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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.21.19

01/21/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "The Taliban infiltrated an Afghan intelligence base on Monday, killing dozens who worked for the agency in what officials said was one of the deadliest attacks against the intelligence service in the 17-year war with the Taliban."

* The unscheduled trip lasted, by some accounts, about two minutes: "President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Monday, laying a wreath in King's honor."

* Trump's North Korea policy needs work: "With a second U.S.-North Korea nuclear summit looming in February, researchers have discovered a secret ballistic missile base in North Korea -- one of as many as 20 undisclosed missile sites in the country, according to the researchers' new report."

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted. But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised."

* I wonder how the FBI will respond: "Sen. Jeff Merkley is requesting that the FBI open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, based on testimony she gave to Congress in December on family separations at the southern border."

* This story has been percolating for a while and it's worth watching: "The legal reasoning behind the Justice Department's unusual reversal this week of an opinion that paved the way for online gambling hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson."

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Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks with reporters in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Oct. 16, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

GOP leader: Pelosi bears responsibility for party's lack of diversity

01/21/19 12:47PM

The week after the 2018 midterm elections, soon-to-be House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked about the Republican caucus' lack of racial and gender diversity. Trying to put a positive spin on a fairly obvious problem.

"We have a lot of room to grow," McCarthy said, adding, "We're diverse, but we can continue to expand and improve."

If his pitch wasn't especially persuasive, it's probably because the numbers paint a striking portrait. The new Congress is the most diverse in American history, which is due almost entirely to the diversity in the House Democratic caucus.

With this in mind, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) launched a rebranded leadership PAC late last week -- it's called "E-PAC" -- that will focus on helping Republican women in congressional primaries, as a way of improving the party's gender diversity. We've seen GOP officials launch similar initiatives in years past, and time will tell whether this one succeeds where others fell short.

But of particular interest was House Minority Whip Steve Scalise's (R-La.) remarks at Stefanik's event, and his explanation for why his caucus is dominated by white men. CQ published a transcript of the Louisianan's comments:

"I've noticed that when female members run on the Republican side, Nancy Pelosi will spend a lot more money, in many cases twice as much more to defeat Republican female candidates in incumbents.

"And when I go look back, in Mia Love's race, it was the most expensive race in the country the first time she ran and she lost barely in a recount. She ran again two years later, that was the second most expensive race in the country, and she won. And you can see in this last cycle, Pelosi spent millions of dollars to ultimately take her out. And you can see that and a lot of these races, and I so I think we all need to be aware.

"We need to do a better job of recruiting to make sure we recruit really good female candidates and what Elise PAC is doing, E-PAC, is making sure that we recognize that when female candidates run as Republicans, Nancy Pelosi does not want our party to look diverse."

So, the vast majority of House Republicans are white men, and that's ... Nancy Pelosi's fault?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.21.19

01/21/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she is, in fact, running for president. The Democratic senator will hold a formal launch event in her hometown of Oakland on Sunday afternoon.

* While on the presidential campaign trail over the weekend, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) noted that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) "is not actually in our party." This seemed to cause a bit of a stir, though I'm not altogether sure why.

* Another White House hopeful, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) suggested yesterday that both parties share at least some blame for the Republicans' government shutdown. In related news, Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele (D) is moving forward with plans to challenge Gabbard in a Democratic congressional primary next year.

* Speaking of U.S. House primary challenges, Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R) raised $100,000 in just 10 days after announcing plans to run against Rep. Steve King (R) next year.

* Apparently concerned about next year's open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, Republican leaders are encouraging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to leave Donald Trump's cabinet and launch a Senate campaign. Pompeo appears to be open to the idea.

* Fifteen years after endorsing George W. Bush and speaking at the Republican National Convention, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning that "electing a Democrat in 2020 and getting the country back on track" should be everyone's priority.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump: 'Nobody is sure' who killed four Americans in Syria last week

01/21/19 11:20AM

It's been nearly a week since four Americans -- two U.S. service members, a Defense Department civilian employee, and a contractor supporting the department -- were killed by an explosion in Syria during a routine patrol. Three other U.S. service members were injured as part of the same attack.

As NBC News reported, "ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack through recognized social media accounts, claiming a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest attacked coalition forces."

On Saturday morning, Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base for a private meeting with the fallen Americans' loved ones, and the president spoke briefly with reporters before boarding Marine One. In response to a question about the ongoing ISIS presence in Syria, he said:

"Well, what we've done is we've -- when I took over, Syria was loaded with ISIS.... We've gone into Syria, and in two years we've, I guess, reduced it to about 99 percent of the territorial caliphate.

"Now, that doesn't mean you're not going have somebody around. And who knows what happened and who it was, because nobody is sure."

On the first point, the fact of the matter is that ISIS-controlled territory "had been substantially reduced before Trump took office," though the Republican often likes to pretend otherwise.

But on the second point -- "nobody is sure" what happened in last week's attack -- it was an unexpected thing for Trump to say, and I'm curious as to why he said it.

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Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani speaks at the Cisco Connect 2013 conference in Warsaw, Poland, November 26, 2013.

Rudy Giuliani keeps 'creating issues that do not otherwise exist'

01/21/19 10:40AM

By all appearances, Rudy Giuliani's role on Donald Trump's legal defense team is that of a spokesperson more than a lawyer. The former mayor's job, as best as we can tell, does not entail a significant amount of hands-on legal representation.

The trouble, of course, is that Giuliani appears to be a horrible spokesperson for the president.

