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Donald Trump, Jerry West

Trump accidentally speaks his mind at Medal of Freedom presentation

09/06/19 10:46AM

On the surface, this seemed like one of the least controversial parts of Donald Trump's week.

President Donald Trump on Thursday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball legend Jerry West.

At a White House ceremony, Trump praised West -- whose iconic dribble can be seen on the logo for the National Basketball Association -- as an "extraordinary American" for his achievements on and off the court, saying the nation's highest civilian honor was a "richly deserved" award.

So far, so good. It's tough for a president to screw up a Medal of Freedom presentation, since it generally involves saying nice things about a prominent American. Even for Trump, this should be a piece of cake.

But it wasn't. After welcoming people to the event, the president started reading Jerry West's biographical information, including the fact that he was born and raised in West Virginia. At that point, Trump strayed from his prepared remarks and turned to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was also in attendance.

"I shouldn't say this, Joe, but I won it by 43 points," Trump told the senator, referring to West Virginia. "That's a lot."

Turning back to Jerry West, the president added, "We love West Virginia. Probably helped you getting this award today."

Trump was almost certainly kidding, though the joke was rooted in the idea that if West had been born and raised in a blue state, he'd be less likely to receive the Medal of Freedom.

Even at an award ceremony intended to honor someone else, Trump's thoughts turned to Trump -- and how impressed he is with himself.

The larger point to this is a point we last kicked around a year ago: this president isn't just inept when it comes to governing; Trump flubs his ceremonial duties, too.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

To shield Trump from embarrassments, GOP prepares to scrap primaries

09/06/19 10:12AM

In the primary era, only three incumbent presidents have lost re-election campaigns: Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992, Each of them had something important in common: they were the only modern incumbent presidents to face primary challengers.

With this in mind, Donald Trump and his political operation have spent months, not only keeping an eye on possible intra-party rivals, but also on taking deliberate steps to control state GOP operations to ensure a smooth re-nomination process in 2020.

Politico reports today that those efforts are starting to pay off in the form of canceled Republican nominating contests.

Four states are poised to cancel their 2020 GOP presidential primaries and caucuses, a move that would cut off oxygen to Donald Trump's long-shot primary challengers.

Republican parties in South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Kansas are expected to finalize the cancellations in meetings this weekend, according to three GOP officials who are familiar with the plans.

The moves are the latest illustration of Trump's takeover of the entire Republican Party apparatus. They underscore the extent to which his allies are determined to snuff out any potential nuisance en route to his renomination -- or even to deny Republican critics a platform to embarrass him.

In fairness, it's worth emphasizing the fact that both major parties have, on multiple occasions, scrapped presidential primaries and caucuses in years in which there's an incumbent president running for a second term. Democratic officials in plenty of states, for example, canceled nominating contests in 2012 during Barack Obama's re-election campaign. GOP officials in several states did the same thing in 2004 for George W. Bush.

There wasn't anything especially untoward about any of this: it's expensive to administer primaries and caucuses, and when there's an incumbent president running effectively unopposed within his or her party, it stands to reason state officials would balk at wasting scarce resources.

But therein lies the rub: when an incumbent president isn't running unopposed, it's a different story.

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Trump's Middle East peace initiative gets just a little worse

09/06/19 09:20AM

It was just three months into his presidency when Donald Trump declared with confidence, "I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever." There are, of course, all kinds of things standing in the way of peace, though the president didn't appear to recognize them.

Nevertheless, as regular readers know, he was quite serious about this. A month later, Trump boasted there's a "very, very good chance" his administration would help strike a deal for Middle East peace. "It's something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," the president added.

It's against this backdrop that Trump's point man on the issue quit -- before the White House's Middle East peace plan is even unveiled.

Jason Greenblatt is leaving as President Donald Trump's envoy for brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, senior officials told NBC News on Thursday.

His departure, confirmed by the president on Twitter, is the latest sign that optimism within the Trump administration for the long-awaited plan's prospects may be fading. Release of the plan, under development since the start of administration, has already been delayed several times, most recently until sometime after the Israeli elections on Sept. 17.

Avi Berkowitz, a longtime aide to Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, will replace Greenblatt in his role as special adviser for international negotiations, the administration officials said.

