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Candidate sues to stop Facebook group that supposedly supports him

10/22/18 07:27PM

Adding to the list of suspected trickery in politics, a candidate for a local race in South Carolina is suing over an anonymous Facebook group that he says is undermining his campaign.

The Greenville News first reported that Lucas Marchant, a candidate for the 13th Judicial Circuit Solicitor in upstate South Carolina, is suing to unmask who is behind the Facebook page “Democrats for Marchant.” The page ties Marchant, a candidate of self-described “conservative values” in a conservative district, to liberal opinions.  Marchant says he disagrees with all of the posts on the “Democrats for Marchant” page.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.22.18

10/22/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ties do not appear to have frayed: "U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday, according to the Saudi government, illustrating how the White House is retaining close ties with the embattled Middle Eastern leader despite a growing international outcry."

* More racially charged innuendo for which there is no proof: "President Trump on Monday said a caravan of migrants making their way toward the United States included 'criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,' and blamed Democrats for the state of immigration law."

* I fear it's too late: "The center of London ground to a halt as an estimated 700,000 people from all over the UK marched peacefully on parliament to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest outpouring of public opposition to government policy since the anti-Iraq war protest in 2003."

* An unsettling story: "Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi's killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations."

* Minimum wage: "A research team including economists from the University of Washington has put out a paper showing that Seattle's recent minimum-wage increases brought benefits to many workers employed at the time, while leaving few employed workers worse off.... This new paper, issued Monday, has a unique pedigree: Last summer, the same authors released a paper showing that Seattle's minimum-wage increases had large costs for workers."

* Raise your hand if you think he has any idea what his administration has proposed: "President Trump signaled opposition Saturday to reviving Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage site, even though his administration has allocated millions of dollars to the project that has long been controversial in this state. "

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Latest polling points to high interest in midterm elections

10/22/18 01:00PM

For many years, polling from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal has asked respondents to gauge their interest in voting on a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being the highest. It's a good way to measure political intensity, giving us a hint about how eager various constituencies are in casting a ballot.

And if you're under the impression that interest is a bit higher than usual this year, it's not your imagination. The latest results found that 72% of self-identified Democrats are very interested in this year's elections -- meaning, they gauged their interest at a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale -- while 68% of self-identified Republicans said the same.

In isolation, those numbers may not mean much, but MSNBC's Steve Kornacki tracked down the related results from NBC/WSJ polling from the last three midterm election cycles -- each of which were pretty significant in their own way.

In 2006, for example, voters participated in the last midterms of the George W. Bush presidency and they punished his party severely. More Dems were very interested in the election than Republicans -- 69% to 56% -- and the GOP lost control of both the House and Senate that year.

Four years later, the winds had shifted in the opposite direction, and it was Republicans who were very interested in the elections, 74% to 54%. Soon after, Democrats lost control of the House.

In 2014, which was an abysmal year for voter turnout, neither party was especially interested in the cycle, though the GOP had the intensity advantage, 59% to 47%. It was also the year Democrats lost their Senate majority.

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A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access adorns the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C., May 3, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Trump admin eyes rolling back the clock on transgender rights

10/22/18 12:30PM

Civil rights for transgender Americans advanced during Barack Obama's presidency. As NBC News explained over the weekend, during the Obama administration, "the legal concept of gender was less stringent in federal programs and allowed individuals for the most part to choose how they identified."

According to a report from the New York Times, the Trump administration is eyeing a dramatic change that would more narrowly define gender "as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth."

[T]he Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable." The agency's proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one's sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

Though the Times' reporting hasn't been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, if it's correct, the proposed change would "essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves -- surgically or otherwise -- as a gender other than the one they were born into."

This comes on the heels of a series of related measures from the Trump administration that are designed to turn back the clock on the rights of LGBT Americans, including the president's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

All of which may come as a surprise to those who believed what Candidate Trump had to say before he was elected.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.22.18

10/22/18 12:00PM

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

* It's a big day for early voting, with several states accepting ballots today: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. Residents of the District of Columbia can also cast in-person absentee ballots starting today.

