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U.S. President Donald J. Trump speaks to the media during a meeting with congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, in Washington, D.C., November 28, 2017.

New TPP to take effect this year as the world moves on without us

10/31/18 09:20AM

Almost immediately after taking office, Donald Trump killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement he assumed he hated. As regular readers may recall, the Republican president assured Americans he'd replace the TPP with a "beautiful" alternative. That was roughly 22 months ago; we've seen no such policy.

About a year after the president's dubious promise, the United States' former partners in the TPP struck their own agreement – though it lacked the provisions the Obama administration fought to include to benefit the United States.

Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economist in the Bush/Cheney administration, told the New York Times earlier this year, "Maybe there was some sort of presumption on the part of the president and his team that if the U.S. said stop, this process would come to a halt. What this shows is that's not true. The world just moves on without us."

It's still moving on without us. The Wall Street Journal  reports that our former TPP partners will now implement the new trade rules this year, now that a ratification threshold has been met.

A trade pact between 11 Pacific Rim nations will come into force this year after Australia became the sixth country to ratify it, nearly two years after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from talks.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, agreed in March, is the largest free-trade agreement completed in Asia, and comes at a time of rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

The deal's backers say it may be the most important trade agreement reached in more than two decades, modernizing agreements to reflect the rise of digital trade, services and copyright in a fast-growing region that includes Japan and longtime U.S. allies.

Member nations, after agreeing to lower trade barriers, will start to see the effects of reduced tariffs in December.

Closer to home, meanwhile, Donald Trump has imposed a series of tariffs as part of his trade-war agenda -- and he's threatened to go further.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Trump cabinet secretary referred to DOJ for criminal investigation

10/31/18 08:40AM

It's not every day that a federal cabinet secretary is referred to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, though as the Washington Post  reported, that's precisely what happened yesterday to one of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet members.

The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General has referred one of its probes into the conduct of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department for further investigation, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.

Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Kendall, who is serving as acting inspector general, is conducting at least three probes that involve Zinke. These include his involvement in a Montana land deal and the decision not to grant two tribes approval to operate a casino in Connecticut. The individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, did not specify which inquiry had been referred to the Justice Department.

It's probably premature to say that Zinke is now under criminal investigation, but the agency's inspector general has apparently determined that the cabinet secretary may have committed criminal acts. An IG isn't empowered to do criminal investigations, which is why the matter has been sent to Justice.

The article added that a senior White House official said the investigation is apparently looking into whether the secretary "used his office to help himself."

It's difficult to delve too deeply into the accusation against Zinke, since we don't know which of his controversies was referred to federal law enforcement, and "used his office to help himself" is a frustratingly vague phrase.

But therein lies the point: Ryan Zinke has been caught up in so many scandals, it's difficult to even guess which of them will receive Justice Department scrutiny.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Scheme targeting Robert Mueller goes hilariously off the rails

10/31/18 08:00AM

You've heard the phrase, "It seemed like a good idea at the time"? The far-right scheme that targeted Robert Mueller was never a good idea.

Special counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman would make false claims that he was guilty of sexual misconduct and harassment, after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on the alleged misconduct.

Multiple reporters were contacted over the past few weeks by a woman who said she had been offered money to say she had been harassed by Mueller, the special counsel who is probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. After investigating, according to the political website Hill Reporter, the reporters each independently determined the allegations of misconduct and harassment were likely a hoax and that it was unclear if the woman had been offered money to make the claim. The reporters then contacted the special counsel's office to report that they had been approached about the scheme.

If you saw Rachel's segments on this last night, you know the bumbling narrative is kind of hilarious, in a cringe-worthy sort of way.

It started a couple of weeks ago when Jacob Wohl, a disgraced hedge fund manager who ended up peddling conspiracy theories in support of Donald Trump, published some missives about a burgeoning "scandal" involving the special counsel.

Wohl soon after said the public would learn the sordid details because his friend, Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist and radio host, had hired an intelligence firm called Surefire Intelligence to help uncover damaging revelations from Robert Mueller's past.