I suspect these names aren't too familiar to most Americans, so it's worth taking a moment to unpack these borderline-comical personnel shifts.

Jason Greenblatt, the president's first envoy for negotiating a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, was a curious choice from the outset. After all, Greenblatt wasn't a diplomat or an expert in international affairs; he's Trump's former real-estate lawyer and a former longtime employee of the Trump Organization.

Sure, this president prioritizes personal ties over "traditional qualifications" -- he tapped a Trump family wedding planner for a key post at HUD, for example, and he considered his pilot to lead the FAA -- but no one seriously believed Greenblatt was the best person for the job.

His successor, however, is worse.

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Despite Trump's boasts, job growth falls short of expectations

09/06/19 08:42AM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump published a curious tweet, declaring, "Really Good Jobs Numbers!" The actual job numbers hadn't been released, and he hadn't yet received an advanced look, but the president was apparently referring to an ADP report on private-sector hiring, which often differs from the actual, official data.

He probably should've showed some caution. Ahead of this morning's jobs report, most projections pointed to growth in August of 160,000 jobs. Those expectations were a bit too rosy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy added 130,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7%. And while that's not an awful monthly total, the revisions from the previous two months were also a little disappointing: job totals from June and July were both revised down, subtracting 20,000 from previous reporting.

As for the political implications, Donald Trump has now been in office for 31 full months -- February 2017 through August 2019 -- and in that time, the economy has created 5.85 million jobs. In the 31 months preceding Trump's presidency -- July 2014 to January 2017 -- the economy created 6.84 million jobs.

I recently heard from some readers who asked what would happen if we looked at the same numbers, but assigned the job totals from January 2017 to Trump, even though Obama was president for most of the month. On balance, I think that paints a misleading picture, but it doesn't change the underlying dynamic: if we applied jobs from January 2017 to Trump and compared the last 32 months to the previous 32 months, job totals still slowed from 7.13 million to 6.10 million.

The White House, meanwhile, believes we should actually start the clock for Trump at November 2016 -- the month of the Republican's election -- and apply the jobs created during the final months of the Obama era to the current Republican president. But that still doesn't help: if we compare the last 34 months to the previous 34 months, job totals slowed from 7.67 million to 6.48 million.

Trump continues to tell the world that he's overseeing the strongest domestic job growth in American history, which is plainly false. What's more, the White House has not yet offered an explanation for why job growth has slowed since Trump took office.

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Trump tries to bully the truth into submission

09/06/19 08:00AM

There was a point a few months ago at which Donald Trump began arguing that China was paying the United States billions of dollars as a result of the administration's trade tariffs. This wasn't true: the tariffs are a tax on American importers, and the penalty is ultimately imposed on American consumers. Everyone involved in the policy debate noted that the president was mistaken.

Left with no choice, Trump changed his talking points, unwilling to embarrass himself by basing a national trade policy on a basic detail he struggled to understand.

No, I'm just kidding. What Trump actually did was cling to his bogus claim with all his might, repeating it on a nearly daily basis, and rejecting those who had the audacity to highlight the truth.

After a while, there was a general understanding that this was something the president simply would not stop saying and believing. Nothing would dissuade him. Evidence would not matter. It was, according to some around him, a belief toward which he had a nearly theological commitment. Fact-checkers eventually got tired of pointing out the falsehood, over and over again, which only seemed to encourage Trump to keep saying it.

From the Republican's perspective, he'd bullied the truth into submission through a combination of persistence and indifference toward reality. As the Washington Post reported overnight, Trump has spent this week doing the same thing.

He posted nine tweets and five maps about Alabama and the big storm. He defended a doctored hurricane map that had been altered with a black Sharpie to include the state.

And he had his White House release a 225-word statement defending his erroneous warnings that Alabama was "going to get a piece" of the storm.

As Hurricane Dorian battered the Carolinas with torrential rain and wind Thursday, President Trump remained fixated on sunny Alabama -- a state he falsely claimed was in the storm's crosshairs long after it was in the clear.

The president's original false claim wasn't all that interesting, and it likely would've been a one-day story, mixed in with related coverage of a hurricane threat.

But unable to get out of his own way, Trump could neither admit error nor allow others to get away with pointing out his mistake. It was time for President Bully to get to work.

