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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.20.18

11/20/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber killed at least 43 people Tuesday at a wedding hall, where victims had gathered for a religious event, authorities said. The people were celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad's birth, a Ministry of Public Health official told NBC News. At least 80 people were also injured in the attack, officials said."

* Yesterday's shooting in Chicago: "A police officer and two female staffers were killed in a shooting at a Chicago hospital on Monday afternoon."

* The shooting in Denver soon after: "One person was killed and four others were injured in a shooting in downtown Denver late Monday afternoon, authorities said. The shooter or shooters remained at large Monday night."

* Hmm: "In the three years after he arrived in Washington in 2014, Matthew G. Whitaker received more than $1.2 million as the leader of a charity that reported having no other employees, some of the best pay of his career. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust described itself as a new watchdog nonprofit dedicated to exposing unethical conduct by public officials."

* I wonder who Trump will blame for this: "The stock market slid dramatically on Tuesday after a slew of disappointing corporate earnings dragged down the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500, erasing all gains for 2018. The Dow fell by 648 points at its session low, and closed at 24,465."

* Rachel had a good segment on this lawsuit last night: "A group of Senate Democrats are suing to try to strike down President Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. The suit, filed in DC federal district court by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Mazie Hirono (HI), argues that Whitaker's appointment was unconstitutional because he was not confirmed by the Senate to his prior position."

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Trump releases even-weird-for-him statement on key foreign policy

11/20/18 02:41PM

Late last week, the CIA made little effort to hide the fact that it believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That information was, of course, shared with Donald Trump, who made little effort to hide his skepticism.

The president announced plans to release a statement on his position on Saudi Arabia soon. Today, the White House released that statement, which came as a surprise -- not necessarily because of the details of the administration's foreign policy, but because of the way in which the statement describes that policy.

President Donald Trump, in exclamation point-filled formal presidential statement, said Tuesday that his administration would stand by Saudia Arabia's rulers and take no actions against them over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In the extraordinary statement, which featured six exclamation points from the president, Trump called the "crime" against Khashoggi "terrible" and "one that our country does not condone."

But he again stopped well short of pointing blame at Saudi Arabia -- despite NBC News and other reports last week that the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing -- and cast questions over who killed the journalist.

It's a bit too long to republish in its entirety here, but open a tab and take a couple of minutes to read the whole thing. Often, official White House statements are issued on behalf of the president, though it's obvious that Trump played no role in writing the document.

Today's statement, however, was very clearly crafted by the president himself -- and I don't mean that as a compliment.

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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place in Billings, Mont., Nov. 6, 2012.

California Republican in key district reflects on why he came up short

11/20/18 12:44PM

To get a sense of a congressional district's political leanings, it's generally a good idea to start with a metric called the Partisan Voter Index, or PVI, which was created 20 years ago by the Cook Political Report. Districts that lean slightly towards Democrats might have a PVI of D+2 or D+3. Districts that are safely in Republican hands might show a PVI of R+10 or greater.

In general, competitive districts are seen as having a +5 advantage or less for either party, but out of 435 U.S. House districts, eight of them have a special designation: they're exactly "even." Neither party has any advantage at all, making these eight districts the most competitive in the nation.

One of them, California's 10th, was represented by Rep. Jeff Denham (R) of California, whose "blue" state is getting "bluer" by the day. Naturally, the five-term incumbent faced an uphill climb this year, and he didn't quite make it: Denham lost to Rep.-elect Josh Harder (D) by about three points.

The outgoing congressman spoke to the Sacramento Bee about the race, and pointed to a variety of factors.

Denham said his own race, as well as those of other Republicans, were faced with trouble this year from a Democratic operation well-positioned to turn out voters, unprecedented Democratic fundraising and new California voter laws designed to register more younger voters. [...]

Also hurting Denham was the big Latino vote. Ethnic breakdowns of the overall vote haven't been tabulated. But early returns on Latino voter turnout indicated their participation was about the same as in presidential election years for the first time in a midterm election.

Denham pointed to other factors. He said Republicans were hurt by California's motor voter law, which encourages 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote as they get their driver's licenses so they will be automatically registered at 18, and same-day registration, which allowed people to register up until Election Day and cast a provisional ballot.

That's not quite how I'd recommend looking at the results. In Denham's case, the California Republican voted with Donald Trump's position the overwhelming majority of the time, including siding with his party on unpopular measures such as health care repeal and tax breaks for the wealthy.

In a district with an "even" PVI, one might expect a lawmaker like Denham to have one of Capitol Hill's most centrist voting records. He didn't.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.20.18

11/20/18 12:00PM

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

* It took a while, but in Texas's 23rd congressional district, the state's most competitive, incumbent Rep. Will Hurd (R) has fended off a very tough challenge from Gina Ortiz Jones (D).