All would be revealed tomorrow, Nov. 1, at a Holiday Inn just outside D.C.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.30.18

10/30/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a story: "Special counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman would make false claims that he had sexually assaulted her, after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on the alleged assault."

* In related news: "The special counsel investigation into President Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone is pressing witnesses about Stone's private interactions with senior campaign officials and whether he had knowledge of politically explosive Democratic emails that were released in October 2016, according to multiple people familiar with the probe."

* Pittsburgh: "President Trump arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as the city began to bury the victims of Saturday's synagogue attack and as many officials and residents made clear his visit was not welcome."

* A good piece on this week's Brazilian election results from Heather Hurlburt: "Bolsonaro's Victory in Brazil Should Feel Worryingly Familiar to Americans."

* Quite a scandal: "A supervisor at the Interior Department sent sexually explicit messages to three subordinate employees and 'inappropriately' used department surveillance to capture images of employees without their knowledge, according to a new watchdog report."

* How does Trump explain a year in which the major indexes have barely grown? Not very well: "President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed that the stock market was taking a 'little pause' amid anticipation for next week's midterm elections."

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

A week before the election, a GOP leader takes aim at Iowa's King

10/30/18 03:18PM

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who already had a deeply unfortunate reputation, has spent the summer playing with fire. In recent months, the congressman promoted online content from a self-described "Nazi sympathizer" in the U.K.; he threw his support behind a fringe mayoral candidate in Toronto who gained notoriety after she appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast; and in August, King spoke with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties.

The question then became one of consequences. What, if anything, would happen to King as a result of his latest antics?

This week, the answer has started to come into focus. First, the editorial page of the Sioux City Journal in the congressman's home district, which has endorsed King in previous election cycles, announced its support for his challenger, J.D. Scholten (D).

Soon after, Land O'Lakes, the agri-business giant, announced that its political action committee will no longer offer financial support to the far-right congressman.

But the most striking development was National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) publishing this tweet today, not only criticizing King, but tying the Iowa Republican to "white supremacy."

"Congressman Steve King's recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior."

Remember, Steve Stivers' sole focus right now, aside from his own re-election, is trying to help as many House Republicans as possible win their races. It's against this backdrop that, just a week before Election Day, that the NRCC chair publicly rebuked King in rather direct terms.

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Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

White House inadvertently reminds us of Trump's popular vote loss

10/30/18 12:51PM

During the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders complained that Democrats were "trying to undercut the voice of the American people" who elected Donald Trump.

There was, however, a problem: the American people not only opposed Kavanaugh's nomination, they also didn't elect Trump president. In the American system, for good or ill, the electoral college elevated Trump to the White House, despite the fact that more Americans voted for his opponent. In fact, it wasn't especially close: Hillary Clinton ended up with nearly 3 million more votes than the candidate who took power.

Yesterday, Sanders returned to the subject while complaining bitterly about media coverage of the Trump administration.

"[T]he president is delivering on exactly what he said he was going to do if elected. And he got elected by an overwhelming majority of 63 million Americans who came out and supported him, and wanted to see his policies enacted."

It's true that Trump ended up with 63 million votes. It's also true that Hillary Clinton ended up with nearly 66 million votes.

In other words, the Republican president wasn't elected by "an overwhelming majority." Or a regular ol' majority. Or even a plurality. Americans were given a choice and the electorate didn't choose Trump.

That's not to say the popular vote alone delegitimizes his presidency. Our system allows for the candidate whom Americans didn't choose to take office anyway -- something that's happened twice in the last five presidential elections.

But every time the White House pretends Trump rode to office with a popular mandate for his agenda, we're reminded anew that this president came in second when Americans cast their ballots.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.30.18

10/30/18 12:00PM

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

* Voters in Idaho will vote next week on Medicaid expansion, and the pro-health-care contingent just received a big boost: retiring two-term Gov. Butch Otter (R) has announced his support for the initiative.