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Trump dismantling US response to Russian annexation of Crimea

Trump dismantling US response to Russian annexation of Crimea

09/05/19 09:29PM

Rachel Maddow looks at the four columns of the U.S. response to Russia's annexation of Crimea, sanctions, removal from the G8, military aid to Ukraine, and support to NATO, and notes that the Trump administration has worked to remove all four, most recently by seeking to take money from the European Deterrence Initiative to pay for Trump&... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.5.19

09/05/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Dorian: "Floodwaters rose in South Carolina on Thursday as Hurricane Dorian, which weakened to a Category 2, approached the state's coast, bringing high winds and the danger of a life-threatening storm surge."

* Afghanistan: "A U.S. service member was killed in a suicide blast in the Afghan capital Kabul Thursday, a U.S. official at the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said."

* Middle East peace process: "Jason Greenblatt is leaving as President Donald Trump's envoy for brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, senior officials told NBC News on Thursday. His departure, confirmed by the president on Twitter, is the latest sign that optimism within the Trump administration for the long-awaited plan's prospects may be fading."

* Overdue: "The World Health Organization said on Thursday it welcomed a commitment by Facebook that it would direct users seeking vaccine information on its Instagram, Facebook Search, Groups and other forums towards facts, not misinformation."

* Dragnea's connections to Trump's inaugural committee are of interest: "The State Department banned a Romanian politician accused of corruption from entering the U.S. Thursday, after he spent years cozying up to influential GOPers for access to Washington. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an order barring Romanian politico Liviu Dragnea and his immediate family from entering the U.S. over allegations of 'significant corruption.'"

* More DHS turnover: "The long-serving head of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services' Asylum Division was pushed out this week by the agency's hardline acting director, Ken Cuccinelli, according to a source with knowledge of the move, marking the latest shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration."

* Sounds like a slap on the wrist: "Corruption charges against former Rep. Aaron Schock have been dismissed under a deal struck with prosecutors."

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Now we know who's set to pay for Trump's border barriers

09/05/19 12:53PM

Donald Trump's original vision was for Mexico to pay for a giant border wall. When that didn't go well, the president said the wall would pay for the wall. That didn't prove persuasive, either.

This week, the Trump administration announced plans to divert $3.6 billion away from the Pentagon to pay for border barriers, adversely affecting 127 planned construction projects. Which projects? Officials released a public list last night, and now we know several pertinent details -- such as the fact that the children of American military servicemembers will help pay for a wall. Reuters reported:

The Pentagon said on Wednesday it would pull funding from 127 Defense Department projects, including schools and daycare centers for military families, as it diverts $3.6 billion to fund President Donald Trump's wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Schools for the children of U.S. military members from Kentucky to Germany to Japan will be affected. A daycare center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland -- the home of Air Force One -- will also have its funds diverted, the Pentagon said.

NBC News ran a report noting that Puerto Rico, a frequent target of Trump criticism, was also poised to receive funding for major projects, but the administration is moving that money to border barriers: "The department said it was holding off on over $400 million in funding for ten construction projects on the island, including a power substation and a National Guard readiness center."

In case that weren't quite enough, the Washington Post reported, "Roughly $770 million of the money will be taken from projects in allied European nations aimed at helping them deter a possible attack from Russia."

I'm not saying there's always a Russia angle to Trump-related news, but it does seem to come up quite a bit.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.5.19

09/05/19 12:00PM

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

* Ahead of this year's state legislative elections in Virginia, the National Rifle Association this week donated $200,000 to a Republican political action committee. According to the Daily Press, "It's the largest single donation the gun rights lobby has made in Virginia since the Virginia Public Access Project started tracking campaign finance in the 1990s."

* In Wisconsin, the latest Marquette Law School poll found Joe Biden is the first choice among 28% of Badger State Democrats, followed by Bernie Sanders with 20%, and Elizabeth Warren with 17%. Pete Buttigieg, with 6% support, was the only other candidate above 5%.

* On a related note, the same poll found Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical match-up in Wisconsin, 51% to 42%, although at this point four years ago, Hillary Clinton easily led Trump in the state, long before the Republican ended up winning.

* Speaking of Biden, the former vice president is defending his 2003 support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but he appears to be getting some of the relevant details of his record wrong.

