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Trump has chosen lobbyists to run EPA, HHS, DOD, and Interior

Trump has chosen lobbyists to run EPA, HHS, DOD, and Interior

06/20/19 09:37PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the industry lobbyists running federal agencies in the Donald Trump administration and notes the irony of Trump boasting at a Florida rally of staring down lobbyists just hours after tapping former Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper to run the Department of Defense (replacing former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan). watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.20.19

06/20/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's posturing: "President Donald Trump on Thursday said the public will 'find out' about a U.S. response to Iran shooting down an American military drone in the Persian Gulf that the president insisted was in international territory."

* The House is likely to follow on this: "The Senate voted Thursday to block the Trump administration from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, launching a new challenge to President Donald Trump's steadfast alliance with the country amid rising tensions in the Middle East."

* In related news: "The Trump administration on Thursday released a list of countries that recruit child soldiers but chose not to include Saudi Arabia, prompting sharp criticism from human rights groups."

* In this case, Republicans literally left the state: "Oregon Gov. Kate Brown deployed the state police Thursday to try to round up Republican lawmakers who fled the Capitol in an attempt to block a vote on a landmark climate plan that would be the second of its kind in the nation."

* I hope you caught Rachel's coverage of this last night: "The State Department official in charge of U.S. arms control negotiations with Moscow and her husband had a years-long friendship with GOP operative Paul Erickson, the former boyfriend of convicted unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina — ties this official did not disclose to her superiors or to Congress during her confirmation process in the spring of 2018."

* Remember him? "Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer, is set to testify Friday before the House Intelligence Committee about his experience working on a proposed Trump tower project in Moscow during the 2016 election, according to Sater and other people familiar with his scheduled appearance."

* Census fight: "A new order by a federal judge in Maryland sets up a potential new block against the Trump administration's plans to add a citizenship question to forms for the upcoming 2020 census."

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Image: Embattled GOP Senate Candidate In Alabama Judge Roy Moore Continues Campaigning Throughout The State

Alabama's Roy Moore gives Republicans a big new headache

06/20/19 05:02PM

Looking ahead to the 2020 congressional elections, Republicans are feeling pretty optimistic about maintaining their Senate majority. Not only are there few GOP incumbents in trouble, but Republicans also expect to pick up a Senate seat in Alabama currently represented by Sen. Doug Jones (D).

After all, from Republicans' perspective, Jones' special-election victory in late 2017 was something of a fluke. There's no way a Democrat could win in ruby-red Alabama under normal circumstances, and the only reason Jones narrowly prevailed is because he ran against disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), whom voters simply could not stomach.

To flip the seat from "blue" to "red," the argument goes, all Republicans have to do is nominate someone who isn't Roy Moore.

Yeah, about that...

Roy Moore, the failed U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama who was accused of sexual misconduct by several women when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, announced Thursday that he will run again for the seat.

"Yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020," Moore said, adding, "Can I win? Yes, I can. Not only can I, they know I can."

The right-wing Republican, who faced accusations of misconduct from nine women, said he intends to run a better campaign in 2020 by making "more personal contact" with voters.

Donald Trump, who twice failed to steer the Alabama race in his preferred direction, recently argued via Twitter that Moore "cannot win," and therefore shouldn't run. The president added that the "consequences will be devastating."

It's precisely why Democrats were so pleased with this afternoon's news.

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A Planned Parenthood location is seen on August 5, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Missouri clinic balks at order to impose medically unnecessary exams

06/20/19 04:28PM

Missouri, a state with more than 6 million people, has just one abortion provider: Planned Parenthood at St. Louis. The Republican-led state government has targeted this one last provider, hoping to make Missouri the only state in the post-Roe country to have no abortion providers at all.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, state officials are trying to strip the clinic of its license -- a matter that's currently being litigated -- but that's not the only step Missouri has taken. Three weeks ago, the state, without any newly approved laws or regulations, decided that women seeking abortions in Missouri had to undergo a mandatory, medically unnecessary internal pelvic examination, three days before terminating a pregnancy.

It's an invasive procedure that serves no medical purpose. But in Missouri, even if medical professionals don't want to do the procedure, and even if patients don't want to be forced into the procedure, it doesn't matter. The state, citing a new interpretation of old rules, said it's now required.

According to a physician at the clinic, in order to receive an abortion in Missouri, women were effectively told to submit to "a state-sanctioned ... sexual assault."

Reluctantly, Planned Parenthood at St. Louis initially agreed to comply with the instructions and forced women to undergo an unnecessary and intrusive exam. As CBS News reported, the clinic took a new position last night.

Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, Missouri's last remaining abortion clinic, told CBS News exclusively that it will no longer conduct a second pelvic exam that state regulators have recently mandated. Planned Parenthood doctors say the examination is "unethical" and stand by the decision even as it moves the clinic one step closer toward losing its license.

