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E.g., 4/24/2017
New Trump hire resurrects corruption question

New Trump hire resurrects corruption questions

04/21/17 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow revisits the questions that surrounded a Donald Trump Foundation donation to the campaign of Florida A.G. Pam Bondi coinciding with her decision not to join a lawsuit against Trump University, now that a top lawyer for Bondi, Carlos Muniz, has joined the Trump administration. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.21.17

04/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Arkansas "executed death row inmate Ledell Lee late Thursday, its first death sentence in more than a decade and the first of four inmates scheduled to die before the end of the month when a crucial lethal injection drug is set to expire."

* The March for Science is tomorrow: "[T]housands of people who never saw themselves as the sign-carrying type will hit the streets Saturday.... They're trying to think of clever and eye-catching posters, and, being scientists, organizing teach-ins."

* With one week to go: "The White House ordered federal agencies Friday to began preparations for a potential partial government shutdown after signaling President Donald Trump would demand money for key priorities in legislation to continue funding the government beyond April 29."

* Texas: "On Thursday, a three-judge federal court ruled that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drawing its state House district map in 2011.... Thursday's ruling marks the third time in recent weeks that the federal judiciary has found Texas to have intentionally burdened its Hispanic voters."

* EPA: "The Environmental Protection Agency is again moving to derail Obama-era regulations aimed at reducing pollution from the fossil fuel industry. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Wednesday he's issued a 90-day delay for oil and gas companies to follow a new rule requiring them to monitor and reduce methane leaks from their facilities."

* Florida: "A Florida state senator who used a racial slur and vulgar insults during a private, after-hours conversation with two African-American colleagues resigned Friday. Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who represents District 40 in Miami-Dade, announced that he was stepping down in a letter sent to Senate President Joe Negron."

* VW: "A federal judge in Detroit Friday signed off on what could be one of the last big developments in the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, ordering the German maker to pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty negotiated as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department last January."
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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

DOJ departure shakes up investigation into Russia scandal

04/21/17 04:30PM

A key aspect of the scandal surrounding Russia and its efforts to elect Donald Trump is the hacking operation, which stole Democratic materials. But as Reuters reported, that wasn't the only element of the broader espionage operation.
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election.
Of particular interest is what changed in October 2016, as Americans learned of allegations surrounding Trump's sexual misconduct -- and the recording in which Trump boasted of assaulting women -- when it appeared Hillary Clinton was likely to win. At that point, the Reuters report noted, the Kremlin switched gears, moving away from pro-Trump propaganda and instead trying to raise questions about the legitimacy of the U.S. election.

The point was to undermine Clinton's presidency before it occurred, in the eyes of Americans and the world. What's more, as Rachel noted on last night's show, this wasn't some low-level scheme: this was a government-run, intelligence operation, coordinated in part by the Kremlin`s in-house intelligence think tank, which Vladimir Putin has staffed with his former senior intelligence officers.

It was right around this time that Trump's message mirrored the one the Kremlin's think tank was pushing, with the Republican insisting that the American election process is "rigged" and unreliable.

It's interesting that Moscow and Moscow's preferred American candidate adopted similar messaging at similar times.
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Image: U.S.  President Trump listens during joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House in Washington

It's a little late for Trump to say the 100-day metric is 'ridiculous'

04/21/17 01:03PM

We still have a week to go before Donald Trump's presidency reaches the 100-day mark, but the Republican president is apparently coming to terms with the fact that he's off to a dreadful start, and the 100-day coverage will be unflattering.

And so, Trump is doing something that, at first blush, seems quite rational: he's telling everyone to ignore the metric, which he now sees as unimportant.
Donald Trump just called using his first 100 days in office to judge him a "ridiculous standard," but he repeatedly boasted about what he would achieve in that exact time frame before he took office.

Trump tweeted Friday morning that "no matter what I accomplish during this ridiculous standard of the first 100 days," media organizations "will kill!" He said he has accomplished "a lot," including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Note, the one accomplishment the president pointed to is the one that required him to do practically no work: he was encouraged to nominate Gorsuch; he did; and then Senate Republicans did the heavy lifting.

