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A tractor plows a field on February 25, 2014 in Firebaugh, California.

His trade agenda faltering, Trump unveils another bailout for farmers

05/24/19 08:40AM

When Donald Trump initially launched a series of trade tariffs, the White House realized that the president's agenda would hurt farmers. Officials argued, however, that farmers simply wouldn't mind shouldering the burden.

Indeed, Trump conceded his plan would cause "pain" for some Americans, but he believes they're willing to take one for the team. "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots," the president said last spring. "They understand that they're doing this for the country."

As we discussed at the time, in context, "this" appeared to mean "putting their business and livelihood" in jeopardy, confident that the president's plan would eventually pay off.

As the hardships intensified, Trump eventually agreed to a multi-billion-dollar bailout for the agricultural industry affected by his trade war. Yesterday, the Republican announced a second bailout. Bloomberg News reported:

President Donald Trump's new $16 billion aid package for farmers raises the federal government's bill for the trade-war but isn't easing anyone's concerns about damage to the U.S. economy. [...]

The Trump administration unveiled its latest package Thursday to help farmers hurt by the trade war with China, including $14.5 billion in market facilitation payments directly to producers and $1.4 billion in government purchases to be distributed through school lunch programs and local food banks. That brings to $28 billion the total trade assistance the U.S. has announced for agriculture.

Farmers can expect to receive their first aid payments by July or August, Agriculture Department officials said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. The final payment is scheduled for the beginning of the 2020 election year.

In case this isn't obvious, "market facilitation payments" is a delightful euphemism for "government bailout."

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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

Trump claims to be an 'extremely stable genius,' then proves otherwise

05/24/19 08:00AM

There was a point early last year in which Donald Trump's behavior was so erratic, a reporter felt compelled to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an official briefing whether Americans should be "concerned about the president's mental fitness." She initially responded by trying to change the subject.

Trump responded soon after by publishing a series of tweets in which the Republican described himself as "like, really smart." He added that he's "a very stable genius."

Yesterday, during an event ostensibly about agriculture and trade, the president upgraded his self-assessment: he's not just a "very stable genius"; he's now an "extremely stable genius." Trump then proceeded to prove the opposite.

Sometimes even the president of the United States needs somebody to vouch for him.

No, Trump insisted Thursday, he did not have a temper tantrum a day earlier when he cut off a White House meeting with congressional Democrats after just three minutes.

To prove it -- in the middle of a meeting with farmers -- he called on five members of his staff to bear witness to his demeanor.

One by one, his advisers dutifully stepped forward to testify, saying Trump had been "very calm," albeit "direct," in his meeting with the Democrats.

It was as bizarre as it sounds. The president began yesterday tweeting about his "extremely calm" demeanor during a meeting a day earlier in which he refused to discuss his own infrastructure plan with lawmakers. Hours later, Trump interrupted his own event on agriculture and trade to brag about his even-keeled temperament.

Soon after, he sought public testimonials from five members of his team, each of whom was asked to attest to how "calm" the president was while blowing up infrastructure talks. The unnerving display lasted for more than seven minutes.

I won't pretend to be a Shakespearean scholar, but the phrase "doth protest too much" keeps coming to mind.

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New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

New Trump order 'a grotesque abuse': fmr DOJ counterintel chief

05/23/19 09:29PM

Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Donald Trump has issued a directive to the intelligence community to cooperate with William Barr in investigating the Trump-Russia investigation, and reports that David Laufman, former chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the DOJ, calls the directive "a grotesque abuse of... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.23.19

05/23/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from Missouri: "A deadly storm system swept across Missouri on Wednesday, killing at least three people in the southwestern part of the state and causing extensive damage and injuring multiple people in the capital city."

* The final vote on this was 85 to 8: "The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan deal that would provide more than $19 billion in disaster aid funding to parts of the United States hit by hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and wildfires, following months of negotiation."

* Where things stand on the Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues Thursday that President Donald Trump 'wants to be impeached' so that he can be vindicated by the Senate. Pelosi made the comments at a closed-door morning meeting, two Democratic aides told NBC News, who also said that Pelosi called Trump's actions 'villainous.'"

* Remember, we're supposed to believe this is the most transparent administration ever: "Acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has mandated new restrictions on the way the Pentagon shares information with Congress about military operations around the world, a move that is straining ties with key Republican and Democratic lawmakers."