The abortion clinic said Wednesday that it would no longer comply with regulators' interpretation of state law regarding the pelvic exams. Beginning soon, doctors at the clinic said they would conduct a pelvic exam only at the time of the procedure -- which is when they deem it medically relevant -- not at the initial consultation 72 hours prior.

It's worth emphasizing that some of the early reporting on this said the local clinic had decided to defy state regulations. That's not quite right: the facility, rather, is no longer complying with Missouri's new interpretation of the policies that were already in place.

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Trump reportedly loses interest in his policy toward Venezuela

06/20/19 12:52PM

For quite a while, Donald Trump seemed quite interested in developments in Venezuela. The president published a bunch of tweets; he rattled his saber; and he reportedly even spoke to U.S. officials behind the scenes about a possible invasion.

By all appearances, the Republican thought his policy toward Venezuela would work out fairly easily: Trump would back Juan Guaidó over Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan military would switch sides, and the country's crisis would end with a new president, backed by the White House.

That was several months ago. The Washington Post reported today that as Maduro's hold on power now appears stronger, Trump's attention has shifted.

Summer arrives this week with Maduro still in place, and little indication that he is imminently on his way out, or that the Trump administration has a coherent strategy to remove him. The president, officials said, is losing both patience and interest in Venezuela. [...]

Trump has clearly been frustrated about a foreign policy issue he "always thought of ... as low-hanging fruit" on which he "could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory," the former official said. "Five or six months later ... it's not coming together."

The Post added that the president "chewed out" his team at an April 30 meeting -- because as Trump sees it, they're responsible for the failure of his policy.

The larger takeaway from a story like this is the inherent challenges of a White House conducting foreign policy with a president with a very short attention span.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.20.19

06/20/19 12:00PM

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

* The latest Monmouth University poll found former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading the Democrats' presidential primary field nationally with 32% support. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was second with 15%, followed closely by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with 14%. As usual, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) were the only other contenders with support at 5% or higher.

* The controversy surrounding Biden's comments about working with segregationist senators lingers, with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) urging the former vice president to apologize. "Apologize for what? Cory should apologize," Biden replied last night in brief comments to reporters. "He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body."

* In an article that generated quite a bit of chatter in Democratic circles, Politico reported yesterday that Elizabeth Warren is slowly winning over more centrist elements in her party, who see the Massachusetts senator as a credible alternative to Bernie Sanders.

* Several Democratic presidential candidates have unveiled new policy proposals over the last 24 hours, including Kamala Harris' plan to prevent the spread of HIV, Cory Booker's plan to extend clemency to more than 17,000 inmates currently behind bars for non-violent drug offenses, and Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-Colo.) political-reform plan, which includes calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

* Kamala Harris picked up a notable endorsement yesterday, receiving support from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). While Harris has other congressional endorsements, Green is the first from outside her home state.

* With Roy Moore (R) poised to announce whether he's running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama next year, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) let everyone know yesterday that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) may yet run for his old seat.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

How far would Trump go to punish his own Federal Reserve chairman?

06/20/19 11:20AM

Donald Trump's contempt for the current leadership of the Federal Reserve is hardly a secret. Last fall, the president told reporters, "I think the Fed has gone crazy." He soon after told a national television audience he believes the central bank "is going loco."

As recently as two weeks ago, the Republican told CNBC, "We have people on the Fed that really weren't -- you know, they're not my people." It was an odd thing to say, since Trump personally nominated most of the Fed's current board.

Nevertheless, there's a new question as to what, if anything, the president intends to do about his frustrations.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that the White House in February "explored the legality" of demoting Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Asked about the report, Trump didn't deny it, telling reporters, "Well, let's see what he does."

That was on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of yesterday's Fed announcement on interest rates. Powell, we now know, kept rates where they are, which isn't what the White House wanted to hear.

All of which set the stage for a new Bloomberg News report last night:

President Donald Trump has told confidants as recently as Wednesday that he believes he has the authority to replace Jerome Powell as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, according to people familiar with the matter. [...]

White House lawyers think there is a way to follow through with a demotion if that's what the president wants, but there has been some disagreement in the Counsel's office, according to a person familiar with the matter.

It's worth emphasizing that all of this could be little more than posturing. The White House wants Powell to cut rates, and it's possible Team Trump is making provocative leaks as part of its lobbying campaign.

But that doesn't make the circumstances any less remarkable.

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Senate Republicans rally behind anti-LGBTQ judicial nominee

06/20/19 10:40AM

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is generally comfortable supporting each of Donald Trump's conservative judicial nominees, no matter how controversial. Late last week, however, the Maine Republican, facing a challenging re-election fight next year, made an exception.

In a statement, [Collins] voiced concerns regarding Matthew Kacsmaryk's "alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents."