On Friday, in response to a controversial report from BuzzFeed, Trump and his team faced new questions about whether the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Yesterday, Giuliani insisted that Trump did no such thing, though Giuliani raised the prospect of the president having spoken with Cohen about his congressional testimony before it occurred.

"And so what if he talked to him about it?" Giuliani asked. He added that such a conversation would be "perfectly normal."

I'll gladly let legal experts speak to this with authority, but as a rule, when Congress is engaged in an investigation, a sitting president would avoid having conversations with material witnesses about their testimony ahead of a hearing.

But that was just the start of Giuliani's highly problematic day.

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said Sunday that plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow remained an "active proposal" as late as November of 2016, leaving open the possibility that Trump's family-led company continued to pursue the business deal up until the presidential election, months later than previously known.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Giuliani said the president has told him he can "remember having conversations" with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, about the project well into 2016.

Giuliani told NBC News' Chuck Todd that the Trump Tower Moscow discussions "went on throughout 2016," adding, "Probably could be up to as far as October, November."

Giuliani went on to tell the New York Times that the president told him that the Trump Tower Moscow talks were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."

That's not close to Trump World's previous timeline of events.

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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)

Despite stated principles, McConnell readies vote on Trump's shutdown plan

01/21/19 10:00AM

During his speech on Saturday afternoon, unveiling his latest "plan" to end his government shutdown, Donald Trump declared, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to bring this bill to a vote this week in the United States Senate."

On this, the president was correct. The White House hasn't invested much energy in communicating with congressional Democrats -- they were left out of the talks that produced Trump's latest blueprint -- but the coordination with congressional Republicans has been fine. The Washington Post  reported:

Moving ahead on Trump's plan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that he would put the legislation on the Senate floor for a vote in the coming week. Trump heralded the package as a bipartisan, "compassionate response" that would offer humanitarian relief on the border and curb illegal immigration -- while allowing the government to reopen.

McConnell laid out his plan in a private call with GOP senators late Saturday afternoon, where there was little dissent, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Though there was some talk about Senate action as early as tomorrow, by all accounts, we're more likely to see a floor vote on Thursday. The New York Times  reported that the GOP leadership will tie the president's immigration package to spending bills that would end the shutdown and re-open the government, apparently to increase the pressure on Democrats to go along with Trump's demands.

As the vote draws closer, there will be plenty of time for speculation about whether the measure can pass. It'll need to clear the 60-vote hurdle, which appears unlikely, and before it could become law, it would also need to pass the House, which appears all but impossible.

But before the legislative head-counts begin in earnest, there's a question that deserves an answer: whatever happened to Mitch McConnell's principle of denying a vote on any measure that lacks bipartisan backing?

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A section of the border fence ends along Avilia, off Military Highway, between Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Bryan Schutmaat for MSNBC)

Trump touts wall in city that isn't on the border, doesn't have a wall

01/21/19 09:20AM

Over the weekend, just hours before Donald Trump made an underwhelming presentation on a doomed plan to end his government shutdown, the president spoke briefly with reporters. Most of the rhetoric was familiar, though he did add a new twist to his usual pitch.

"Everybody knows that walls work. If you look at different places they put up a wall -- no problem. If you look at San Antonio, if you look at so many different places, they go from one of the most unsafe cities in the country to one of the safest cities immediately. Immediately. It works. We have to put them up and we will put them up. We got to."

Ordinarily, this is about the time I start explaining that we don't "have to" put up a giant wall, and by all appearances, even Trump doesn’t really believe that. If he did, the president wouldn't have waited two years to push the issue. He also wouldn't have turned down Democratic offers that provided the administration with wall funding. He also wouldn't have endorsed a clean spending bill, without wall money, just last month, before dramatically changing his mind after conservative media told him to.

But in this case, there's another problem: Trump wants us to "look at San Antonio."

OK, let's do that. San Antonio is over 100 miles from the Mexican border, and it does not have -- nor has it ever had -- a border wall. (The Alamo may have been surrounded by a wall, though if memory serves, it was of limited utility.)

I've seen some speculation that the president may have been trying to refer to El Paso, but that would also be factually wrong, since it did not "go from one of the most unsafe cities in the country to one of the safest cities immediately."

I realize that highlighting the latest in a series of Trump mistakes about immigration only gets us so far. But I think there's a larger arc to this: how are policymakers supposed to negotiate with a president who is so routinely confused about the basics of his own favorite subject?

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 31, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

As part of a wall crusade, Pence turns to MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech

01/21/19 08:40AM

When Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech nearly 56 years ago, it came against a backdrop of significant societal tumult, including the assassination of Medgar Evers just two months earlier. The civil rights leader's remarks spoke to the sense of urgency.

"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism," MLK said in his remarks. "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

Vice President Mike Pence apparently felt justified appropriating King's rhetoric into the White House's immigration agenda, arguing on CBS News' "Face the Nation" yesterday:

"You know, the hearts and minds of the American people today are thinking a lot about it being the weekend where we remember the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, 'Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.'

"You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That's exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do. Come to the table in a spirit of good faith."

Of course, the last time congressional Democratic leaders went to the negotiating table "in a spirit of good faith," Donald Trump walked away from the table after being told he couldn't have what he thinks he's entitled to.

But even putting aside the relevant details, Pence's use of King's quote is hopelessly misguided. For one thing, given everything we know about King's record, it's simply implausible to think the iconic leader would have endorsed a far-right campaign intended to demonize and punish immigrants. Indeed, the NAACP called Pence's comments "an insult" to King's legacy.

For another, if we're going to make real the promises of democracy, we're going to have to reject Team Trump's misguided wall crusade.

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