Nevertheless, there are basically three angles to Trump's whining: (1) the broader significance of a president's first 100 days in office; (2) what this president has to show for his first 100 days of effort; and (3) why it's too late for Trump to pretend the standard is, as he put it, "ridiculous."

On the first point, Trump's argument is not entirely without merit. At the start of every new presidency, many historians are quick to remind the political world that the importance of the 100-day metric is exaggerated a bit, and I'm generally sympathetic to the argument. A handful of presidents, facing extraordinary crises -- FDR and Obama, for example - managed to complete some historic tasks in their first 100 days, but as a rule, it's better to evaluate presidencies over whole terms, not the first few months.

It's not completely meaningless -- the 100-day standard tells us something useful about an administration's preparedness and ability to hit the ground running -- but there's nothing inherently magical about this standard.

And for Trump, that's good news, because his first 92 days have been a national embarrassment.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.21.17

04/21/17 12:00PM

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

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, is investing $800,000 in Montana's congressional special election, trying to connect Rob Quist to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

* On a related note, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is reportedly "making an initial six-figure investment into the Montana state party to back Quist's campaign."

* In Georgia's special election, Republican Karen Handel has decided to accept Donald Trump's backing ahead of the June runoff: the president sent out a fundraising appeal on the GOP candidate's behalf yesterday.

* On a related note, the DCCC launched its first negative ad against Handel yesterday. It's not yet clear how big the ad buy in support of the spot will be.

* The latest national PPP poll shows Trump with a 43% approval rating. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, the same results found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic ballot, 47% to 41%.

* Speaking of survey data, Gallup reported yesterday that Trump is the first president since the dawn of modern polling to end the first quarter of his first term with support well below 50%.

* On the heels of his surprise retirement announcement, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) conceded yesterday that he's thinking about leaving Congress early, stepping down before his term ends next year.

* Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, has become the subject of an intra-party controversy after some of his national supporters discovered he "supported legislation to require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion" eight years ago.
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Trump's quiet meeting with former Colombian presidents matters

04/21/17 11:06AM

When Donald Trump traveled to his private Florida resort last weekend, he made time for golf, but as the Miami Herald reported, he also made time to meet with Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana, former presidents of Colombia, and it wasn't just to exchange pleasantries.
President Donald Trump quietly met a pair of former Colombian presidents last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, thrusting his administration into an ugly power struggle in Latin America that threatens to undermine the country's controversial peace agreement with rebel leaders.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to push Trump to support the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia at their first meeting at the White House next month. He wants the Trump administration and Congress to maintain the $450 million in foreign aid promised by former President Barack Obama to implement the plan to end Latin America's longest armed conflict.
Uribe and Pastrana oppose the plan, and the meeting with Trump was reportedly arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also opposes the Colombian plan.

Part of the problem with this is the secrecy. It's one thing for a president to visit with foreign dignitaries; it's something else to leave these meetings off the president's official schedule and fail to disclose them to journalists who were there to report on his activities.

There's also the apparent dishonesty to consider. A White House spokesperson told McClatchy News the meeting happened, but said this was an instance in which the former Colombian presidents were at Mar-a-Lago and they "briefly said hello when [Trump] walked past them." Pastrana, however, extended his thanks to Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation" about Colombia's challenges.

As a rule, when the White House finds it necessary to lie about what Trump's up to, it only raises more questions about why the dishonesty was deemed necessary.
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Flowers on a tree bloom near the Treasury Department building in Washington, DC on March 10, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Trump admin: Tax cuts for the wealthy will pay for themselves

04/21/17 10:14AM

As things stand, it's hard to say with confidence whether Donald Trump's White House intends to pursue a sweeping tax reform package, which would overhaul the entire federal system, or a more modest package of tax cuts. The former is a very heavy lift, while the latter is difficult to pay for.

At least, that is, in theory. In practice, the Washington Post reports that the Trump administration isn't too worried about finding the money to pay for tax cuts, because it believes the Tax Fairy will come along and make the costs magically disappear.
The Trump administration plans to rely on controversial assumptions about economic growth to offset steep cuts to business and individual tax rates, a chief architect of the plan said Thursday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme -- close to $2 trillion over 10 years -- that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.
Mnuchin declared yesterday, "The plan will pay for itself with growth."

