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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.15.18

02/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This makes Trump's tweet this morning look a little worse: "A YouTube user who used the same name as the suspected Florida gunman was investigated by the FBI for a comment boasting about plans to shoot up a school, the agency said Thursday."

* As expected: "The Senate ended its immigration debate this week exactly where it began — in a stalemate."

* Hmm: "Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump's chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings."

* In related news: "House Republican leaders are weighing 'further steps' to force former top White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon to answer investigators' questions in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election -- including potentially declaring him in contempt of Congress -- after a Thursday interview they called 'frustrating.'"

* Really? "On the campaign trail Donald Trump said he wanted to keep the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open and 'load it up with some bad dudes.' But President Trump may actually oversee a slight decrease in the population."

* South African President Jacob Zuma resigned yesterday "in a televised address to the nation, ending a turbulent tenure marred by corruption scandals that sapped the popularity of the ruling African National Congress and hurt one of Africa's biggest economies."

* Stormy Daniels "believes she is now free to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with the man who is now president, her manager told The Associated Press Wednesday."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House accused of 'unforgivable' security clearance lapses

02/15/18 12:48PM

One of the key elements of the controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter is his security clearance. For reasons that remain unclear, Porter handled highly sensitive, classified materials as part of his day-to-day duties, despite the fact that he didn't -- and by some accounts, couldn't get -- a permanent security clearance after an FBI review on his background.

There's no great mystery as to why: Porter faced accusations of domestic abuse, including one of his ex-wives telling officials that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

What's now coming into focus, however, is the scope of Trump World's problem in this area. NBC News had this stunning report last night:

More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president's daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.

Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.

Those titles are of particular importance here. We're not talking about low-level aides who have a peripheral role in Trump World. This is about dozens of officials who report directly to the president -- including Jared Kushner and White House Counsel Don McGahn, for goodness sakes -- who didn't have a permanent security clearance.

Heck, as of November, nearly half the staffers on the National Security Council were working with nothing more than an interim clearance.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.15.18

02/15/18 12:00PM

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

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was poised to launch his Utah Senate campaign today, but the announcement was delayed because of yesterday's school shooting.

* On a related note, Rob Anderson, the Utah Republican Party chair, doesn't seem overly impressed with his party's likely Senate nominee. "I think he's keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let's face it, Mitt Romney doesn't live here, his kids weren't born here, he doesn't shop here," Anderson told  The Salt Lake Tribune. He added, in reference to Romney, "He has never been a Trump supporter."

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered an unscheduled speech at the National Congress of American Indians in Washington yesterday, and addressed Donald Trump's attacks on her purported family heritage.

* Despite Dems' recent successes, Republicans still win plenty of state legislative special elections: in an Oklahoma state Senate race this week, Casey Murdock (R) prevailed by a two-to-one margin over his Democratic rival.

* On a related note, John LaHood (R) also easily won a state House special election in Georgia this week.

* Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), both likely presidential candidates, announced this week that they'll stop accepting campaign contributions from corporate political action committees.

* In related news, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) had pledged during his special-election campaign not to accept any corporate PAC money. He's since changed his mind.

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.

Grassley is the wrong senator with the wrong message on guns

02/15/18 11:22AM

On. Feb. 10, 2013, exactly five years ago this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) appeared on NPR and was asked about what steps policymakers could take to reduce gun violence.

"[T]he biggest problem that we have to deal with, and quite frankly I don't think any of us have an answer to the mental health issue," the Iowa Republican said at the time. "How do you get more people that have mental health problems that shouldn't have guns, and under present law can't get guns, but you got to get their name into the database as well."

This morning, Grassley spoke briefly to MSNBC in a Capitol Hill hallway, commenting on yesterday's mass shooting in a Florida high school, and echoing the sentiment he shared almost exactly five years ago:

"[We] have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun, getting their name into the FBI files, and we need to concentrate on that."

The Iowan then walked away.

