns for vulnerable Republicans throughout the country."

* The same week Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) won his Senate primary race in Pennsylvania, Republican officials are expressing concerns about his viability. One party strategist told the Washington Examiner, "The sense is, nobody knows what the f*** he's doing. He's not really working it hard. It's a sad thing, because people like Lou."

* Why is former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) doing so well in Tennessee's Senate race against Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R)? A new Vanderbilt University poll found the former governor with a "significant" advantage among independent voters, and even a majority of Republicans "say they have a favorable view of Bredesen."

* In an announcement that jolted Connecticut's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz decided to end her statewide campaign and instead become Ned Lamont's running mate.

* In Ohio, outgoing Gov. John Kasich (R) initially hedged on supporting state Attorney General Mike DeWine's (R) gubernatorial candidacy -- Kasich backed his rival ahead of last week's primary -- but the incumbent has since come around and announced this week he'll "definitely" vote for his party's nominee.

* In Wisconsin's Senate race, state Sen. Leah Vukmir was the overwhelming favorite at the state Republican Party convention and received the GOP's official endorsement, but she'll still have to face Kevin Nicholson in an August primary. The winner will take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in the fall.

* On a related note, Vukmir's latest campaign pitch is that Baldwin is on "Team Terrorist" because the senator opposes Gina Haspel's nomination to lead the CIA.

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