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To 'contain' Trump, White House tries treating him like a toddler

10/10/17 08:00AM

As the first year of Donald Trump's presidency has unfolded, we periodically hear from people within the White House who suggest conditions, behind the scenes, are worse than Americans probably realize. In April, one presidential adviser said his job was to "talk him out of doing crazy things." In August, another added, "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said this week, "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

And while that's obviously unsettling given that we're talking about the most powerful office on the planet, there's a question that's always lurking in the background: how, exactly, does the White House "contain" a confused, amateur president who's ill-suited for the job?

Six months ago, Politico reported that officials in the West Wing learned that Trump made better decisions when they narrowed his choices down to one. Today, Politico reports that the president can also be managed through a series of delays and distractions.

[I]nterviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling – and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.

"You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day," said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.

The article described a work environment in which the president sometimes starts the day "worked into a lather," often based on something he saw on television, at which point aides try to distract him with something new, exploiting Trump's limited attention span.

As one White House official put it, "You have to just move the conversation along to something else."

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US tech giants oddly unhelpful on Russia

US tech giants oddly unhelpful on Russia

10/09/17 09:03PM

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Silicon Valley correspondent for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the slow pace of discovery of Russian ad buying and other online manipulations as U.S. tech giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google have seemed reluctant to give up information. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.9.17

10/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A scary scene in California: "One person has died and at least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed as more than 14 fires ravaged eight counties throughout Northern California on Monday, authorities said."

* Turkey: "One is a NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey. Another is a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real estate agent. They are among a dozen Americans who have been jailed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in a failed coup last year."

* In case you missed Rachel's report on this on Friday: "A fourth American soldier has been found dead after an ambush in Niger this week that killed three United States Army Special Forces and wounded two, American officials said on Friday."

* Charlottesville "is exploring giving police more intelligence-gathering powers after torch-carrying white nationalists again marched near the University of Virginia, city leaders said Sunday. White nationalist Richard Spencer and about 40 to 50 other people held another 'tiki-torch rally' Saturday that lasted about 10 minutes, police said."

* Bizarre FBI labeling: "In August, the FBI's counterterrorism division published a report warning law enforcement across the country of a new threat. It called the threat 'Black Identity Extremism.' In reality, there is no 'Black Identity Extremist' movement, at least not one that goes by that name. It appears to be an invented label, Foreign Policy reported."

* Expect several similar lawsuits: "Massachusetts dove headfirst into another legal confrontation with the Trump administration Friday, as Attorney General Maura Healey sued the federal government over newly issued rules giving employers the right to deny women birth control coverage by claiming religious or moral objections."

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

House Republican: 'It's easy to be bold when you're not coming back'

10/09/17 04:20PM

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has become increasingly unrestrained in his criticisms of Donald Trump's presidency. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, told the Associated Press he's unimpressed:

"It's easy to be bold when you're not coming back."

The quote is in reference to the fact that Corker will retire from the Senate at the end of this Congress, which in turn means he's unencumbered by traditional political constraints. It's all quite straightforward: it's tough to pressure an official who doesn't want or need anything from his party or its leaders, and lawmakers who need not worry about voters' attitudes can say and do as they please.

But Meadows' quote doesn't do anyone in the Republican Party any favors. He made it sound as if rank-and-file GOP members can't be bold, even if they want to be, because they must remain principally focused on their re-election prospects, instead of their principles.

The North Carolina congressman later clarified that he also believes Corker's criticisms are without merit. Given Meadows' ideology and political perspective, that's very easy to believe.

But even if Meadows deserves the benefit of the doubt about the intended meaning of the sentiment, we know with some certainty that many of his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill bite their tongue -- choosing not to be "bold" -- when it comes to this White House because they lack the freedom Corker enjoys by virtue of his looming retirement.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump moves away from the deal he struck with Dems on Dreamers

10/09/17 12:51PM

At the time, it seemed like Donald Trump might have done something important. A week after rescinding the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers, the president appeared to reach an agreement with Congress' top two Democrats -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- to protect the young immigrants.