* With time running out in Texas, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Sen. Ted Cruz (R) hanging on to a modest lead over Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), 51% to 46%.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), running for re-election in Vermont this year, appeared at a public forum last night and would not commit to serving a full six-year term. "If I run [for president] and win, the likelihood is I will not be Vermont's senator," he explained.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new NBC News/Marist poll, released this morning, found Kyrsten Sinema (D) with a six-point lead over Martha McSally (R), 50% to 44%. When the Green Party's candidate is added to the mix, however, Sinema's advantage shrinks to three points, 47% to 44%.

* Though most have assumed Connecticut's gubernatorial office will remain Democratic, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests it's going to be quite close: Ned Lamont (D) leads Bob Stefanowski (R) by just four points, 47% to 43%.

* In the very competitive U.S. House race in New York's 19th district, a new Monmouth University poll shows Antonio Delgado (D) ahead of incumbent Rep. John Faso (R), 49% to 44%. This is a congressional district that saw a 12-point swing from Obama to Trump between 2012 and 2016.

* Speaking of key House races, a KUTV poll in Utah's 4th congressional district found Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) up by six over incumbent Rep. Mia Love (R).

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President Barack Obama walks with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders down the Colonnade during their meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2016. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Pool/EPA)

Republicans point to a double-standard that doesn't really exist

10/30/18 11:20AM

Late last week, as the nation learned that a Donald Trump supporter was arrested for targeting Democratic leaders with pipe bombs, Republicans quickly embraced a specific, but badly flawed, talking point.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "The president is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages to someone, no more than Bernie Sanders was responsible for a supporter of his shooting up a Republican baseball field practice last year."

It wasn't long before Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other Republicans quickly embraced the talking point. That was unfortunate:. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has never encouraged or applauded political violence. Trump has done  both.

As the Washington Post noted, the president tried to take this line of defense in a new direction last night.

President Trump complained Monday about the news coverage he has received related to the alleged pipe bomber, saying a different standard was applied to then-President Barack Obama when nine black worshipers were killed at a church in Charleston, S.C., during his tenure.

Trump highlighted the contrast during a wide-ranging interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, who pointed out that Cesar Sayoc, who allegedly sent more than a dozen mail bombs to leading Democrats and CNN, was a big Trump fan. None of the devices exploded.

"I was in the headline of The Washington Post, my name associated with this crazy bomber," Trump said. "They didn't do that with President Obama with the church, the horrible situation with the church -- they didn't do that."

It's true that news organizations didn't draw any associations between Barack Obama and Dylann Roof after he gunned down innocents in an African-American church in 2015. It's also true that this wouldn't have made any sense.

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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)

Trump's latest pre-election stunt: deploying troops to the border

10/30/18 10:40AM

Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, the commander with the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, announced "Operation Faithful Patriot" yesterday.

The Pentagon announced Monday it will deploy 5,200 additional troops to the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the week to stop thousands of migrants and refugees in a caravan from entering the country. [...]

The troops will be a mix of active duty, reserve and National Guard forces and will support thousands of border patrol agents already deployed to the area. There also are already more than 2,000 troops at the border.

It apparently doesn't matter that the migrant caravan is several hundred miles away, and by most accounts, shrinking. It's equally unimportant, evidently, that the number of U.S. personnel at the border will now easily outnumber the projected number of migrants.

What matters to Donald Trump is that the midterm elections are a week away and this is what the president wants the public to see. At his next campaign rally, we'll likely see the Commander in Chief thumping his chest about combating an "invasion" by deploying U.S. troops.

What he probably won't mention is what they'll be doing once they arrive at the border. "The problem for Trump, though, is that the military won't actually be able to participate in detaining or deporting any of the migrants the way the president likely wants," Vox explained late yesterday. "That's because US law forbids them from physically detaining individuals at the border.

"So while the troops at the border will be armed, they will only legally be able to assist US border officials by doing things like helping transport border agents and providing emergency medical care to those who need it."

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