* Speaking of the handful of remaining U.S. House races, the results in Utah's 4th congressional district aren't yet official, but Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) last night declared victory over Rep. Mia Love (R). The incumbent, however, hasn't conceded and there are still some uncounted votes.

* In the wake of her racially provocative rhetoric, Walmart has asked Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) to return its campaign contribution. CNBC reported that Union Pacific and Boston Scientific also asked the Mississippi Republican to give back their contributions.

* The U.S. House races in California are done, right? Well, we thought so, but in the state's 21st congressional district, where votes are still being tallied, David Valadao's (R) lead over T.J. Cox (D) is now smaller than 1%. Major news organizations called the race for the Republican last week, but the outcome is suddenly in doubt.

* As Rachel noted on last night's show, there was a bit of a surprise in Georgia's secretary of state race, where Libertarian J. Smythe DuVal threw his support behind Democrat John Barrow. The race is two weeks from today.

* The race for House Majority Whip has apparently ended, with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) bowing out, clearing the way for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to claim the position.

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The empty speaker podium in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

White House eyes new 'rules' for reporters at press conferences

11/20/18 11:20AM

Things got a little heated at Donald Trump's post-election press conference two weeks ago, and soon after, White House officials went after CNN's Jim Acosta in an unusual way: they tried to kick him out of the West Wing by revoking the reporter's press pass.

CNN filed a lawsuit soon after, and a federal judge -- who was appointed by Trump -- sided with the network. There was a series of threats and counter-threats, but yesterday, the president's team backed down and restored Acosta's White House hard pass.

So, all's well that ends well? Not exactly. The White House also unveiled a series of new "rules" yesterday afternoon, which it expects reporters to adhere to at all future press conferences.

1. A journalist called upon to ask a question will ask a single question and then will yield the floor to other journalists;

2. At the discretion of the President or other White House official taking questions, a follow-up question or questions may be permitted; and where a follow up has been allowed and asked, the questioner will then yield the floor;

3. "Yielding the floor" includes, when applicable, physically surrendering the microphone to White House staff for use by the next questioner;

4. Failure to abide by any of rules 1-3 may result in suspension or revocation of the journalist's hard pass.

This, evidently, is how White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders intends to promote "decorum" in the West Wing, her boss' offensive antics toward reporters notwithstanding.

I am not, and have never been, a White House correspondent, and there are plenty of media professionals who can speak to this with far more authority than me. That said, I have a strong hunch the imposition of these new "rules" isn't going to turn out well.

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Wyoming Senate candidate Liz Cheney holds a news conference at the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne, Wyoming on July 17, 2013.

On women, GOP says it has 'room for improvement,' but not room for change

11/20/18 10:44AM

Though votes from the 2018 midterm elections are still being tallied, we already have a sense of how significant this year's gender gap was at ballot boxes nationwide. Exit polls found men favoring Republicans by 4 points, while women preferred Democratic candidates by 19 points. That 23-point difference suggests this year's gender gap was among the largest -- if not the very largest -- ever recorded.

The issue is not, however, limited to the electorate. When the new Congress begins in January, the number of Republican women will shrink to its lowest levels since 1994, even as gender diversity among Democrats grows.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who'll soon make the transition from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, said last week, "We have a lot of room to grow.... We have room for improvement."

With this in mind, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is poised to become the House Republican conference chair -- the #3 position in the House GOP leadership -- and she'll have the highest leadership post ever held by a Republican woman. (Yes, Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the current House GOP conference chair, but for the majority party, that's the #4 post.)

Cheney told the Washington Post last week about her vision for improving her party's position among women voters.

"I think the Republicans have to get off of defense on this issue," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Friday in an interview.... [Cheney] does not see any need for course corrections on policies relating to women, arguing that Democrats create silos for female issues that treat women in a condescending way.

"I've always felt like it was very paternalistic to do what the Democrats do," she said. "It's offensive to women."

If this argument sounds at all familiar, it's because Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who'll soon join the Senate, made a similar argument a while back, insisting that proposals to guarantee pay equity between men and women are "condescending" to women.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addresses criticism of his travel practices before delivering a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance." at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Zinke foolishly blames California fires on 'radical environmentalists'

11/20/18 10:06AM

Donald Trump traveled to California over the weekend to survey deadly fire damage, and the president told reporters, "We will be working also with environmental groups." Apparently, before that work gets underway, Trump's Interior secretary wants to blame some environmentalists for the fires themselves. The L.A. Times  reported:

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed the state's fires on "radical environmentalists" who he said have prevented forest management. [...]