* Assange: "The Department of Justice on Thursday indicted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on 18 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and a case that could pose challenges to First Amendment protections."

* Ackerman McQueen later counter-sued in response to this: "The National Rifle Association sued its most prominent contractor on Wednesday, even as the gun group declared that it was 'now moving forward' from an ugly power struggle that had consumed its leadership at the highest levels."

* What an embarrassment: "Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson seized the opportunity during a Wednesday morning interview on Fox Business Network to explain a blunder that took the media for a spin Tuesday afternoon."

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

The problem with Trump's argument about Democratic 'achomlishments'

05/23/19 12:47PM

When Donald Trump held an odd press conference at the White House yesterday, photographers were able to get a few shots of the president's handwritten notes. Among the talking points the Republican was eager to emphasize: "Dems have no achomlishments."

It is, to be sure, curious than a 72-year-old president with an Ivy League education -- a man who spends an inordinate amount of time talking about how impressed he is with his intellect -- isn't sure how to spell "accomplishments."

Trump's idiosyncratic use of the language notwithstanding, the underlying point is clearly important to the president, as evidenced by his latest tweets on the subject, including this one ...

"Zero is getting done with the Democrats in charge of the House."

... and this one.

"Democrats don't want to fix the loopholes at the Border. They don't want to do anything."

Broadly speaking, there are three main problems with this. The first is that it's demonstrably false.

Since the start of the year, the new House Democratic majority has wasted little time tackling its legislative priorities and passing a series of notable bills. The list includes approval of a disaster relief bill, the Equality Act, a bill to lower prescription drug costs, a couple of other health care bills, a landmark elections-reform package, and an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.

In the process, Dems have discredited the idea that lawmakers can't investigate and legislate at the same time.

Republicans will be quick to argue that none of these measure has cleared Congress and been signed into law. That's true, but it also leads us to the second problem: when Trump whines that "zero is getting done" on Capitol Hill, he's inadvertently condemning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.23.19

05/23/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Monmouth University poll found 60% of Americans don't think Donald Trump should be re-elected, while 37% believe he should get a second term. The gender gap stood out: among men, the president is -9, while among women, he's -36.

* After North Korea threw several verbal jabs at Joe Biden, the Democrat's campaign replied, "Given Vice President Biden's record of standing up for American values and interests, it's no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."

* Under pressure from reproductive-rights advocates, DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) yesterday canceled a scheduled fundraiser for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Lipinski is an opponent of abortion rights and is generally seen as one of Congress' most conservative Democrats.

* In the wake of Rep. Justin Amash's (R-Mich.) endorsement of Trump's impeachment, the DeVos family has decided to end its financial support for the Republican congressman. As the AP noted, the DeVos family is "politically powerful" in Amash's home state of Michigan.

* Newly uncovered video of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) 1988 trip to the USSR is drawing scrutiny from multiple outlets, including Mother Jones and Politico.

* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), who won re-election last year despite being under criminal indictment, hasn't yet decided whether to run again in 2020, but he'll face a primary rival if he does. Christopher Jacobs, a Buffalo-area state senator, announced the other day that he's running in New York's 27th regardless of Collins' plans.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands beside monitors showing US President Donald J. Trump delivering a statement on the economy, at the beginning of a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, January

Sanders' dubious pitch: Pelosi shouldn't have accused Trump of a crime

05/23/19 11:20AM

To hear the White House tell it, Donald Trump's tantrum yesterday was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) fault. The Democratic leader told reporters yesterday morning that the president is "engaged in a cover-up," and that kind of rhetoric was so incendiary, Team Trump claims, that it immediately derailed negotiations.

Indeed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently feels justified seizing on Pelosi's quote to go on the offensive.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday on CNN that "it's insane" to think infrastructure talks can continue as if Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not accused Trump of a "cover-up," as Pelosi did Wednesday shortly before the White House meeting. Sanders said, "It's real simple, you can't go down two tracks."

"It's very hard to have a meeting where you accuse the president of the United States of a crime and an hour later show up and act as if nothing has happened," Sanders told reporters outside the White House.

Trump's press secretary added, "The president's feelings weren't hurt. [Pelosi] accused him of a crime. Let that sink in."

Look, I don't envy the position Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in. Her boss has asked her to defend a truly ridiculous position, and if I were in her shoes, I'd struggle to come up with a good argument, too. My point is not to sound unsympathetic.