"Mr. Kacsmaryk has dismissed proponents of reproductive choice as 'sexual revolutionaries,' and disdainfully criticized the legal foundations of Roe v. Wade," the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion, Collins said. "Such extreme statements reflect poorly on Mr. Kacsmaryk's temperament and suggest an inability to respect precedent and to apply the law fairly and impartially."

The senator's concerns were well grounded. Kacsmaryk famously described being transgender as a "mental disorder," and called homosexuality "disordered."

The HuffPost added, "He has fought against protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing and health care. He has called including protections for LGBTQ people in the Violence Against Women Act 'a grave mistake.' In 2015, when Utah passed nondiscrimination protections, Kacsmaryk called the law 'a bad idea' because it suggests that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination.... Kacsmaryk also ripped the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 marriage equality case. "

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of Trump's nominee, "Mr. Kacsmaryk has demonstrated a hostility to the LGBTQ bordering on paranoia. It's unbelievable that this man has been nominated."

But Kacsmaryk was nominated, and yesterday, 52 Senate Republicans -- every current GOP member except Collins -- voted to confirm him to the federal bench.

The fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled the vote during Pride Month did not go unnoticed.

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President Donald Trump talks with with economist Arthur Laffer after awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

Trump pretends a failed economic theory has been proven true

06/20/19 10:03AM

Art Laffer is arguably the nation's preeminent cheerleader for a ridiculous idea: tax cuts are self-financing. He's spent decades telling policymakers they can slash tax rates, especially for the wealthy, and the tax breaks would necessarily pay for themselves through stronger growth and increased revenue.

The trouble, of course, is that Laffer's theory hasn't worked. To be sure, the economic model made his fellow Republicans happy, but Laffer's ideas have been largely discredited through decades of experimentation.

As Slate's Jordan Weissmann recently put it, "There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America's understanding of economics than Art Laffer."

And yet, there was Laffer in the Oval Office yesterday, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- from Donald Trump. The president devoted his remarks in the Oval Office ceremony to pretending Laffer hadn't spent the last several decades being discredited by the real-world effects of his ineffective model.

"Few people in history have revolutionized economic thought and policy like Dr. Art Laffer.

"He developed a brilliant theory, shaped unprecedented economic reforms, and helped turn a severe recession into a remarkable boom. He proved that the most powerful way to grow the economy and raise government revenue was not to increase tax rates but to adopt strong incentives that unleash the power of human freedom and innovate, create jobs, and deliver greater opportunity to all Americans. And he's proved it over and over again."

Except, he hasn't. Tax cuts don't pay for themselves. As Trump spoke, his own tax plan was pushing the budget deficit to new depths, offering fresh evidence that Laffer's model doesn't work.

And yet, the president insisted on presenting his alternate reality as the accurate one.

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Automatic voter registration expands its reach to a new state

06/20/19 09:20AM

During Paul LePage's (R) two terms as Maine's governor, progressive governance faced largely insurmountable hurdles. But with Gov. Janet Mills (D) in office, it's a new day in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday signed an automatic voter registration bill into law. [...]

Maine will automatically register voters who do business with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles by 2022 under the bill, which has a one-time cost of $140,000 in federal funds.

Maine's secretary of state could also allow certain groups like private colleges to help automatically register voters.

For AVR proponents, this was obviously encouraging news, but it's not the only development of note: New York's state Senate easily passed an automatic-voter-registration proposal of its own yesterday, and the policy appears well on its way to becoming law fairly soon.

According to the tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, there are now 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have adopted AVR, including Maine. New York would be the 17th.

That's a third of the country. Not bad for a policy that didn't exist in any state as recently as four years ago.

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On curing cancer, the Trumps aren't exactly on the same page

06/20/19 08:43AM

Donald Trump Jr. thought it'd be a good idea to warm up a crowd in Orlando this week, shortly before his father officially kicked off his presidential re-election bid, and as part of his pitch, Trump Jr. took a curious shot at former Vice President Joe Biden.

"What was the good one last week? Remember? Joe Biden comes out, 'Well, if you elect me president, I'm going to cure cancer.' Wow, why the hell didn't you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?"

It was at the exact same event that Donald Trump Sr. made a related claim:

"We will push onward with new medical frontiers. We will come up with the cures to many, many problems; to many, many diseases -- including cancer and others."

So when Biden shares his ambitious goal of curing cancer, it's worthy of mockery, and when Trump does the same thing, it's fine?

By any reasonable standard, Trump Jr.'s derision was a rather cheap shot. Even putting aside the fact that his father later made a related vow, advances in medical research offer the promise of new treatments and cures, and to suggest one former senator was responsible for speeding up scientific progress is foolish.

For another, Biden's interest in the issue was intensified by the loss of his son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

Complicating matters a bit, it's also worth noting for context that the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to NIH medical research would've adversely affected the fight to find a cure for cancer, making the president's rhetoric in Orlando that much more difficult to believe.

But what I find especially interesting is the fact that Trump Sr. picked this up as an issue in the first place.

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