This is, to be sure, a complex issue, but let's take a moment to remember what Grassley did between February 2013 and February 2018 -- by focusing specifically on what he did in February 2017, when Grassley was the chief sponsor of a bill to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy a gun.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, La. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty)

Jindal changes his mind about the GOP being 'the stupid party'

02/15/18 10:50AM

Republicans genuinely believed Mitt Romney was going to defeat Barack Obama in 2012, right up until the Democratic president won with relative ease. Many in the GOP expressed their disgust with the results in colorful ways, but none were as memorable as then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

Jindal spoke to Politico the week after the 2012 election and said his party would recover if it learned to "stop being the stupid party." He added, "It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments -- enough of that. It's not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can't be tolerated within our party."

The then-governor went on to say, "We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters." The GOP, he advised, should "stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same."

Jindal, of course, was an awful messenger for the message. His approach to governance decimated Louisiana's finances, and he tried to parlay his failure into a doomed presidential campaign. But five years after he denounced Republicans' embrace of "offensive, bizarre comments" and "dumbed-down conservatism," Jindal has apparently changed his mind.

Here was his latest pitch in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday:

You hear it all the time from Trump supporters: "I like a lot of what he's done, especially the judges and tax cuts. But I wish he'd stop tweeting and picking fights. I wish he acted more presidential and stopped insulting reporters, entertainers, senators, foreign leaders and Gold Star families."

Sounds right, seems smart. Yet for millions of Trump voters it misses the point entirely. Mr. Trump's style is part of his substance. His most loyal supporters back him because of, not despite, his brash behavior. He would not be in the Oval Office today had he followed a conventional path or listened to the advisers telling him to tone down his rhetoric and discipline his behavior.

In other words, Trump rose to power because he did the opposite of what Jindal said Republicans should do -- which Jindal apparently now finds quite impressive.

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In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Trump lawyer keeps making headlines for all the wrong reasons

02/15/18 10:15AM

When Donald Trump took steps to assemble a legal team as the Russia scandal intensified, the president made a series of strange decisions -- though none were as curious as bringing Jay Sekulow onto his team.

Sekulow, who has no experience as a defense or criminal attorney, and is perhaps best known for leading a radical televangelist's legal group and overseeing a highly dubious fundraising scheme that benefits several members of his immediate family. (My hunch is, Trump hired him solely because he saw Sekulow making lots of appearances on Fox News.)

The attorney has struggled at times since joining Team Trump -- it's hard to forget Sekulow arguing on national television that the president is and isn't under investigation -- but Politico this week highlighted something else Trump's lawyer is doing that's rather ... unique.

As President Donald Trump's legal team privately debates its strategy for dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller, the president's most visible lawyer has publicly gone on the attack.

In recent weeks, Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow has turned the live weekday talk-radio show he hosts into a regular forum for trashing the legitimacy of the federal probes into Trump's Russia connections.

Fourteen of the past 19 episodes of "Jay Sekulow Live" have involved freewheeling conversations about the Trump-Russia saga and what he calls the "deep state" bureaucrats out to get the president. Sekulow also piles on during his regular appearances on Fox News.

This isn't illegal. It's also not unethical. But it's nevertheless deeply bizarre behavior for a lawyer who's helping defend a sitting president from a scandal of historic significance.

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Trump finds a tax he wants to raise: the one you pay at the pump

02/15/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump's long-awaited infrastructure plan was finally unveiled this week, and it immediately landed with a thud. Among it's many problems: the White House doesn't know how to pay for it.

The Washington Post  reports, however, that the president has apparently warmed up to a provocative idea.

President Trump tried Wednesday to persuade his fellow Republicans to raise the gas tax. In a closed-door meeting on infrastructure with members of both parties, Trump pitched the idea of a 25-cent increase in the gas tax, which hasn't been raised since 1993.

