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State Dept official resigns after White House blocks climate testimony

07/11/19 12:41PM

A few weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence was asked whether he considers climate change a threat. The Republican gave every indication that he didn't want to answer, but he eventually said, "[W]hat I will tell you is that we will always follow the science on that in this administration."

It would be reassuring if Pence's claim were true, but not only is the Trump administration failing to follow the science, it's also taking steps to silence those who try. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

A State Department intelligence official who was blocked by the White House from submitting written congressional testimony on climate change last month is resigning from his post.

Rod Schoonover -- who worked in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Office of the Geographer and Global Issues -- spoke before the House Intelligence Committee on June 5 about the security risks the United States faces because of climate change. But White House officials would not let him submit the bureau's written statement that climate impacts could be "possibly catastrophic," after the State Department refused to cut references to federal scientific findings on climate change.

A Wall Street Journal report added that the Trump White House specifically prohibited Schoonover from including "evidence and data supporting his assessments" on the climate threat in written testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.

His decision to resign soon followed. After roughly a decade of federal service, Schoonover's last day is tomorrow.

This news comes on the heels of the administration stifling climate research from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, which came on the heels of Donald Trump unveiling a new energy plan intended to help polluters -- despite an assessment from EPA scientists who found that the increased emissions from the plan would lead to 1,400 premature deaths annually over the next decade.

So much for "always following the science."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.11.19

07/11/19 12:00PM

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

* LULAC, a Hispanic civil-rights organization, is hosting a presidential forum in Milwaukee today, and attendees will hear from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro (D), and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Sanders campaign has unveiled an "anti-endorsement" list, taking pride in some of the Vermont senator's high-profile critics.

* Sanders also had an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday on racial equality. Warren recently had a related piece in Essence, which approached the same issue in a different way.

* On a related note, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) is releasing his plan today to "dismantle racist structures and systems" in the federal government.

* And speaking of candidates with plans, Warren unveiled her blueprint yesterday on accelerating the U.S. shift to clean-energy sources, while former Vice President Joe Biden (D) is presenting his foreign-policy vision today in a speech in New York this afternoon.

* In a bit of a surprise, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) announced this morning that he will not run for his state's open U.S. Senate seat next year. Expect the GOP primary field to get very crowded, very quickly.

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The unresolved mystery surrounding Pence's canceled NH visit

07/11/19 10:50AM

According to the original plan, Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to fly to New Hampshire on July 2 for an event on the opioid epidemic, and he'd return to D.C. a day later. But that morning, there was an abrupt change of plans and Pence was called back to the White House.

In fact, about 15 minutes before the vice president's plane was scheduled to land, someone from his office announced on stage in New Hampshire, "Air Force Two was heading this way. There's been an emergency call-back. The vice president was asked to return to Washington so at this time we're going to cancel today's event."

A different official said soon after that it was a "diversion," not an "emergency."

A few days later, reporters asked Donald Trump what happened. "There was a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire," the president replied. "And I can't tell you about it.... There was a problem up there. And I won't go into what the problem was, but you'll see in about a week or two."

It's been a week. As Politico reported yesterday, the official line hasn't changed.

The mystery surrounding Vice President Mike Pence's scrapped trip to New Hampshire last week is still alive, with his chief of staff telling reporters Wednesday morning that he can't yet offer up an explanation.

"I can't talk about that," Pence chief of staff Marc Short told reporters on the White House driveway. He said the public could expect an answer "in a few weeks."

Administration officials have been willing to say that the cancellation was unrelated to national security or a health-related emergency. We also know that Pence had already boarded the plane at the time of the cancellation, but it hadn't yet taken off.

Beyond these details, we don't know much -- and since everyone loves a mystery, the ambiguity is unsatisfying.

It's easy to imagine a possible threat against the vice president leading to a cancellation, but Salem Deputy Police Chief Joel Dolan told the Washington Post he wasn't alerted to any such problem.

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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)

Trump says he's 'great looking,' jokes about serving multiple terms

07/11/19 10:02AM

After seeing Donald Trump's tweets this morning, I initially just rolled my eyes and moved on. But there was something about today's missives that lingered in my mind, largely because they reinforced concerns that the sitting American president is unwell.

"...The Fake News is not as important, or as powerful, as Social Media. They have lost tremendous credibility since that day in November, 2016, that I came down the escalator with the person who was to become your future First Lady.

"When I ultimately leave office in six years, or maybe 10 or 14 (just kidding), they will quickly go out of business for lack of credibility, or approval, from the public. That's why they will all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or the other.

"Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or @AlfredENeuman99 or a very nervous and skinny version of Pocahontas (1000/24th), as your President, rather than what you have now, so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!

"Sorry to say that even Social Media would be driven out of business along with, and finally, the Fake News Media!"

If you were to receive a message like this from someone in your personal life -- a relative, a friend, a co-worker -- you'd likely be concerned about his or her stability. And that would be an entirely appropriate response, since grounded, well-balanced adults tend not to make ridiculous declarations like these.

And yet, this is our life now. The man running around boasting about his appearance and suspect intellect has access to the nuclear codes. Bizarre rants that should never feel normal have effectively become the background noise of modern American politics.

Donald Trump has told a great many lies to the public, but among the most dramatic was his 2016 assurance, "I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament."

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Poll: most veterans believe Middle East wars weren't worth fighting

07/11/19 09:23AM

It's been clear for a while that the Bush-era wars in the Middle East do not enjoy broad public support, but the Pew Research Center shed new light on the issue with a survey for U.S. military veterans.

Nearly 18 years since the start of the war in Afghanistan and 16 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, majorities of U.S. military veterans say those wars were not worth fighting, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of veterans. A parallel survey of American adults finds that the public shares those sentiments.

