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House delivers the most bipartisan rebuke of Trump's presidency

10/17/19 10:07AM

Donald Trump has long seen support from his Republican allies in Congress as a pillar of his entire presidency. So long as the GOP is united, and so long as Republican lawmakers are willing to stand behind him, Trump believes his position is strong.

And for the last 1,000 days, the president has had reason to be pleased with his party's fealty. There have been some exceptions, but they've largely been limited to a modest number of senators.

Yesterday, however, was something altogether new.

The House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn President Donald Trump's withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria.

Despite stark divisions over Democrats' Trump impeachment inquiry, Democrats and Republicans banded together and approved a nonbinding resolution by 354-60 vote.

The resolution states Congress' opposition to the troop pullback and says Turkey should cease its military action in Syria. And the measure says the White House should present a plan for an "enduring defeat" of the Islamic State group.

In all, 192 House Republicans voted on the resolution, and 129 of them sided with Democrats against the White House's position. The president has convinced himself that his policy in Syria was "strategically brilliant," but it appears even GOP lawmakers know better.

Trump has seen votes go against him on Capitol Hill, but he's never seen such a lopsided defeat in the House.

There were no hysterical presidential tweets on the vote -- at least not yet -- but there's reason to believe yesterday's outcome on the House floor contributed to Trump's meltdown during a meeting with congressional leaders.

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Bizarre 'tough guy' letter offers unsettling peek into Trump's skills

10/17/19 09:20AM

Last week, as Donald Trump moved U.S. troops out of northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish military offensive against our Kurdish allies, the American president reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to show some restraint. That, in and of itself, hardly seems notable.

What was extraordinary, however, was how the Republican communicated his concerns. This is the full text of a letter Trump sent Erdogan on Oct. 9,:

Dear Mr. President:

Let's work out a good deal! You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy -- and I will. I've already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.

I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don't let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!

I will call you later.

[Trump's handwritten signature]

Not surprisingly, after the correspondence was obtained by Fox Business's Trish Regan yesterday, more than a few journalists, including my colleagues at MSNBC, reached out to the White House to make sure the letter was real. Officials confirmed its authenticity.

And with that in mind, let's unpack what made the letter so extraordinary, because the document told us quite a bit.

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Why does Trump keep blurting out sensitive information?

10/17/19 08:40AM

A couple of years ago, Donald Trump had a chat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in which the Republican shared information about dispatching two nuclear submarines off the coast of the Korean peninsula. By one account, Pentagon officials were "in shock" over Trump's willingness to share such information.

"We never talk about subs!" three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movements secret is key to their mission.

Of course, there are other security details "we never talk about," which the American president has a curious habit of just blurting out without any real caution or care. As the Washington Post explained:

Trump was asked about the security of [American nuclear weapons in Turkey], now that Turkey has gone against U.S. wishes by invading northern Syria after Trump ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. He didn't explicitly confirm the weapons were there, but he went along with the premise, saying "we're confident" they'll be safe "and we have a great air base there -- a very powerful air base."

U.S. government officials have long avoided disclosing or even confirming widely believed locations of U.S. nuclear weapons.

What's more, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump, during public White House comments yesterday, also appeared to give out the exact number of U.S. special forces currently stationed in the northern Syria border region, which has become a new conflict zone thanks to the president's disastrous new policy decision.

To be sure, there have been some news accounts with similar estimates on the number of American troops in the area, but there's a qualitative difference when the Commander in Chief publicly confirms those reports in specific detail for no reason.

All of which brings us back to a familiar concern: does Donald Trump know how to handle sensitive information responsibly?

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Why Trump's latest 'very serious meltdown' matters

10/17/19 08:00AM

In theory, yesterday's briefing at the White House could have, and should have, been a straightforward gathering of policymakers. Donald Trump's new policy in Syria has created crisis conditions in northern Syria, and this was the president's opportunity to let congressional leaders know more about conditions on the ground, his policy, and its future.

At least, that was the idea. In practice, Trump couldn't behave like an adult long enough to lead the meeting.

Democratic leaders in Congress on Wednesday angrily walked out of a White House meeting with President Donald Trump after he had a "meltdown," according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. [...]

The President started the meeting with a lengthy bombastic monologue, according to a senior Democratic aide.... The meeting quickly devolved into a series of contentious exchanges centering on the president's decision earlier this month to pull troops from Syria, which paved the way for the Turkish invasion.

There is no public transcript or recording of the gathering, but by most accounts, Trump admonished former Defense Secretary James Mattis for not being as "tough" as him, complained that he didn't want to even have the briefing he was supposed to lead, suggested Democrats are vaguely sympathetic to ISIS because the terrorist network includes "communists," and insulted Nancy Pelosi to her face, dismissing her as a "third-rate" politician.

Since the discussion obviously wasn't going to be constructive, Democratic leaders saw no need to stick around.

The House Speaker described Trump's bizarre behavior as a "very serious meltdown," adding that Americans should "pray for his health." Because the president routinely finds it necessary to respond to every slight in a I'm-rubber-you're-glue sort of way, Trump published a tweet soon after accusing Pelosi of being mentally ill, adding, "Pray for her, she is a very sick person!" Since he heard the Speaker accuse him of a "meltdown," Trump also accused Pelosi of having had a "meltdown."

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham insisted that the president was "measured" and "factual" during the meeting, which people who've never seen, heard, or read about Donald Trump might actually believe.

It's the third time this year a White House gathering has been derailed by a presidential breakdown, following a meeting in January during Trump's lengthy government shutdown and a gathering in May that was supposed to be about infrastructure.