* The Nevada Independent's Jon Ralston published several tweets over the weekend on early voting in Nevada, which is apparently off to a very strong start. He added that the preliminary numbers looked encouraging for Democrats.

* The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 41%, among likely voters. The nine-point advantage for Dems is up slightly from the eight-point lead they had a month ago. Also of interest: the Democratic lead is stronger among likely voters than registered voters, pointing to a possible enthusiasm edge.

* Though American presidents rarely try to intimidate voters in their own country about participating in elections, Donald Trump wrote on Twitter over the weekend, "All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!"

* In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new CNN poll found incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with a modest lead over Gov. Rick Scott (R), 50% to 45%, among likely voters.

* On a related note, that same CNN poll found Andrew Gillum (D) with a surprisingly large lead over Rick DeSantis (R) in Florida's gubernatorial race, 54% to 42%.

* In Missouri's closely watched U.S. Senate race, both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times took separate looks at Josh Hawley's (R) tenure as state attorney general, and both painted an unflattering portrait, including criticisms from state judges over his office's work.

* Speaking of the Show-Me State, the Missouri Republican Party acknowledged late Friday that it "sent mailers to 10,000 voters across the state with false information about when their absentee ballots are due."

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Swing state senator tells Trump, 'Everything you touch turns to gold'

10/22/18 11:30AM

Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada is in a unique position: he's literally the only Republican senator up for re-election this year in a state Donald Trump lost.

And that in turn left Heller with a choice ahead of his closely watched re-election bid. He could've moderated his public image -- as many Senate Democrats in "red" states have done -- and told Nevadans that he's a centrist, independent voice on Capitol Hill committed to working in bipartisan fashion. Or Heller could've moved to the right, rallied the GOP base, and positioned himself as a Donald Trump toady.

Two years ago, it looked like the senator was poised to go with the former. As Election Day 2016 drew closer, Heller not only announced his "vehement" opposition to Trump's candidacy, he also gave to charity a contribution he'd received from his party's presidential nominee.

But as Election Day 2018 nears, Heller has decided he's better off in a more sycophantic position. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend:

"Welcome to Trump country!" the senator said as he walked onto the stage, introduced warmly by the person Heller would not admit he voted for until nearly seven months into Trump's presidency.

"Mr. President, this is not the swamp. Now, Mr. President, you know a little bit about gold. In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold."

This comes after a session of Congress in which the Nevada Republican voted with Trump more than 92% of the time -- easily the most of any senator from a state Hillary Clinton carried in the last election.

At Saturday's event, the president was quick to return the favor, telling locals, "There's no better partner that I had in Washington than Dean Heller."

Shouldn't this be the kiss of death in a state that backed the Democratic ticket in 2016, 2012, and 2008? Not necessarily.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

It's not just Dem officials: Trump takes aim at Democratic voters

10/22/18 11:00AM

Donald Trump has grown increasingly unrestrained in his condemnations of Democratic officials, condemning them as, among other things, "evil."

But the president isn't just concerned about Democratic candidates and officeholders. At a campaign rally in Arizona the other day, Trump took aim at Democratic voters, too:

"They're only sticking together because they want to make sure that I and we don't get what they know our country needs. But I think they may be forced politically to do it, because I got to tell you, anybody that votes for a Democrat now is crazy."

He was referring, of course, to roughly half the electorate in the country Trump ostensibly leads.

Which brings us back to a point we discussed a couple of weeks ago. Around this point in the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton delivered remarks in which she took aim at Trump's radicalized base. To be "grossly generalistic," she said, "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables.'"

More specifically, Clinton lamented the fact that so much of Trump's core support is "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamaphobic" -- an assessment that stood up pretty well to further scrutiny.