There's a growing rift among Republicans about whether it's worth considering a tax hike to fund much-needed upgrades to America's roads and bridges.... Republicans, who just passed major legislation to reduce taxes on businesses and families, are lukewarm on the idea of turning around and raising taxes at the pump. Last month, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he has "complete confidence" that the gas tax won't go up. It's currently 18.4 cents a gallon.

According to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who attended yesterday's discussion, the president emphasized the idea of a 25-cent increase in the gas tax "several times throughout the meeting."

Would a GOP-led Congress seriously consider a gas-tax increase on the heels of the Republicans' regressive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations? I rather doubt it.

But unlike so much of what we hear from this White House, what Trump is recommending isn't crazy.

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Image: Students are evacuated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a shooting incident in Parkland

Why Trump's response to Florida's school shooting is so inadequate

02/15/18 08:43AM

A gunman using a semiautomatic rifle killed at least 17 people in a Florida high school yesterday, wounding 14 others, five of whom suffering life-threatening injuries. Though modern presidents often offer words of consolation in response to deadly tragedies of this scale, Donald Trump has said very little since the school massacre took place.

He did, however, publish a tweet this morning.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

First, part of the problem with this is the subtext: the president's message gives the impression that the suspected gunman's "neighbors and classmates" should have done more to prevent yesterday's violence. In case the reality of this dynamic isn't already obvious, let's make it plain: the Parkland shooting wasn't their fault.

Second, let's say we take Trump's rhetoric at face value, and communities report instances of disturbed individuals to authorities "again and again." Then what? Would the Republican White House and its allies in Congress support new restrictions on those individuals' access to firearms? Are they prepared to make significant new investments in a robust mental-health network?

What is it, exactly, the president believes should happen after Americans go to authorities "again and again"?

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

After demanding a deal, Trump rejects another immigration compromise

02/15/18 08:00AM

It seems like ages ago, but it was just last month when Donald Trump hosted immigration talks at the White House and shared his vision for the road ahead. In fact, the president surprised many by saying he'd sign a bipartisan agreement -- no matter what's in it.

"I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this or I want that.' I'll be signing it," Trump said. He added that if lawmakers negotiate a policy "with things that I'm not in love with," he'd embrace it anyway.

Someone apparently changed his mind.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged senators to vote against any immigration proposal other than his own plan, courting a showdown with Republican and Democratic senators who oppose the White House's desire to curb family-based migration and would like to cut a narrower deal. [...]

Mr. Trump's stance amounted to a demand that the Senate significantly cut legal immigration as part of any legislation.

That Wall Street Journal report coincided with a Politico  article that said the president has urged lawmakers to reject any proposal "that does not mirror his own."

The timing of Trump's posture was especially important because a bipartisan group of senators, calling themselves the "Common Sense Caucus," unveiled another bipartisan package last night that gives the White House much of it wants.

No matter. The Washington Post  reported, "In an interview late Wednesday, a senior administration official denounced the bipartisan bill, calling it a 'giant amnesty' that did nothing to secure the border, and vowed the White House would strongly lobby against it Thursday."

The article quoted the senior administration official saying, "We're doing everything in our power" to block the bipartisan bill.

For those keeping score, Trump -- who, a month ago, said he'd sign practically anything put in front of him -- has now rejected (1) the Graham-Durbin bipartisan agreement; (2) the McCain-Coons bipartisan agreement; (3) the bipartisan agreement Trump negotiated with Democratic leaders last fall; (4) the bipartisan framework Trump negotiated with Chuck Schumer last month; (5) the Gardner-Bennet bipartisan agreement; (6) and the Common Sense Caucus' bipartisan agreement.

The president has, however, endorsed a Republican plan that would give him everything he's asked for without exception.

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Once unimaginable gun massacres become familiar

Once unimaginable gun massacres become familiar

02/14/18 09:17PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the deadly gun tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and notes the elements that have become familiar in gun massacres, including the deflection of gun questions by politicians with vague answers about mental health. watch