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Trump points to dubious arms deal to excuse Saudi Arabia

10/12/18 08:42AM

The available evidence points in a fairly obvious direction: Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and critic of his country's royal family, disappeared last week, and was reportedly killed inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey by a squad of Saudi Arabian officials.

It appears to have been a brazen murder, which has resulted in a backlash against Riyadh. What's been far less clear is what Donald Trump intends to do about it. Earlier this week, the American president said he hoped the situation would "sort itself out." Yesterday, in a Q&A with reporters, Trump added that his administration is "looking at it very strongly."

The Republican went on to say, however, that Khashoggi is not an American citizen and his apparent murder happened abroad -- which seemed to signal Trump's lack of interest in what transpired. It was soon followed by this exchange:

Q: Will Jamal Khashoggi's case affect the way you deal with MBS or other Saudi officials?

TRUMP: We'll have to see what happens. A lot of work is being done on that, and we're going to have to see what happens. I don't like stopping massive amounts of money that's being poured into our country on -- I know they're talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they're spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others, for this country.

I don't like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.... I will tell you, upfront, right now, and I'll say it in front of senators: They're spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment and other things.... I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion -- which is an all-time record.

There are a few important angles to this, from corruption to confusion.

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People walk down Wall Street in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Donald Trump's stock market boasts run into a rude reality

10/12/18 08:00AM

At a White House press conference last week, Donald Trump brought up one of his favorite talking points as proof that his presidency has been a success.

"The stock market is at an all-time high," he boasted. "Think of that -- over 50 percent since my election. Fifty percent. People -- the 401(k)s -- and they have 401(k)s, and they were dying with them for years. Now they're so happy."

Yesterday, as the major U.S. indexes dropped sharply for the second straight day, the president fielded a reporter's question on this, and was content to keep bragging.

Q: Mr. President, you have talked a little bit about the markets. The markets are down again, today. How long do you think this correction, which you said was coming anyway, is expected to last?

TRUMP: Well, we're still up 40 percent for the period of time. So, I mean, the markets are way up over what they were.

Part of the problem is that the president is throwing around bogus numbers that he appears to have simply made up. As CNBC's John Harwood noted late yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 26% from Trump's first day in office through yesterday's close. That's obviously not close to the gains the president has pointed to, and it's also short of the 38% increase we saw over a comparable period in Barack Obama's presidency.

Making matters slightly worse, the bulk of those gains came last year. Looking exclusively at 2018, the DJIA is only up about 1% after factoring in this week's losses.

And just to twist the knife a bit, it's worth emphasizing that Trump's own actions -- his trade war with China, his aggressive public criticisms of the Federal Reserve -- have likely contributed to the latest market losses.

But the real political problem was the president tying his fortunes to Wall Street in the first place.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.11.18

10/11/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Michael: "Search-and-rescue teams rushed on Thursday to reach communities that Hurricane Michael leveled, hoping to find survivors of the powerful storm after its rampage through the Florida Panhandle and beyond left buildings collapsed and splintered, hospitals damaged, roads and water systems compromised and more than a million homes and businesses without electricity."

* Wall Street "had another rough day on Thursday, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index dipping into correction territory and the Dow Jones closing 548 points down after another day of market convulsions."

* The White House insisted yesterday, "The fundamentals and future of the U.S. economy remain incredibly strong." That sounds an awful lot like John McCain said just as the Great Recession was getting underway.

* Will Trump listen? "Lawmakers from both parties are publicly demanding that the U.S. government hold Saudi Arabia accountable for any role it played in the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2."

* Capital punishment: "Washington became the 20th state to do away with the death penalty on Thursday when the state's Supreme Court ruled that the way the punishment is carried out violates the state constitution."

* Matthew Whitaker: "President Trump talked recently with Jeff Sessions's own chief of staff about replacing Sessions as attorney general, according to people briefed on the conversation, signaling that the president remains keenly interested in ousting his top law enforcement official."

* I hope you saw Rachel's segment on Peter W. Smith: "A veteran Republican activist whose quest to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from hackers dominated the final months of his life struck up a professional relationship with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump, as early as 2015, and told associates during the presidential campaign that he was using the retired general's connections to help him on the email project."

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018.

Trump keeps looking at hurricanes through a historical lens

10/11/18 04:12PM

At a White House event earlier, Donald Trump reflected on Hurricane Michael, which he described in historical terms.

"The one good thing we can say ... is that it was the fastest hurricane anybody has seen. It was speedy. If it wasn't, there would be absolutely nothing left," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "It was incredibly powerful." [...]

"We have not seen destruction like that in a long time," he said.

The president used similar language yesterday, describing Hurricane Michael as being exceptionally large. "When you look at it, topically, it's almost the entire size of the Gulf," Trump said. "And they haven't seen that. Maybe they haven't seen that at all. Nobody has seen that before."

