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Shipping container trucks sit in traffic at the seaport, Nov.  29, 2012 in Long Beach, Calif.

New evidence suggests Trump's tariff gambit backfired

01/02/20 10:00AM

After Donald Trump advanced his trade war with a series of tariffs, the president expressed great confidence that his gambit was as effective as it was wise. The Republican spent months arguing that his policy was pumping billions of dollars into the treasury, while shielding American jobs and boosting the domestic economy.

The first part of his pitch was obviously wrong -- assertions that tariffs generated government revenue suggest Trump has never fully undersood the basics of his own policy -- but the rest of the president's argument appears to have collapsed, too. Marketwatch reported:

President Donald Trump's strategy to use import tariffs to protect and boost U.S. manufacturers backfired and led to job losses and higher prices, according to a Federal Reserve study released this week.

"We find that the 2018 tariffs are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices," concluded Fed economists Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce, in an academic paper.

The same report added, "We find that U.S. manufacturing industries more exposed to tariff increases experience relative reductions in employment as a positive effect from import protection is offset by larger negative effects from rising input costs and retaliatory tariffs."

In other words, Trump embraced a tariff strategy to, among other things, boost the U.S. manufacturing sector. The evidence suggests this backfired, hurting those the president intended to help.

I imagine White House officials, if they acknowledge the Fed's report at all, will argue that the findings must be wrong because economic growth was healthy and steady in 2019, as was job growth. If Trump's tariff gambit had actually backfired, they'll argue, the economy would be in much worse shape.

This fails to acknowledge a few relevant details.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Targeting whistleblower, Trump intensifies retaliation campaign

01/02/20 09:20AM

Donald Trump has been away from the White House over the holidays, spending time at Mar-a-Lago, the private club he continues to own and profit from. Politico reported yesterday that the president "cuts loose" at the venue, where he's "comfortable" and feels "liberated."

In practical terms, that leads the Republican to tweet -- a lot -- without regard for limits or propriety.

There's no point in reviewing each of the 162 tweets Trump published since Christmas, though there were some doozies in there. The president retweeted all kinds of weird content from the crackpot fringe; he appeared to publish a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's house; and he even promoted an item that suggested he, unlike Barack Obama, was siding with Jesus of Nazareth.

The Atlantic's David Frum published a piece this past weekend that argued, "Trump's tweeting in the past two days was so frenzied and the sources quoted were so bizarre -- including at least four accounts devoted to the Pizzagate-adjacent conspiracy theory QAnon, as well as one that describes former President Barack Obama as 'Satan's Muslim scum' -- as to renew doubts about the president's mental stability."

There was, however, one item of particular interest. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump retweeted a post naming the alleged whistleblower who filed the complaint that became the catalyst for the congressional inquiry that resulted in his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

On Friday night, Trump shared a Twitter post from @surfermom77, who describes herself as "100% Trump supporter," with his 68 million followers. That tweet prominently named the alleged whistleblower and suggested that he had committed perjury.

A day later, the tweet no longer appeared in the president's timeline, though it's unclear who removed the item and why. (Due to a technical glitch, the tweet was visible to some, but not all, Twitter users.)

Regardless, the damage was done. On Dec. 26, Trump used Twitter to promote a Washington Examiner report that included the name of the CIA official believed to be the intelligence community whistleblower, and two days later, he upped the ante.

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks to greet Donald Trump at the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019.

North Korea talks up 'new strategic weapon' as Trump's policy fails

01/02/20 08:40AM

In the summer of 2018, Donald Trump was so confused about his engagement with North Korea that he started making boasts about having "solved" the problem posed by the rogue nuclear state. As the Republican put it after a summit with Kim Jung-un, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

Trump added in a tweet at the time, "President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer -- sleep well tonight!"

In the months that followed, as North Korea engaged in missile testing that Trump pretended didn't exist, the American president continued to pat his own back, telling Fox News what a "great job" he was doing with North Korea. Reflecting on the road ahead, the Republican added that there's "great progress being made."