Nevertheless, Republicans became a little obsessed with the line, and the media soon followed. I'll confess that I never fully understood why this became a furious point of contention, but the conventional wisdom said Clinton had crossed a line: criticizing a rival candidate is fine, but criticizing Americans, even bigoted Americans, is beyond the pale for someone seeking the nation's highest office.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Republicans take health care make-believe to a new level

10/22/18 10:32AM

One of the unexpected elements of the 2018 election cycle has been watching Republicans pretend to be progressive health care advocates who love the core elements of "Obamacare." It's a rather transparent sham, but with polls showing Americans ranking health care as the year's most important issue, GOP officials and candidates apparently feel as if they have no choice but to keep the charade going.

But as it turns out, Republicans aren't just playing make-believe on their policy positions; they're also playing make believe on their actual legislative record. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank flagged an especially brazen example that hadn't crossed my radar.

Embattled incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) stands accused of voting against health care for more than 100,000 Mainers. "To clarify," a reporter for the local ABC affiliate asked Poliquin recently, "did you vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act?"

"No," Poliquin said. "I voted for a replacement plan."

Here is the roll call on the House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a regressive alternative. A total of 20 House Republicans voted "no" -- and Maine's Bruce Poliquin wasn't one of them.

The GOP congressman is playing a rather silly game, making the case that when he voted to "repeal and replace" the ACA, he was really only voting to "replace."

The vote Poliquin and 216 other House Republicans cast in May 2017 was quite controversial at the time. They knew the bill hadn't yet received any meaningful committee scrutiny; they knew it faced long odds in the Senate; they knew it was deeply unpopular with the public; they knew it would hurt a lot of families; and they knew Donald Trump might not provide them with backup when it counted. (The president turned on the House bill six weeks later, condemning it as "mean," hanging his ostensible allies out to dry.)

But they cast the vote anyway, inviting the consequences. It's a little late to pretend that vote never happened.

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Imagined job totals from Trump's imagined arms deal keep growing

10/22/18 10:00AM

Over the summer, Donald Trump told a group of supporters that he'd spoken with the head of U.S. Steel, who told him that, as a result of the president's policies, the company was opening six new plants. It wasn't long before we learned that Trump had made up the conversation, and U.S. Steel wasn't opening any new plants.

But the president was undeterred by reality. As the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale has documented in detail, Trump not only kept repeating the lie, he also inflated the number of new plants that don't exist. What started as six imaginary plants soon became seven, then eight, and more recently "at least eight."

Remember, the actual number is zero. The president nevertheless repeats the lie at nearly every campaign rally, constantly upping the ante, assuming Republican voters won't know or care about the difference.

Something eerily similar is unfolding with Trump's rhetoric about a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which, in reality, is not real. And yet, despite the fact that the deal does not really exist, the American president continues to ascribe new job totals to the imagined agreement.

Mar. 20, 2018: "We're talking about over 40,000 jobs in the United States."

Oct. 13, 2018: "It's 450,000 jobs."

Oct. 17, 2018: "It's 500,000 jobs."

Oct. 19, 2018: "I'd prefer that we not cancel $110 billion worth of work, which means 600,000 jobs."

Oct. 19, 2018 (a few hours later): "600,000 jobs, maybe more than that."

Oct. 19, 2018 (a few hours later after that): "So now if you're talking about -- that was $110 billion -- you know, you're talking about over a million jobs."

I half expect him to start making up gibberish numbers just to see what he can get away with. ("This arms deal will create 18 gajillion jobs....")

Of course, while it's tempting to laugh at all of this, the underlying point is quite serious.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points at supporters after speaking at rally at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo by Justin Lane/EPA)

To defend his immigration agenda, Trump points to 'riots' that don't exist

10/22/18 09:30AM

What kind of president makes up "riots" in his own country?

At a campaign rally in Nevada, President Donald Trump claimed Californians are "rioting" against "sanctuary cities" -- a statement yet to be supported by evidence.

