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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.7.18

06/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll, Democrats have a 10-point advantage on the congressional generic ballot, leading Republicans 50% to 40%. That's up from a seven-point lead Dems had in the same poll in April.

* On a related note, the same poll found that 48% of voters are more likely to support a candidate who'll "provide a check" on Donald Trump, as opposed to 23% who say they're less likely to back such a candidate. In swing districts, it's 52% to 19%.

* A national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday pointed to slightly better news for Republicans: it found Democrats ahead on the generic ballot, 47% to 40%. That's down slightly from an eight-point lead for Dems in the same poll two months ago.

* NBC News' Kasie Hunt noted a very interesting tidbit this morning: the heads of the DCCC and NRCC are reportedly meeting today "to discuss whether campaigns should commit to not using hacked information in the midterm elections." Related efforts have fallen short in recent months, but this suggests there may yet be a bipartisan deal.

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, former Rep. Gwen Graham (D) is launching her first ad buy of the year, with a $1 million investment. Of particular interest is Graham's focus: she's made Medicaid expansion a central pillar of her platform.

* Though I'm skeptical of where this is headed, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will leave his current post at the end of the month, and may have a political future in mind. When the New York Times asked if he's consider a presidential campaign, Schultz replied, "I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service."

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Image: BELGIUM-NATO-DEFENCE-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-MEETING

On the international stage, Trump views flattery 'as a one-way street'

06/07/18 11:20AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acted as if he'd figured out something important: how to forge a partnership with Donald Trump. While the two Republicans clearly didn't see eye to eye during the 2016 campaign, the South Carolinian decided a charm offensive would improve his standing with the president and give him influence over Trump's direction.

As regular readers may recall, Graham attacked the press for its criticisms of Trump. Graham promoted conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton nonsense that Trump was likely to favor. Graham pressed the Justice Department to go after the author of the Trump/Russia dossier. Graham golfed with Trump and bragged about how nice Trump’s course was. Even after Graham heard Trump condemn immigrants from, in the president’s words, “shithole countries,” the GOP bit his tongue and refused to publicly acknowledge what we knew to be true.

For his trouble, Graham was rewarded with nothing. On the contrary, after carrying Trump's water for a while, the senator eventually found that water dumped on him.

This came to mind this morning reading Politico's report on incensed foreign leaders who tried cozying up to the American president, only to discover their efforts were in vain.

Foreign leaders are learning that hand-holding, golf games, military parades and other efforts to personally woo President Donald Trump do not guarantee that Trump won't burn them on key policy issues.

Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his "good friend." French president Emmanuel Macron is a "great friend." And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a "great friend, neighbor, and ally." All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president's heart is through his ego.

But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.

Indeed, when Trump's wishes diverted from their advice -- on national security, on trade, on the climate crisis, etc. -- the American president turned on the foreign leaders who'd hoped an inter-personal connection might make a difference, even at the risk of undermining their own domestic support.

Politico quoted one former White House official saying, "Trump is very selfish and I think he views flattery as a one-way street where he gets flattered and then there's no real reciprocal benefit going back the other direction. If you're a foreign leader you have to realize if you try to butter up Trump it doesn't really matter, it's a one way street."

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Image: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence

Poll shows why the GOP has given up touting its unpopular tax plan

06/07/18 10:48AM

There was a congressional special election in Pennsylvania a few months ago that Republicans expected to win. After all, the race was in the state's 18th district, which Donald Trump had carried the year before by 20 points.

What's more, going into the March election, the GOP and its allies believed their recently passed tax cuts would give the party an added boost, and the month before voters went to the polls, Republicans blanketed local airwaves with ads touting the GOP tax plan.

But as Pennsylvania's special election drew closer, Republicans abruptly switched gears -- because they discovered the commercials about tax breaks weren't working. The Democrat ended up narrowly winning the race.

This was not an isolated incident. There's plenty to chew on in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, but this stood out for me:

[Would you] be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Donald Trump's tax reform bill?

More likely: 36%
Less likely: 42%

CNBC's John Harwood added that in the most competitive House districts, that six-point margin becomes as 12-point margin against the Republican tax package.

This explains a lot.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

What congressional GOP leaders get wrong about legislative arithmetic

06/07/18 10:08AM

After Donald Trump announced new tariffs targeting our allies and neighbors, congressional Republicans were "gobsmacked." The policy goes against everything the GOP believes about trade and economics, and the president's ostensible allies on Capitol Hill -- from Republican leaders to rank-and-file members -- made clear they saw this as an important White House mistake.

Some are doing more than just complain. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would give Congress new authority to check the president's trade moves, going forward with the legislation despite a personal appeal from President Trump to back off.

Corker's bill would require congressional approval when the president enacts tariffs under the auspices of national security, as Trump did last week in imposing levies on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

The bill was introduced with a bipartisan lineup of 12 co-sponsors, ranging from progressive champions like Hawaii's Brian Schatz (D) and Maryland's Chris Van Hollen (D), to conservative diehards like Utah's Mike Lee and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey.

The bill was also quickly endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a prominent Republican ally.

And yet, GOP leaders are already rejecting the plan, even while claiming to oppose Trump's policy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday he's concerned about the president's policy having an adverse impact on his own state's economy, but added, in reference to Corker's proposal, "It'd be an exercise in futility because he wouldn't sign it."

Similarly, a reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) about Congress taking steps to reverse Trump's move. "You would have to pass a law that he would want to sign into law," Ryan replied, adding, "You can do the math on that."

Well, yes, we can do the math -- and the arithmetic suggests McConnell and Ryan may be mistaken.