Trump's boasts were difficult to take seriously at the time. They look even worse now.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he sees no reason to continue his self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, warning the world will soon see "a new strategic weapon" unveiled by his country in the near future. [...]

According to state-media's report of the four-day meeting [of his Workers' Party's Central Committee], Kim "confirmed that the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future," referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It did not provide details about what this weapon might be.

Trump gambled on a curious strategy in which he'd make a series of bold concessions to the rogue nuclear state, in exchange for nothing. Indeed, as regular readers know, the Republican gave the North Korean leader the bilateral talks he wanted. And the international legitimacy he wanted. And the cessation of military exercises he wanted. And the public praise he wanted. And the propaganda opportunities he wanted.

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The Capitol building at dusk.

'Game changer' report jolts debate over Senate impeachment trial

01/02/20 08:00AM

The recent impeachment of Donald Trump ushered in a new phase of the president's scandal, but it did not mark the end of revelations about what transpired when the administration took steps to extort a vulnerable ally for domestic political gain. The New York Times published a report earlier this week that jolted the broader debate, highlighting new details about concerns within the White House regarding Trump's directive to withhold military aid to Ukraine.

Opposition to the order from his top national security advisers was more intense than previously known. In late August, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser at the time, for a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting with the president where they tried but failed to convince him that releasing the aid was in interests of the United States.

By late summer, top lawyers at the Office of Management and Budget who had spoken to lawyers at the White House and the Justice Department in the weeks beforehand, were developing an argument -- not previously divulged publicly -- that Mr. Trump's role as commander in chief would simply allow him to override Congress on the issue.

And [acting White House Chief of Staff Mick] Mulvaney is shown to have been deeply involved as a key conduit for transmitting Mr. Trump's demands for the freeze across the administration.

These are no small details. The Times' report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, paints an exceedingly damning portrait of a White House operation that began hatching Trump's Ukraine scheme as early as June, with Mulvaney emailing an aide, Robert Blair, asking "whether we can hold [military aid] back" from Ukraine, despite congressional approval.

In the months that followed, top members of Team Trump directly urged the president to follow a more responsible course, only to find Trump ignoring their pleas. It led some in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make absurd assertions about the sweeping powers of presidential whims.

The article specifically referenced a pointed email from Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon's top budget official, to Michael Duffey, a political appointee at OMB who was directly involved in executing Trump's scheme. "You can't be serious," McCusker wrote on Sept. 10, after learning of Trump's plan. "I am speechless."

There's no shortage of relevant angles to the Times' report, but there's one overarching element that poses new challenges for Republicans: the revelations come against a backdrop in which lawmakers are debating whether to include key witnesses in the Senate's impeachment trial.

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The New Year's Eve 2014 Celebration in Times Square on Dec. 31, 2013 in New York, N.Y.

Happy New Year from TRMS

12/30/19 08:00AM

It's probably going to be pretty quiet here at MaddowBlog for the next few days, and readers should expect a light-to-nonexistent posting schedule. That said, I'll be around in case major news breaks.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.27.19

12/27/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Sgt. 1st Class Michael Goble: "A U.S. Special Forces soldier who died in Afghanistan this week was seizing a Taliban weapons cache when he was killed, the U.S. military said Friday."

* North Carolina: "Republican attempts to require photo identification to vote in North Carolina are being thwarted again by judges hearing arguments that the mandate is tainted by bias that would deter black and Latino residents."

* Trump draws attention to the alleged whistleblower's name: "President Trump isn't done with his crusade to expose the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint detailing the Ukraine pressure campaign sparked the impeachment inquiry. On Thursday night, the President retweeted an article from the Washington Examiner that names the person that Trump's allies allege to be the whistleblower."

* A brutal report on accused war criminal Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher: "Video interviews and documents leaked to The New York Times reveal how Navy SEALs turned against their own platoon leader with allegations that he killed for the sake of killing."