But the fact remains that her argument is so obviously foolish, it's as if Sanders didn't give it any thought at all.

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Image: President Trump Holds Make America Great Again Rally In Pennsylvania

Trump wanted a big political win, so he invented one

05/23/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail on Monday night, taking his pitch to Pennsylvania, a state he narrowly won in 2016. The president reminded local voters that there was a congressional special election in the state's 12th congressional district the next day, which Trump described as "a little bit of a referendum" on him.

This wasn't even close to being true: the Republican candidate in this race was so heavily favored to win in a landslide that neither party gave the contest much thought. By characterizing the race as "a little bit of a referendum" on him, Trump was obviously trying to manufacture a political victory for himself.

Yesterday at the White House, the president took this a little further.

"Even last night, we had a great election. I went there on Monday. We had an election for Fred Keller, who's a 50-50 shot and he won in a landslide. We went and we did a rally. Hardly mentioned today.

"And yet if he lost, it would have been the biggest story in the country, even bigger than this witch hunt stuff that you guys keep writing about."

For now, let's put aside how pitiful it was to see an American president whine like this, once again playing the role of a victim whom we should all feel sorry for. Instead, let's consider Trump's claims on the merits.

To describe Rep.-elect Fred Keller's odds of success as "50-50" is bonkers. This is a district that Trump carried in 2016 by 36 points. Looking at partisan-voter-index ratings, it's no exaggeration to say Pennsylvania's 12th is friendlier to Republicans than most of the congressional districts in Alabama.

And yet, there was Trump, suggesting that it was his unique brand of political magic that somehow tipped the scales in the GOP nominee's favor -- a minor miracle that the political world fails to acknowledge because no one appreciates how awesome his awesomeness is.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-INTELLIGENCE

Trump isn't helping himself with his latest shot at Tillerson

05/23/19 10:00AM

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on Capitol Hill yesterday, testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Trump administration's foreign policy. Among other things, Tillerson told lawmakers that when Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany in 2017, the Republican was at a disadvantage -- because Putin out-prepared him. As the Washington Post reported:

The U.S. side anticipated a shorter meeting for exchanging courtesies, but it ballooned into a globe-spanning two-hour-plus session involving deliberations on a variety of geopolitical issues, said committee aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Tillerson's seven-hour closed meeting with the committee.

"We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted," a committee aide said. "There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing."

Tillerson's testimony, at least on this point, is very easy to believe. On multiple occasions, Trump has publicly downplayed the importance and utility of preparing for meetings with foreign leaders.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that Putin would take full advantage of the American leader's amateurishness and ignorance.

Yesterday, however, was a busy news day on a variety of fronts, and I suspected that much of the country probably wouldn't hear about the former cabinet secretary's testimony. With all due respect to the fine people who work for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this was a relatively low-profile hearing, and most news consumers probably weren't rushing to learn about Rex Tillerson's impressions of a 2017 meeting in Hamburg.

But Trump went out of his way to make sure the public heard about the former secretary's comments by -- you guessed it -- lashing out via Twitter: "Rex Tillerson, a man who is 'dumb as a rock' and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don't think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!"

This was unwise.

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This circa 1860-75 photo made available by the Library of Congress shows Harriet Tubman.

Did the delay of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill relate to Trump?

05/23/19 09:26AM

The launch of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill was slated for next year, which would carry some historical weight: next year is the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the United States. Yesterday, however, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the rollout of the new currency has been delayed until 2028.

In response to questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Mnuchin testified yesterday, "The primary reason we have looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues. Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028. The $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand."

As it turns out, that may not have been the only reason.

The New York Times published an article overnight with a provocative headline: "Harriet Tubman $20 Bill Is Delayed Until Trump Leaves Office, Mnuchin Says." What does the delay have to do with Donald Trump? According to the Times' reporting, the timing of the delay and the Republican president's tenure are not coincidental.

Mr. Mnuchin, concerned that the president might create an uproar by canceling the new bill altogether, was eager to delay its redesign until Mr. Trump was out of office, some senior Treasury Department officials have said. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump criticized the Obama administration's plans for the bill.

It's worth emphasizing that I haven't seen similar reporting elsewhere, and this hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.

That said, it's also not too hard to believe.

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