Among veterans, 64% say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting considering the costs versus the benefits to the United States, while 33% say it was. The general public's views are nearly identical: 62% of Americans overall say the Iraq War wasn't worth it and 32% say it was. Similarly, majorities of both veterans (58%) and the public (59%) say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting. About four-in-ten or fewer say it was worth fighting.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump sat down with Fox News (again), for an interview that aired last week, and was asked about whether he intends to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

"Well, I'll tell you, I've wanted to pull them out," the president replied. "And you know, I have pulled a lot out. We were at 16,000. We're down to about 9,000, which a lot of people don't know."

Of course, a lot of people don't know that because it's not altogether true.

Trump added, "We shouldn't be there. We shouldn't be there. We're the policeman for the whole world." Tucker Carlson asked, "Could you see getting out entirely?" The president's answered meandered a bit before eventually concluding:

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Republicans have no idea what they'd do if their ACA scheme succeeds

07/11/19 08:40AM

Republicans failed spectacularly to pass health-care legislation when they controlled all of the levers of federal power in 2017 and 2018, and their prospects for legislative success on the issue are even worse now. Despite the partisan hyperventilating, Donald Trump and his GOP brethren will not "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act ahead of the 2020 elections.

Republicans do, however, have an alternate route in mind: the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit is ongoing, and its purpose is to destroy "Obamacare" altogether, eliminating all of its benefits for the American public.

And while this may seem far-fetched, a far-right judge in Texas ruled in the GOP's favor in December, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals appears likely to do the same. If the Republicans' gambit succeeds, 21 million people would lose their health coverage; 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would lose their protections; and the entire American health care system would be uprooted.

It led Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to publish a striking tweet yesterday with a question for his GOP colleagues: "Hey Senate Republicans, oral arguments yesterday in your Obamacare case suggest you may get your way....'s your plan then?"

Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a notable piece on the subject, making clear that Republican officials haven't the foggiest idea how to answer that question.

There's an important bit of contingency planning that Republicans have neglected to do. Neither in the White House nor on Capitol Hill are they prepared for the possibility that their lawsuit against Obamacare will succeed.

After highlighting a series of possible scenarios, each of which pose dramatic challenges, Ponnuru concluded, "[T]he best political outcome for Republicans is probably for the lawsuit to fail, at which point they can complain about the judges who had just delivered them from a nightmare."

There's little doubt he's correct. Whether GOP officials realize this or not is far less obvious.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

As irony weeps, McConnell warns against politicizing election security

07/11/19 08:00AM

Several administration officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray, went to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief lawmakers on election-security issues, including unspecified "active threats" ahead of the 2020 cycle.

As Politico reported soon after, House Democrats and Senate Republicans "may have attended similar classified briefings on election security Wednesday, but they left with opposite conclusions."

Imagine that.

Evidently, Democratic lawmakers believed the briefing pointed to a serious threat that Congress should address with new election safeguards, while Republicans left the briefing satisfied that Donald Trump's team has everything under control -- so lawmakers can safely focus their attention elsewhere.

But of particular interest was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) taking the time to defend his passivity on the issue.

In a floor speech earlier Wednesday, McConnell (R-Ky.) said that while Congress will continue to "assess whether future legislative steps might be needed," he accused Democrats of making election security a political issue.

"We need to make sure this conversation is clear-eyed and sober and serious," he said. "It's interesting that some of our colleagues across the aisle seem to have already made up their minds before we hear from the experts later today. Their brand-new sweeping Washington intervention is just what the doctor ordered."

In the same remarks, McConnell went on to complain about "the election interference that happened on the Obama administration's watch."

The Republican leader's posture wasn't exactly surprising. By all appearances, McConnell is less concerned with what "the experts" have to say about election security and more concerned with blocking any and all federal efforts to protect elections from interference. This is, after all, the same senator who condemned a proposal to end partisan gerrymandering and create a system of automatic voter registration as a "half-baked socialist proposal."

But surprising or not, what amazed me was the irony of watching McConnell, of all people, whine on the subject.

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Sanders: No more never-ending wars

Sanders: No more never-ending wars

07/10/19 09:48PM

Senator Bernie Sanders, 2020 Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about getting the U.S. military out of conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East and making it clear to Saudi Arabia and Iran that the U.S. will not get sucked into another never-ending war. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.10.19

07/10/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Damage control: "Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his role in cutting what critics have called a lenient plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago and signaled that he has no intention to resign his post."

* Epstein's newest accuser: "Jennifer Araoz says she was 14 years old when a young woman approached her outside her New York City high school in the fall of 2001. The woman was friendly and curious, asking Araoz personal questions about her family, her upbringing, their finances. Soon she began talking to Araoz about a man she knew who was kind and wealthy and lived nearby. His name, the woman said, was Jeffrey Epstein."

* The unfortunate resolution: "The British ambassador to the United States resigned Wednesday following leaked memos that showed he had called President Donald Trump 'insecure' and 'incompetent.' Sir Kim Darroch said in a statement that the fallout from the leaked communications ... was 'making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.'"

* D.C.: "President Donald Trump's military-style July Fourth parade drained a special Washington, D.C., city fund designed to help pay for extra security and anti-terrorism measures during large events in the nation's capital, the mayor said in a letter to the White House."

* A big development from last night: "A federal judge late Tuesday refused to let Justice Department lawyers withdraw from a dispute over the citizenship question on the 2020 census form, in a case that continues after the Supreme Court's ruling in late June." 

* I hope you saw Rachel's coverage on this last night: "The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News."

* Team Mueller, Part I: "House Democrats are seeking to hear from two senior deputies to former special counsel Robert Mueller in closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill next week, the latest attempt to learn more about the Russia investigation in the face of Mr. Mueller's vow to only discuss the facts laid out in his report."

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