* This unfolded faster than expected: "The Food and Drug Administration officially raised the age to buy tobacco in the U.S. from 18 to 21, fulfilling a key portion of the federal spending package that President Trump signed into law last week."

* Congress doesn't necessarily need Trump on this: "In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats are planning to try to force President Trump to take a more active stand on human rights in China, preparing veto-proof legislation that would punish top Chinese officials for detaining more than one million Muslims in internment camps."

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

On Twitter, Trump routinely does what he's accused Schiff of doing

12/27/19 12:43PM

Over the summer, Donald Trump published a tweet that appeared to quote House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying, "House Republicans support the President on Tariffs with Mexico all the way, & that makes any measure the President takes on the Border totally Veto proof. Why wouldn't you as Republicans support him when that will allow our President to make a better deal."

The quote struck me as interesting, so I went looking for it, eager to get a sense of the context. There was, however, a problem: McCarthy didn't use the words the president attributed to him. The House GOP leader used some related rhetoric during a Fox News interview, but Trump chose to simply add words and phrases he liked, and then presented them to the public as if McCarthy's quote were accurate. It wasn't.

Alas, it wasn't an isolated incident. The New York Times reported the other day that the president, who doesn't seem to fully appreciate how quotation marks work, often misquotes his allies.

Mr. Trump has made a habit of injecting his own words into the comments of people he sees on television and then publishing them as direct quotes on Twitter, where he has more than 67 million followers. In some instances, he simply omits a part of the quote he doesn't like. [...]

Not all of Mr. Trump's misrepresentations come from watching TV. Sometimes he attributes something to a private conversation that may not have ever occurred.

People rarely contradict the president's misleading quotes, in part because they fear Trump and his machine, and in part because he'd probably respond with additional misleading quotes.

At face value, this may seem underwhelming. The president's record of brazen dishonesty, making up conversations, and unfamiliarity with American grammar are well documented, and the bogus quotes he publishes are a fairly small part of a larger phenomenon.

But something Trump argued last week, in reference to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), put the issue in a different light.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.27.19

12/27/19 12:00PM

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

* It's a figure so comically large that it's almost hard to believe, but a CNN reporter noted that Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have combined to spend over $200 million thus far in television advertising for their Democratic presidential campaigns. There's never been anything like this in the history of American presidential primaries.

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's Democratic presidential campaign has been slow to get off the ground, and this week, it received some discouraging news: Patrick has failed to qualify to appear on Michigan's March 10 primary ballot.

* Though Republican voters in several states will not be able to vote for one of Donald Trump's presidential primary rivals, that won't be the case in North Carolina: the state Board of Elections has agreed that former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh have met the qualifications to appear on the Republican ballot.

* Corey Lewandowski, the first of three people who helped run Donald Trump's 2016 campaign operation, said in a radio interview last week that he's increasingly likely to run against incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in New Hampshire next year.

* Speaking of former members of Team Trump eyeing electoral opportunities, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conceded to CNN the other day that she's "very seriously" considering a gubernatorial campaign in Arkansas.

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This Jan. 17, 2017, file photo shows General Electric light bulbs on display at a store, in Wilmington, Mass.

Team Trump's rhetoric about light bulbs gets even dimmer

12/27/19 10:50AM

At a campaign rally last week, Donald Trump used some familiar rhetoric in reference to light bulbs. "We're even bringing back the old light bulb," the president told supporters in Michigan. "You heard about that, right? The old light bulb, which is better. I say, why do I always look so orange? You know why, because of the new light, they're terrible. You look terrible."

Of course, by that reasoning, wouldn't everyone look orange under energy-efficient light bulbs, and not just the guy making unfortunate makeup choices?

Regardless, over the weekend, the White House used its official Twitter feed to pitch a related message:

If you like your lightbulbs, you can keep your lightbulbs! The Obama Admin tried to limit Americans to buying more-expensive LED bulbs for their homes -- but thanks to President @realDonaldTrump, go ahead and decorate your house with whatever lights you want.