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Image: SKOREA-NKOREA-US-NUCLEAR-DIPLOMACY

Giuliani: Kim Jong Un got 'on his hands and knees and begged'

06/07/18 09:20AM

Larry Kudlow, the chair of the White House's National Economic Council, argued this week that Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un is the result of the president's tough posture. "North Korea coming to the negotiating table has a lot to do with President Trump's very firm stand with respect to their nuclear weapons," Kudlow told Fox News.

This was largely backwards. Trump didn't entice North Korea to the table with pressure and threats; North Korean officials were already at the table, asking Trump to join them. Indeed, Pyongyang has wanted bilateral talks with the United States for decades. The current American president is simply the first to give North Korea what it wants in return for nothing.

Yesterday, however, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump lawyer who appears to do very little legal work, effectively said the opposite of what Kudlow argued, insisting that Kim Jong-un "begged" the Republican to participate in talks.

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, "got back on his hands and knees and begged" for the United States to revive the Singapore summit meeting after President Trump abruptly scrapped it last month, one of Mr. Trump's lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said Wednesday.

The remarks by Mr. Giuliani, apparently intended to portray Mr. Trump as a tough negotiator, may have lobbed a disruptive obstacle into the salvaged meeting less than a week before it is set to happen.

The remarks could easily offend officials in North Korea, where a cultlike autocracy exalts Mr. Kim as a deity who cannot be seen as servile and weak.

Evans J.R. Revere, a former State Department diplomat who specializes in North Korea, told the New York Times, "If the North Koreans needed a reason to cancel the meeting, the Americans just gave it to them."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

As hurricane season gets underway, Trump's FEMA briefing goes awry

06/07/18 08:40AM

As hurricane season gets underway, Donald Trump traveled to FEMA headquarters yesterday for a briefing on hurricane preparedness, which was broken up into a public session and a private one. The 16-minute session that we could see didn't go especially well.

The president almost completely ignored Puerto Rico; he singled out Scott Pruitt's scandal-plagued EPA for praise; and he told attendees, "[I]n terms of increased branding, the brand of the Coast Guard has been something incredible what's happened."

Yes, Trump's preoccupation with the Coast Guard's "brand" continues to be weird.

But the lengthier behind-closed-doors portion of the FEMA briefing may have been worse. The Washington Post  reported:

...Trump had a lot else on his mind, turning the closed-door discussion into soliloquies on his prowess in negotiating airplane deals, his popularity, the effectiveness of his political endorsements, the Republican Party's fortunes, the vagaries of Defense Department purchasing guidelines, his dislike of magnetized launch equipment on aircraft carriers, his unending love of coal and his breezy optimism about his planned Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Despite recent reports on a vastly expanded death toll in Puerto Rico, Trump only "briefly" referred to the island in the private session and "did not mention Puerto Rico's victims."

The Post  added, "Hurricane briefings usually give politicians a chance to look decisive, and Trump bragged to friends last fall that his administration had handled a slew of hurricanes quite well. Many of Trump's thoughts Thursday, however, did not relate to hurricanes."

He did, however, have extensive thoughts about the results from this week's primaries in California -- which the president apparently thought were about him. "We won every seat that I endorsed," Trump told attendees. "The ones we didn't give, they didn't do too well, as you probably know."

Remember, this was a FEMA briefing on hurricane preparedness.

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

Despite pushback from allies, Trump peddles new conspiracy theory

06/07/18 08:00AM

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) recently helped bury Donald Trump's "Spygate" fairy tale, explaining that the FBI did not use a "spy" to infiltrate the future president's political operation in 2016. Trump's allies were less than pleased by the congressman's candor, but Gowdy had reality on his side.

Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made things slightly worse for the White House, telling reporters that Gowdy's assessment was correct. For his trouble, the Wisconsin Republican is also facing the ire of the president's loyalists, who apparently expect GOP officials to toe Trump's line, even if it's wrong.

The pushback doesn't seem to be having much of a deterring effect. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told  Politico yesterday, "What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none? ... It's like, 'Lets create this thing to tweet about knowing that it's not true.' ... Maybe it's just to create more chaos but it doesn't really help the case."

Confronted with comments like these, common sense suggests the president should shift his focus elsewhere. And yet, Donald Trump can't help but be Donald Trump:

"Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015. SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!"

No, actually, it's not big stuff. In fact, it's an unsettling example of the president lacking the critical thinking skills necessary to tell the difference between worthwhile information and nonsense.

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New Orleans is the 'City of Yes'

New Orleans is the 'City of Yes'

06/06/18 09:57PM

Rachel Maddow looks back at when The Rachel Maddow Show offered to help New Orleans move away from branding itself "the city of n.o." and celebrates a new initiative by the city's new mayor to make "City of Yes" a more appropriate identity. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.6.18

06/06/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trade war: "The European Union on Wednesday announced it will start imposing duties in July on a list of U.S. products in response to President Donald Trump's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe."

* Speaking of our allies: "France, Britain, Germany and the EU on Wednesday sent the United States a joint official request for their companies to be exempt from punitive measures resulting from fresh US sanctions on Iran."

* An important development in this controversy: "Stormy Daniels says in a new lawsuit that her former attorney betrayed her and became a 'puppet' for President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer while still representing her."

* He takes requests from celebrities seriously: "President Donald Trump commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson on Wednesday, just days after reality star Kim Kardashian West lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on behalf of Johnson, who was serving a life sentence on drug charges."

* Will Ryan get the same treatment as Gowdy? "House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has joined those disputing President Trump's assertion that federal law enforcement planted a spy inside his campaign, telling reporters Wednesday that he has seen 'no evidence' to support such claims."

* Lawyers hiring lawyers: "A lawyer involved in several real estate deals that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating in his criminal case against President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort has hired his own ethics adviser."

* Tell us more: "French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday his phone calls with President Donald Trump and other world leaders were just like sausages: better not explain what's inside."

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