This has quickly become the president's go-to framing: recent hurricanes aren't just serious threats and deadly disasters, he insists that people see the storms as unprecedented.

A month ago, Trump said of Hurricane Florence, "They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever." (He later said the storm was "one of the wettest we've ever seen from the standpoint of water.")

The president did the same thing last year. As Hurricane Harvey approached Texas' gulf coast, Trump couldn’t stop marveling at its size and intensity. At a news conference, he said, “I’ve heard the words, ‘epic.’ I’ve heard ‘historic.’ That’s what it is.” It followed a tweet in which Trump added, "Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen."

Soon after, as Irma approached land, he tweeted, “Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!” It was followed by, “Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen."

A Washington Post piece noted last year that Trump tends to focus on "the historic epicness" of a hurricane.

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Age gap may rescue Republicans: young voters remain on the sidelines

10/11/18 12:41PM

MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff posted a fascinating video this week of his interactions with college students in southern California, which is home to several key congressional races that may very well dictate political power for the next two years. By and large, Soboroff found a group of young people who seemed largely indifferent toward the elections.

When he asked one young woman whether she intended to vote, she replied, "I should. We're, like, the most unreliable voter demographic, so I should vote."

Obviously, it'd be a mistake to draw sweeping conclusions from one journalist's interactions in one area, but we can draw meaningful conclusions from independent research data.

A new PRRI/The Atlantic survey on civic engagement finds stark gaps within different age groups' attitudes toward the utility of voting and other methods of civic engagement. The survey shows little evidence that younger Americans will turn out at historic rates in the upcoming midterms.

Just 35 percent of young Americans (ages 18-29), compared to 81 percent of seniors (ages 65+) and 55 percent of all Americans, say they are absolutely certain to vote in the November elections.

This is roughly consistent with a recent report from Gallup, which found 82% of voters over the age of 65 saying they're certain to vote in this year's midterms. For voters under 30, it was 26%.

Around the same time, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that young voters were the single worst demographic in the nation for interest in this year's elections.

The more young adults don't bother to show up, the more significant the consequences.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.11.18

10/11/18 12:00PM

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

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, Ron DeSantis (R) insisted yesterday that his opponent, Andrew Gillum (D), is "running on impeaching Donald Trump." For the record, governors don't have anything to do with Congress impeaching a president, making this a strange thing to say.

* On a related note, Senate hopeful Mitt Romney said this week, "I don't think it makes sense to be talking about impeachment, not for a sitting president." Does Romney think it'd be more appropriate to impeach a former president?

* In Texas, a new Quinnipiac poll shows incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) well ahead of Beto O'Rourke (D), 54% to 45%.

* In Wisconsin's closely watched gubernatorial race, the latest Marquette University Law School Poll found incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) narrowly leading Tony Evers (D), 47% to 46%. Last month, the same poll found Evers up by five points. (The new results also showed Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin leading her Republican challenger, Leah Vukmir, 53% to 43%.)

* In Minnesota, a new NBC News/Marist poll found Democrats ahead by significant margins in each of the state's marquee contests: the gubernatorial race and two U.S. Senate races.

* Republicans appear rather concerned about Rep. Pete Sessions' (R) re-election chances in Texas' 32nd congressional district: "First, Vice President Mike Pence stumped for Sessions there on Monday. Then, the top Trump-aligned super PAC shelled out millions of dollars on airtime for a new ad attacking Allred. And on Wednesday, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., announced he will host a fundraiser in the district for Sessions later this month."

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, joins Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, right, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, left, to speak to reporters as the Senate votes on a farm bill that sets policy for farm...

Why North Dakota's new voter-ID law is suddenly so important

10/11/18 11:03AM

When the Supreme Court fails to take up a case, it's generally not front-page news, but this is a story that may carry significant consequences.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed North Dakota to implement a voter ID law for the November midterm election, turning down a petition arguing that the measure would harm Native Americans who are less likely to live at standardized addresses or possess the identification cards required by the statute.

Native Americans are a reliably Democratic constituency, making Tuesday's order unfortunate news for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat struggling to hold off a challenge from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in the deep red state.

In so sparsely populated a state, "it could be that a couple of hundred votes matter," said Robert Wood, a political-science professor at the University of North Dakota.

Some background is in order. Six years ago, Heidi Heitkamp was widely expected to lose her Senate race in North Dakota. It's generally a very red state -- a Democratic presidential ticket hasn't won in North Dakota in over four decades -- and polls showed her trailing then-Rep. Rick Berg (R), the state's sole U.S. House member.

But Heitkamp narrowly pulled off an upset, thanks in large part to support from Native American voters.