* In Kansas, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R) ended his U.S. Senate campaign yesterday and announced he would instead take on freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R) in a primary. In recent weeks, there have been rumors about a Watkins-related controversy and a possible resignation, though nothing from the apparent whisper-campaign has been substantiated.

* Climate activists didn't get the issue-specific debate they'd hoped for, but CNN did host a multi-hour forum yesterday with several leading Democratic presidential candidates, focused exclusively on the climate crisis and plans to combat it.

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President Donald Trump holds a chart as he talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington.

Even as a hurricane nears, Trump won't focus on governing

09/05/19 11:08AM

Over Labor Day weekend, a deadly hurricane neared the nation's southeast coast, while wreaking havoc in the Bahamas. Donald Trump published a variety of storm-related tweets -- including, in one instance, warning a state that wasn't in danger -- but he also made clear just how divided his attention was.

Was the president focused on the latest mass shooting? Not exactly. He actually aired a Festivus-like airing of grievances, complaining about Debra Messing, AFL–CIO President Richard Trumka, four progressive congresswomen of color, news organizations., and former FBI Director James Comey. At one point, Trump even suggested Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts should investigate Comey, once again reminding the public that Trump doesn't know what Supreme Court justices do.

The president also canceled a scheduled visit to Poland and went golfing.

Perhaps Trump would become more focused as the holiday passed, the week progressed, and the threat of the hurricane grew more acute? I'm afraid not. On the heels of yesterday afternoon's hurricane-map fiasco, Trump published a fresh round of tweets this morning about Alabama having been in Hurricane Dorian's path -- simply admitting he was wrong several days ago apparently wasn't an option -- before turning his attention to an actress the president apparently doesn't like.

President Donald Trump on Thursday amplified accusations of McCarthyism leveled at actress Debra Messing after the "Will & Grace" star made a public plea for a list of Trump donors in Hollywood and disparaged black Trump voters.

"Bad 'actress' Debra The Mess Messing is in hot water," Trump wrote in a pair of tweets, claiming that Messing wanted to create a "'Blacklist' of Trump supporters, & is being accused of McCarthyism."

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin raised a point this morning that resonated with me: "It used to be partisans would scour press reports for any stray detail that offered even a hint a president was less than focused on a hurricane, now the president just tweets for multiple days about Debra Messing and weather charts and golfs and that's just kinda how it is."

There are a variety of pillars that help define the Trump presidency -- corruption, incompetence, uncontrollable dishonesty, et al. -- but we're occasionally reminded of my personal favorite: the man simply does not care about governance. No matter the circumstances, no matter the venue, no matter the severity of the threat, Donald Trump isn't especially interested in doing the job.

He wants to be president, but he doesn't want to be burdened with presidential tasks.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

The Trump administration's not-so-bright idea on light bulbs

09/05/19 10:11AM

There was no good reason for the Trump administration to roll back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, but that's exactly what happened this week.

Under one action, the Energy Department will repeal a regulation enacted under President Barack Obama, set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring an expanded number of lightbulbs in the U.S. to be in compliance with stricter energy efficiency standards. That regulation change was spun off of a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush that aimed to gradually phase out energy inefficient bulbs like incandescent and halogen bulbs.

The regulation that's being eliminated would have redefined four categories of incandescent and halogen bulbs so that they would be subject to existing energy efficiency rules from which they were previously exempt. It would have applied to about half of the 6 billion lightbulbs used in the U.S., experts have said. [...]

Trump's Energy Department also nixed new energy efficiency standards for all pear-shaped lightbulbs that were also scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

I can appreciate why no one uses the phrase "lightbulb energy-efficiency standards" as click-bait, but this isn't trivial. As The Hill's report added, the Trump administration's new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

Rachel used a line on the show last night that stood out for me: she noted that the bulb standards were "working." That's exactly right, and it's a highly relevant detail.

As longtime readers may recall, way back in 2007, the newly elected Democratic Congress and the Republican White House thought they could work together on a credible energy bill, and they actually had a fair amount of success. One of the provisions, co-authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), dealt with light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency.

The parties worked together on this, the bill passed, and policy did exactly what it was intended to do. It looked like a rare example of a modern, bipartisan success story.

So what happened?

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