Though a variety of details needed to be worked out, Trump and the Democratic leaders appeared to endorse a framework in which the White House accepted DACA protections, while Dems agreed to boost border security. The fight over the border wall, the president said at the time, would "come later."

Almost immediately, Trump received a round of positive press; his approval rating started improving; and there was chatter about his impressive "independent" streak. The president had every incentive to follow through on the agreement he reached with Schumer and Pelosi.

A month later, Trump is nevertheless headed in a regressive direction.

The Trump administration Sunday sent Congress a list of tough immigration reforms it would require to be included in any legislation that would allow immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers, to remain. The proposals include funding for a southern border wall and are likely to be rebuked by Democrats. [...]

[T]he policies outlined by the White House on Sunday night are likely to push Democrats away from the negotiating table. Some of the toughest proposals include removing protections for unaccompanied minor immigrants, allowing state and local police to investigate immigration status more broadly and limiting visas given to spouses and family members of immigrants who come to the United States to work to curb a pattern referred to as chain migration.

The list of demands also includes money for his proposed border wall, though the list didn't specify how much money the White House expects to see for the project in exchange for DACA protections.

In other words, the terms of a fairly straightforward agreement were reached in September -- a shield for Dreamers in exchange for increased border security measures -- only to see Trump change the terms in October.

If you thought the president was becoming more pragmatic and responsible a month ago, I have some very bad news for you. The White House knows Dems will never accept these terms, which is probably why Trump World made the demands in the first place.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.17

10/09/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this morning that she'll seek another term in California next year. At 84, the Democratic senator, first elected in 1992, is currently the chamber's oldest member, and it's not yet clear whether she'll face a primary rival.

* Virginia's gubernatorial election is five weeks from tomorrow, a new Wason Center poll shows Ralph Northam (D) with a seven-point advantage over Ed Gillespie (R), 49% to 42%.

* Over the weekend, Donald Trump's re-election campaign sent a solicitation to donors using the Las Vegas mass shooting as the basis for a pitch.

* On a related note, some House Democrats, including Ohio's Tim Ryan and Minnesota's Tim Walz, have decided to donate previous contributions they received from the NRA to charity.

* And speaking of returned donations, a variety of prominent congressional Democrats are starting to "give charities thousands of dollars in donations they had received from disgraced Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein."

* In New Hampshire, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) announced late last week she won't seek re-election in 2018. Her competitive district is likely to be a hard-fought battleground in the midterms.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

The problem with Donald Trump's interest in 'equal time'

10/09/17 11:20AM

A few weeks ago, the New York Times updated its list of the "people, places, and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter." At last count, the list was up to 379.

Over the weekend, NBC "Late Night" host Seth Myers apparently became #380 -- at least I think so. The president's missives read as  follows:

"Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very "unfunny" & repetitive material, always anti-Trump! Should we get Equal Time? [...] More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?"

The president doesn't write well -- he struggles regularly on things like capitalization and subject-verb agreement -- so it's difficult to know whether he was referring to late-night hosts in general or specifically to "Late Night" host Seth Myers.

Either way, what struck me as interesting is the notion that Trump believes he may be entitled to "equal time" on broadcasts he doesn't like. As Slate noted, "Although no one can say for certain, it seems Trump was referring to the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present different points of views on controversial issues. But that rule was eliminated by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987."

And in general, Republicans were (and are) delighted by the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, in large part because it helped give rise to several far-right radio hosts, who in turn have shaped Republican politics over the last generation or so.

In fact, all of this reminds me of a funny story from nearly a decade ago.

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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Facing the consequences of a Supreme Court ruling on corruption

10/09/17 10:40AM

There are a few too many modern examples of congressional corruption, many of which have put elected lawmakers behind bars, but Louisiana's William Jefferson (D) is particularly memorable. It's not that his misdeeds were more offensive than others', but when a member of Congress hides tens of thousands of dollars in cash in his freezer, it tends to stand out.