What strikes me as amazing, though, is the larger context of Trump's latest breakdown.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.16.19

10/16/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump's latest tantrum: "Democratic leaders in Congress on Wednesday angrily walked out of a White House meeting with President Donald Trump after he had a 'meltdown,' according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi."

* Maybe this put Trump on edge: "The House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn President Donald Trump's withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria. Despite stark divisions over Democrats' Trump impeachment inquiry, Democrats and Republicans banded together and approved a nonbinding resolution by 354-60 vote."

* Rudy's many associates: "David Correia, the fourth defendant in a campaign finance case involving business associates of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, was arrested Wednesday morning at a New York City airport, officials said."

* On the Hill today: Michael McKinley, the former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until his sudden resignation last week, told House impeachment investigators Wednesday that career diplomats were mistreated during his tenure and that some had their careers derailed for political reasons, according to people familiar with his testimony.

* In related news: "Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor left Kyiv, Ukraine on Wednesday for Washington D.C. after House Democrats requested he appear for a Tuesday deposition in the investigation into President Trump's alleged misconduct involving Ukraine, NBC News has confirmed."

* GM: "The United Auto Workers and General Motors have reached a tentative deal to end the union's four-week strike against the automaker."

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

GOP leader pretends Trump didn't say what we heard him say

10/16/19 03:14PM

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) isn't just a random backbench member of Congress. He's the top Republican in the U.S. House, and he'd likely be elevated to the House Speaker's office in the event of a GOP takeover of the chamber.

The California Republican is also a close ally of Donald Trump and the White House, who's helped take the lead in his party for defending the president against the Ukraine scandal.

It's just not going especially well for him.

On CBS' 60 Minutes two weeks ago, McCarthy seemed inexplicably lost when told that Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, "I would like you to do us a favor, though." Last week, the House Minority Leader told Fox News, "You watch what the president said, he's not saying China should investigate." In reality, Trump stood on the White House South Lawn, appeared in front of a significant group of journalists, and literally said, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

All of which led to this morning's press briefing with the House Republican leadership.

Q: I hear all of you attacking the impeachment process but none of you defending the president's actions. Do any of you think it was okay for the president to ask more than one foreign nation to investigate his campaign rival?

McCARTHY: The president wasn't investigating a campaign rival. What the president was trying to get to the bottom, just as every American would want to know, why did we go through two years?

The Republican leader went on to describe the Russia scandal as a "hoax," again in defiance of reality, suggesting that Trump's focus has been retrospective, not focused on Biden.

I honestly don't understand what it is that Kevin McCarthy doesn't understand.

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Trump describes his disaster in Syria as 'strategically brilliant'

10/16/19 01:02PM

The stability in northern Syria that the U.S. military helped create and sustain is over. After Donald Trump, ignoring the advice of his foreign policy and national security teams, withdrew American troops, "total chaos" soon followed.

As we discussed yesterday, our Kurdish allies, abandoned by Trump and confronting "bloody carnage," have now allied with Russia and Syria's Assad regime, largely because they needed a reliable ally and could no longer count on the United States. The Kurdish campaign against ISIS, not surprisingly, is effectively over, to the delight of the terrorist network.

The only real beneficiaries of the chaos Trump created are Russia, Syria, Iran, and ISIS.

And yet, despite all of this, the American president was quite explicit this morning and making one thing clear: Trump simply does not care.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday downplayed the escalating tensions in the Middle East in the aftermath of his abrupt withdrawal of American troops from northeastern Syria.

"It's not our border," Trump said speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, referring to Kurdish forces that, until recently, fought side by side with the United States forces as "no angels."

The Republican went on to say his decision was "strategically brilliant." Trump added that American soldiers "are totally safe."

The president also said, in apparent reference to Turkish and Kurdish forces, "There's a lot of sand that they can play with." Trump added that he believes the Kurds deliberately freed some ISIS prisoners in the hopes that he would say, "Oh gee, we gotta get back in there."

As difficult as this was to hear, Trump's extraordinary unscripted comments offered a peek into his rather twisted vision of the world.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.16.19

10/16/19 12:00PM

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

* There was a lively Democratic presidential primary debate in Westerville, Ohio, last night. The next gathering will be in Georgia on Nov. 20.

* Bernie Sanders hasn't picked up many congressional endorsements for his presidential campaign, but he's now picking up two fairly high-profile backers: first-year Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

* Joe Biden's campaign appears to have a rather serious financial problem: as the 2020 race enters the next stage, the former vice president only had about $9 million cash on hand as of two weeks ago. In contrast, Bernie Sanders had $33.7 million in the bank, Elizabeth Warren had $25.7 million, Pete Buttigieg had $23.3 million, and Kamala Harris had $10.5 million.

* With only three weeks remaining in Kentucky's gubernatorial race, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R) tied with state Attorney General Andy Beshear (D), with each garnering 46% support.

* On a related note, Bevin's fate is reportedly of keen interest to the White House, and Team Trump is reportedly "planning an 11th-hour push to stave off an embarrassing defeat" for the far-right governor.

* And speaking of the Bluegrass State, a judge yesterday sided with the Kentucky Democratic Party and ordered State Board of Elections to keep 175,000 purged voters on the state's voter rolls.

* In Maine., the latest survey from Public Policy Polling found Sen. Susan Collins (R) trailing a generic Democrat in next year's U.S. Senate race, 41% to 44%. The incumbent Republican hasn't yet officially declared whether she'll run for another term.

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