In an interview with Breitbart News, Zinke said he agrees with Trump's comments about the fires being a result of poor forest management, and repeatedly said radical environmentalists were responsible for the destruction caused by the fires.

"It's not time for finger-pointing," Zinke told the far-right website. "We know the problem. It's been years of neglect, and in many cases it's been these radical environmentalists that want nature to take its course.... You know what? This is on them."

As serious an issue as this is, it's always amusing when people preface their remarks by saying, "It's not time for finger-pointing," which is immediately followed by finger-pointing.

For the scandal-plagued Interior secretary, however, it was a familiar posture. In August, for example, Zinke wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he twice lashed out at "radical environmentalists," complaining they "would rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods."

Soon after, the Republican cabinet secretary insisted that climate change has "nothing to do" with California fires, adding, "America is better than letting these radical groups control the dialogue about climate change. Extreme environmentalists have shut down public access. They talk about habitat and yet they are willing to burn it up."

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Trump reportedly 'afraid' to visit troops in combat zone

11/20/18 09:20AM

It was the Associated Press that first broached the topic with Donald Trump last month, asking the president why he hadn't yet visited a military base in a combat zone like in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump replied that he'd do so eventually, though he didn't see it as "overly necessary."

He added in the same interview, "I've been very busy with everything that's taking place here.... I'm doing a lot of things. I'm doing a lot of things."

The New York Times  reported soon after on another possible explanation: "One reason he has not visited troops in war zones, according to his aides, is that he does not really want American troops there in the first place. To visit, they said, would validate missions he does not truly believe in."

When Fox News' Chris Wallace asked the president about this the other day, Trump replied, "I've had an unbelievably busy schedule, on top of which you have these phony witch hunts."

Putting aside the fact that the president's schedule really isn't "unbelievably busy" -- he's had plenty of time for golf and excessive television watching -- are we really supposed to believe Trump hasn't traveled to a military base in a combat zone because of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the investigation into the Russia scandal?

The Washington Post has now reported on a brand new explanation.

Trump has spoken privately about his fears over risks to his own life, according to a former senior White House official, who has discussed the issue with the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Trump's concerns.

"He's never been interested in going," the official said of Trump visiting troops in a combat zone, citing conversations with the president. "He's afraid of those situations. He's afraid people want to kill him."

For what it's worth, I've never worn the uniform, but I suspect plenty of servicemen and women stationed abroad worry about people wanting to kill them, too.

They're there anyway.

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Federal judge: Trump 'may not rewrite' immigration laws through decree

11/20/18 08:41AM

Two days after the midterm elections, the Trump administration announced new rules in which Donald Trump claimed vast new powers to block asylum seekers. The president invoked broad national security powers, which appeared to exist outside any existing legal framework, in a highly provocative directive.

It was obvious to everyone that the litigation challenging the policy would be fierce. What we didn't know was how quickly Trump's policy would be blocked.

A federal judge barred the Trump administration on Monday from refusing asylum to immigrants who cross the southern border illegally.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar issued a temporary restraining order after hearing arguments in San Francisco. The request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, which quickly sued after President Donald Trump issued the ban this month in response to the caravans of migrants that have started to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," Tigar, an Obama nominee, wrote in his restraining order.

It's the latest in a series of court failures for the Trump administration, especially on the issue of immigration. Judges have also rejected Trump's executive order on "sanctuary cities" and his efforts to deny DACA protections to Dreamers, and in September, a federal court ordered the administration to end its "zero tolerance" policy that separated migrant parents and their children.

Similarly, Trump has also lost recent court fights over the Keystone XL Pipeline, press access to the White House, and the Emoluments Clause.

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Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump's proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

But her emails: Ivanka Trump faces awkward new controversy

11/20/18 08:00AM

Officials in Donald Trump's White House were told they couldn't use private email accounts to conduct official business. The National Security Agency also warned White House officials that use of private email accounts created a security threat. What's more, as regular readers know, one of the reasons Trump's political operation is in power is that it spent two years telling the public that Hillary Clinton should be incarcerated for having used a private email account.

And yet, here we are.

White House advisor and first daughter Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of messages to government officials last year, according to a report published Monday in the Washington Post.

Many of the messages were allegedly sent in violation of federal records rules, the Post reported, and were uncovered by White House officials reviewing Ivanka Trump's emails in response to a public records lawsuit.

The Washington Post's article added, "Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump's personal emails -- and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. She said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction."

Perhaps this is one of those rare instances in which a White House official experiences selective amnesia, causing her to forget a period of time known as "all of 2015 and 2016."

Complicating matters, Ivanka Trump is hardly alone.

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