As of last week, however, Jefferson is going free. The Times-Picayune  reported:

A federal judge in Virginia has thrown out the most substantial charges against former congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans and ordered "his immediate release" from prison while his new sentence is determined. He is five years into a 13-year term for corruption, but seven of the 10 charges against him have been thrown out on appeal.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of Virginia issued the order Wednesday (Oct. 4) indicating he had thrown out Jefferson's convictions for two counts of soliciting bribes, two counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.... Jefferson's lawyers exhausted their first avenue of appeal, getting one of his convictions removed, but they renewed their efforts full force following the Supreme Court's 2016 ruling in the United States v. McDonnell.

Ah yes, U.S. v. McDonnell. For those who may have forgotten about this one, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and his wife accepted lavish gifts from a dietary supplement executive, including vacations, trips on a private jet, use of a Ferrari, an engraved gold Rolex, high-end clothing, thousands of dollars in golf equipment, and much, much more. In return, the then-governor used his office to intervene on behalf of his wealthy benefactor.

McDonnell was tried and convicted of 11 criminal counts, but the Supreme Court disagreed with the outcome. In a unanimous ruling, the justices sided with the Virginia Republican and narrowed the scope of federal bribery laws -- focusing on the governor's half of the quid-pro-quo.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Investigation expands into EPA's Scott Pruitt

10/09/17 10:01AM

There was already an investigation underway into EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's controversial flights, and as the Washington Post reports, that examination is now broadening.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general acknowledged plans Friday to expand its inquiry into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel habits, marking the latest Trump Cabinet member to face scrutiny from his own agency for taxpayer-funded trips.

The move came after recent disclosures that Pruitt had taken at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000 to fly him to various parts of the country, according to records provided to a congressional oversight committee and obtained by The Washington Post.

The initial controversy focused on Pruitt's flights to his home state of Oklahoma -- where, rumor has it, the former state attorney general is eyeing a possible gubernatorial campaign -- between March and May. The newly expanded probe will scrutinize other taxpayer-funded flights the EPA chief through September.

This story comes on the heels of reports that Pruitt holds "back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates -- and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates."

He also made time to chat with officials from the Family Research Council, a right-wing culture-war organization, which at first blush, pushes social issues that are unrelated to the EPA's work. (Media Matters noted that Pruitt's schedule omitted several interviews he did with far-right media outlets.)

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Trump defends 'beautiful, soft towels' he tossed to Puerto Ricans

10/09/17 09:25AM

Donald Trump seemed to enjoy his briefing in Puerto Rico last week, and it's easy to understand why. The president got to host an event where people took turns praising him; he congratulated himself on an "incredible" job well done; and he chided Puerto Rico for interfering with the U.S. budget, before telling locals they didn't suffer a "real catastrophe."

But perhaps the indelible image from Trump's brief visit to the island was watching him lob paper towels to locals as if he were having fun shooting free throws.

As the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale noted, this was a moment the president was eager to defend when he sat down with Mike Huckabee, who now has a new show on a Christian cable network.

U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at the "fake" journalists who criticized him for tossing rolls of paper towel to Puerto Rican hurricane victims.

The paper towels, he said, were beautiful. And soft.

"They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels," Trump said in a conversation that aired Sunday on Christian television network Trinity Broadcasting. "And I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun. They said, 'Throw 'em to me! Throw 'em to me, Mr. President!'"

These towels were amazing. Incredible. They were just tremendous. They were quite possibly the paper-towel equivalent of the chocolate cake served at Trump's luxury golf resort in Florida.

And let's not forget, for an island devastated by a hurricane, with residents struggling without electricity or potable water, "beautiful, soft towels" are no doubt in high demand.

We also learned during the interview that Trump believes:

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