After deriding Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) on her immigration policies at a rally in Elko, Trump told the crowd he thought Nevadans didn't care for sanctuary cities, and that Californians didn't like them either. Trump spoke in support of Sen. Dean Heller, Rosen's Republican opponent in the upcoming midterm election.

"They're rioting now," Trump said of Californians. "They want to get out of their sanctuary cities."

In context, "they" referred to Golden State residents who agree with the White House on so-called "sanctuary cities."

In other words, after weeks of Trump rhetoric about dangerous Democratic "mobs," the president believes it's his supporters who've taken to the streets, violently lashing out at communities in California that disagree with the White House about immigration.

In reality, of course, the riots don't exist. The debate over so-called "sanctuary cities" is real, but enraged conservatives rioting in California appear to be limited to the president's imagination.

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Image: Donald Trump,Melania Trump

Trump's credulity toward Saudi Arabia becomes a much bigger problem

10/22/18 09:00AM

For weeks, Saudi Arabian officials suggested that U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi had left the Saudi consulate in Turkey on his own. Late Friday, the official story changed dramatically.

According to the Saudis' new version of events, Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul, where the 60-year-old journalist proceeded to have a physical altercation with 15 men. The "quarrel" -- the noun used in the official Saudi Arabian statement -- left Khashoggi dead.

By any fair measure, the new version of events is literally unbelievable to nearly everyone -- except Donald Trump.

Trump was asked Friday at an event in Arizona whether he found the Saudi explanation credible and he responded, "I do," but said, "It's early. We haven't finished our review or investigation."

The American president went on to call the Saudi statement "a good first step."

A day later, however, Trump criticized Saudi Arabia's explanation for Khashoggi death, telling the Washington Post that "obviously there's been deception, and there's been lies."

Why Trump considered the Saudis' version of events credible on Friday, only to criticize the Saudis' "lies" and "deception" on Saturday, is unclear.

What's more, the American president again finds himself at odds with U.S. intelligence agencies -- Trump has an unfortunate habit of believing claims from foreign authoritarian regimes over American intelligence professionals -- and many congressional Republicans.

It's against this backdrop that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on ABC News' "This Week" yesterday that U.S. lawmakers "have to determine whether financial motives are motivating the president and the first family. This is the very problem with the president not releasing his tax returns. It leaves the American people wondering. Is the U.S. Saudi policy being driven by something other than national interest?"

Host George Stephanopoulos then asked Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) whether Trump should "release all information related to his financial ties to the Saudi kingdom?" The New York Republican's answer was kind of amazing:

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Alaska Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, right, laughs while awaiting election results, Nov. 4, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Dinneen/AP)

Why Alaska's gubernatorial race is suddenly a lot more interesting

10/22/18 08:32AM

By all appearances, Alaska's gubernatorial race was on track to produce predictable results. That changed quite dramatically late Friday.

Incumbent Gov. Bill Walker (I) was seeking a second term despite a low approval rating, and he was facing two major-party rivals: former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D) and former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R). There hasn't been a lot of polling, but the writing was on the wall: Walker and Begich were poised to split the center-left, making Dunleavy the clear favorite.

As the Anchorage Daily News  reported, the race now looks very different.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday he is dropping his bid for re-election, and threw support to Democrat Mark Begich over Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Walker, elected as an independent, made the surprise announcement at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention, three days after former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly stepped down from both his office and the re-election campaign over unspecified "inappropriate comments" he made to a woman.

Referring to the Democratic nominee, the outgoing governor said, "On balance, it is my belief that despite my many differences with Mark Begich, his stance on important issues that I have listed are more closely aligned with my priorities for Alaska."

As for Dunleavy, the Republican nominee, Walker added, "I think Alaska is going to be hurt if he is successful."

Begich's odds have obviously improved as a result of the news -- he's likely to pick up the bulk of Walker's supporters -- but he's hardly a shoo-in. Alaska tends to be a rather "red" state, as evidenced by Donald Trump's 15-point victory in the state two years ago, and it's been a couple of decades since a Democratic candidate won a gubernatorial race in the Last Frontier.