Oh, good. Team Trump has shifted its attention from toilets to light bulbs.

There are a couple of angles to this that are worth keeping in mind, especially as the president keeps pushing this line as if he's done something worthwhile. First, Trump's light bulb decision represents a major step backwards for U.S. energy policy. The Washington Post reported that this one misguided change, according to consumer research, will "boost energy costs by $14 billion a year and generate 38 million tons of carbon dioxide annually."

A report in The Hill added that the administration's new rule "will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project."

This isn't something Trump should be proud of; it's something he should find embarrassing.

Second, while the White House seems eager to blame (credit?) the Obama administration for taking steps to improve U.S. energy efficiency, the policy Trump is undoing pre-dates the Obama era.

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Former GOP rep: Trump is 'intellectually and psychologically unfit'

12/27/19 10:16AM

It's always helpful when Republican members of Congress leave Capitol Hill and begin speaking their minds without fear of political consequences. Take this New York Times report from earlier in the week, for example.

By the summer of 2017, Dave Trott, a two-term Republican congressman, was worried enough about President Trump's erratic behavior and his flailing attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that he criticized the president in a closed-door meeting with fellow G.O.P. lawmakers.

The response was instantaneous -- but had nothing to do with the substance of Mr. Trott's concerns. "Dave, you need to know somebody has already told the White House what you said," he recalled a colleague telling him.

Note the context: Trott expressed criticisms of Donald Trump in private. He was nevertheless warned to watch his step because the president's supporters, on the lookout, were likely to report the congressman's transgressions. Republicans were expected to show loyalty to Trump at all times, even behind closed doors. A healthy political environment it was not.

It wasn't long before Trott announced his retirement. In the 2018 midterm elections, he was replaced by a Democrat in a GOP-friendly district.

The former congressman has not, however, forgotten about the lessons he learned and his impressions of those in positions of authority. "Trump is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically unfit for office," Trott told the Times, "and I'm sure a lot of Republicans feel the same way."

In a letter to the editor in the print edition of The Atlantic, the Michigan Republican added that he considers the president "unfit for office." Trott went on to tell the Detroit News he "probably would have" voted to impeach Trump, and as things stand, he's also considering voting Democratic in the 2020 presidential election.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber as Republicans pushed legislation toward Senate approval to defund Planned Parenthood and the ACA, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

To win over voters, McConnell discovers his love of federal largess

12/27/19 09:20AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not exactly the nation's most popular politician. After more than a third of a century representing Kentucky on Capitol Hill, the Republican lawmaker has one of the lowest approval ratings of any senator among his own constituents.

And with that in mind, as the Senate's GOP leader gets ready to run for the seventh time, McConnell has focused on an important priority: bring home the bacon. The Hill reported this week on McConnell "delivering more than $1 billion worth of federal spending and tax breaks to his Kentucky constituents."

[McConnell] flexed his political muscle to secure $914.2 million in direct spending for Kentucky in the two year-end omnibus spending bills. The windfall will likely boost his political standing at home in the face of a well-financed Democratic opponent and his perennially low approval ratings.

McConnell touted his spending and tax-relief accomplishments at a press conference in Louisville.... Noting that he's the only top congressional leader who isn't from California or New York, McConnell emphasized he was one of four people in the room making final decisions about specifics on the year-end spending and tax deals.

The Senate Republican argued at the press conference, "I saw a commercial from my likely opponent indicating that I was all that was wrong with Washington. So I have a question for her here as we go into the new year: In what way would Kentucky have been better off without any of these items that I put in the year-end spending bill?"

I don't doubt that many voters in the Bluegrass State will find this persuasive. It's not even especially offensive: members of Congress have worked on steering federal benefits to their constituents for as long as we've had members of Congress.

But it's worth pausing to appreciate the line McConnell and his party have tried to take on the issue in recent years, and the degree to which that line is at odds with the Kentucky Republican's latest boasts.

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