Soon after, the Republican-run state legislature decided it was time to overhaul the state's incredibly easy system of voting. Under the newly imposed model, North Dakota would enforce a GOP-friendly voter-ID system, which would -- you guessed it -- make it harder for Native American voters to cast ballots.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump's new conspiracy theory: the NYT wrote its own infamous op-ed

10/11/18 10:11AM

About a month ago, the New York Times published a rather extraordinary op-ed, written by "a senior official in the Trump administration," describing a White House in which "many" officials work diligently behind the scenes to subvert Donald Trump.

The author explained that such steps are necessary because the president, as described in the op-ed, is a dangerous, amoral, and unprincipled buffoon who is acting "in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

After the piece was published, Trump suggested the New York Times may have committed "treason" by agreeing to run it, and his team scrambled to identify its author.

This morning, the president called into Fox News again, sharing his theory about who may have ultimately been responsible for the piece.

"Let me tell you about leaks. I think a lot of leaks are not leaks, they're made up by newspapers.... The media is very, very dishonest, beyond anything that anybody can understand. Now, even the letter written to the Times, there is a chance -- I don't say it's a big chance -- but there is a very good chance that it was written by the Times. [...]

"It could've been the New York Times wrote it, to be honest. They're a very dishonest paper."

Later, in the same interview, Trump insisted that major news organizations and prominent book authors "literally make up" quotes and sources. "They're like novelists," he added.

The idea that the New York Times was responsible for writing its own op-ed is obviously foolish, even by this president's standards, but in light of Trump's preoccupation with made-up quotes and sources, this is probably a good time to point out that Trump is accusing journalists of doing what he's spent much of his term doing.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

Trump lashes out at Federal Reserve, calling it 'crazy' and 'loco'

10/11/18 09:20AM

During a brief Q&A with reporters on Tuesday, Donald Trump complained a bit about the Federal Reserve raising interesting rates. Asked if he'd communicated his concerns to Fed Chair Jerome Powell, the president replied, "No, I like to stay uninvolved with them."

Of course, staying "uninvolved" doesn't mean Trump won't whine incessantly.

President Trump put the Federal Reserve at the middle of Wednesday's stock-market selloff just minutes after the White House issued a statement playing down the drop by pointing to solid economic fundamentals.

"The Fed is making a mistake," Mr. Trump told reporters in Erie, Pa., after stock markets suffered their biggest decline in more than seven months. "I think the Fed has gone crazy.... I really disagree with what the Fed is doing, OK?"

A few hours later, the president told Fox News the central bank "is going loco." This morning, Trump reached out to Fox News again, insisting that the Fed is "getting a little too cute."

As a substantive matter, the president's argument isn't ridiculous. Trump's basic point is that the Federal Reserve shouldn't raise interest rates without significant evidence of inflation, and by the standards of this White House, that's a rather mainstream thing to say.

There are, however, a few problems with Trump's increasingly over-the-top lobbying.

For one thing, one need not be obsessive about political norms to realize that it's a bad idea for a sitting president to undermine public confidence in the Federal Reserve, especially one led by a chairman the president personally chose.

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Brian Kemp, background right, Chairman of State Election Board, and David Worley, left, member of State Election Board, during a meeting to lay out the case of alleged voter registration fraud against the New Georgia Project at the Georgia State Capitol o

Georgia's GOP gubernatorial candidate is overseeing his own election

10/11/18 08:40AM

The top elections official in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp is also a far-right Republican running for governor in one of the nation's most competitive and closely watched races.

Common sense suggests the GOP candidate would recognize his conflict of interest -- Kemp shouldn't officially oversee his own election, deciding, among other things, who gets to vote -- and stand aside, but that's not happening. Georgians are simply supposed to trust that he'll be responsible and even-handed.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, that's not working out especially well.

Last year, for example, the far-right Republican's office canceled over 600,000 voter registrations. This year, as the Associated Press reported this week, Kemp is raising even more questions about his official actions.

Marsha Appling-Nunez was showing the college students she teaches how to check online if they're registered to vote when she made a troubling discovery. Despite being an active Georgia voter who had cast ballots in recent elections, she was no longer registered.

"I was kind of shocked," said Appling-Nunez, who moved from one Atlanta suburb to another in May and believed she had successfully changed her address on the voter rolls.

"I've always voted. I try to not miss any elections, including local ones," Appling-Nunez said.

She tried re-registering, but with about one month left before a November election that will decide a governor's race and some competitive U.S. House races, Appling-Nunez's application is one of over 53,000 sitting on hold with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office. And unlike Appling-Nunez, many people on that list -- which is predominantly black, according to an analysis by The Associated Press -- may not even know their voter registration has been held up.

One of the underlying problems is that Kemp implemented a system called "exact match." In practice, if you've hyphenated your last name after getting married, or you sometimes use your middle initial, your name may not exactly match the listing in state files.

And if it doesn't, the Republican gubernatorial candidate is in a position to put your voter registration on indefinite hold.

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