But Friday's news changes the nature of the contest dramatically. What was a three-way race that a Republican was all but certain to win is now a two-person contest that's much harder to predict.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Trump eyes 'very major tax cut' before Election Day

10/22/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump appeared to make a little news over the weekend, pointing to a "very major tax cut" that he suggested we'd see quite soon -- as in, within the nine days.

"We are looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people. And if we do that it'll be sometime just prior, I would say, to November... We are studying very deeply right now around the clock a major tax cut for middle-income people -- not for business at all, for middle-income people. [...]

"Kevin Brady is working on it, Paul Ryan is working, we're all working on it. We are looking at putting in a major tax cut for middle-income people. We need it."

Asked about a possible time frame, the president added, "I would say sometime around the first of November, maybe a little before that." (The first of November is a week from Thursday.)

The fact that he said "we need it" was itself unexpected, given that, according to GOP officials, Republicans have already approved "a major tax cut for middle-income people." Trump's rhetoric seemed like an implicit acknowledgement that they have not.

Regardless, the president's unexpected announcement came as something of a surprise, largely because the midterm elections are two weeks away and members of Congress are in their home districts and states. Lawmakers won't return to Capitol Hill until after the midterm elections, making it impossible for them to take up legislation on tax policy "around the first of November, maybe a little before that."

So, what was he talking about? There are three possibilities to consider.

The first is that Trump was simply making stuff up. It's entirely possible, if not likely, that he was simply sharing an imaginary scenario that he'd made up on the spot, and no one is actually working "around the clock" on a new "very major" tax cut. The lines between fact and fiction are often blurred in this White House, and there's no reason to accept the president's claims at face value.

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Rev. Pat Robertson, center, talks to attendees at a prayer breakfast at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. on Jan. 16, 2010. (Photo by Clem Britt/AP)

This Week in God, 10.20.18

10/20/18 07:49AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a striking evangelical perspective on the suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi from one of the nation's most infamous religious right leaders.

On Monday morning, TV preacher Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" audience that Khashoggi's apparent slaying is less significant than an arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia. As the estimable Kyle Mantyla reported at Right Wing Watch reported, Robertson returned to the subject a day later.

"We've got to cool the rhetoric," Robertson said. "Calls for sanctions and calls for punitive actions against the Saudis is ill-advised.... You've got a hundred billion dollars' worth of arms sales -- which is, you know, that's one of those things -- but more than that, we've got to have some Arab allies. We have to have it! We cannot alienate a biggest player in the Middle East who is a bulwark against Iran."

When Robertson's co-host Wendy Griffith argued that we cannot have governments killing critical journalists with impunity, Robertson dismissed those concerns.

"We've had so many people killed," he responded. "We've had CIA people killed in Lebanon. People have been taken hostage over the years. I know it's bad, but we've had all kinds of stuff, but you don't blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I'm sorry."

A few things. First, there is no $100 billion arms deal. Second, Robertson was perfectly willing to jeopardize an international alliance over one person when the person was a Christian evangelist in Turkey. Third, drawing a moral parallel between the United States and Saudi Arabia -- as if the two countries have comparable records on human rights -- is quite a departure from the right's usual approach to patriotism.

But even putting these relevant details aside, the televangelist's on-air comments were emblematic of just how far some evangelical Christians are prepared to go to defend Donald Trump's position. Christian principles about the value of human life are nice, but a multi-billion-dollar arms deal that doesn't really exist is, evidently, quite a bit nicer.

Stephen Colbert, dressed in a robe and a fake beard, did a great bit on his show this week, pointing to the Ten Commandments' prohibition on killing, and joking about its apparent asterisk: "Thou shalt not kill -- unless there's a lot of coinage on the table.... If that be the case, then the big guy upstairs is more than willing to look the other way."

It's worse, of course, given the fact that there isn't even a lot of coinage on the table.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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