This, alas, is not a new concept. For decades, conservative policymakers have said tax breaks, especially those targeted at the wealthiest Americans, supercharge the economy to such an extent that increased growth leads to increased revenue. Ergo, there's no need to try to offset the costs of tax cuts because the cuts necessarily pay for themselves.

Republicans have even come up with some nice sounding jargon, "dynamic scoring," to help rationalize the fiscal strategy.

The problem, of course, is that this has not worked, and does not work, in practice.
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The landmark CN Tower is lit blue, white and red in the colors of the French flag following Paris attacks, in Toronto, Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Trump is starting to run out of U.S. allies to alienate

04/21/17 09:21AM

As his presidency wound down, Barack Obama visited Canada to thank the U.S. neighbor and ally for its friendship. When the Democrat spoke to the Canadian Parliament, he received a rapturous welcome, which culminated in a surprisingly loud chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Donald Trump will never receive that kind of outpouring of affection north of the border.
President Donald Trump has shifted his sharpest economic criticism away from the southern U.S. border and toward the neighbor to the north.

His tougher talk on Canada -- over longstanding dairy and lumber disputes -- is raising concerns that a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement could grow more complicated and affect Ottawa as much as Mexico City.
At an event in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump said he's not pleased with Canada. "We're going to get together and we're going to call Canada, and we're going to say, 'What happened?'" the president said. "And they might give us an answer, but we're going to get the solution, not just the answer, okay? Because we know what the solution is, all right?"

Trump didn't specify what kind of solution he had in mind. I hope he's not thinking of another border wall.

Yesterday, looking at some handwritten notes, Trump said he "wasn't going to do this," but he took rhetorical aim at Canada once again. While complaining about NAFTA, which he repeatedly labeled a "disaster," the president said, "We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers.... So we're gonna have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly."
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

White House's 'heavy hand' makes government shutdown more likely

04/21/17 08:43AM

When it comes to putting a price tag on Donald Trump's proposed border wall, estimates vary quite a bit. The White House started the year using a $12 billion figure, while congressional Republicans said $15 billion. The Department of Homeland Security thinks the costs may reach $20 billion, while congressional Democrats believe it's more realistic to say $70 billion.

There's no shortage of problems with this. The president may dream of a giant wall separating the United States and Mexico, but there's little public support for the project, and even less backing for spending billions of our taxpayer dollars on it. (The idea that Trump would get Mexico to pay for this has always been one of the Republican's more ridiculous campaign pledges.)

And yet, we're confronted with the possibility that short-term funding for Trump's wall may push the country towards a government shutdown next week. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney says that Democratic negotiators on a massive spending bill need to agree to funding top priorities of President Donald Trump such as a down payment on a border wall and hiring of additional immigration agents.

Mulvaney told The Associated Press in an interview that "elections have consequences" and that "we want wall funding" as part of the catchall spending bill, which lawmakers hope to unveil next week.
Look, avoiding a government shutdown a week from today poses plenty of existing challenges. Democratic and Republican lawmakers -- and their staffers who've been working on this during Congress' spring break -- are trying to reach agreements on several contentious issues, ranging from pensions to health care to reproductive rights. Since both parties want to avoid a shutdown, there's reason to believe they'll work something out, but no one should see this as easy.

But Team Trump's border-wall push yesterday made things worse. I heard from Matt House, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said via email, "Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand. Not only are Democrats opposed to the wall, there is significant Republican opposition as well."

The administration doesn't seem to care. Mulvaney, the far-right Budget Director told the AP, "We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don't like the wall, but they lost the election. And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration."
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Image: President Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Price and Vice President Pence, in Washington

Trump desperate to revive failed, unpopular GOP health care plan

04/21/17 08:00AM

In its latest national poll, released this week, Quinnipiac asked respondents an interesting question: "Do you think that Republicans in Congress should try to repeal and replace Obamacare again, or do you think they should move on to other issues?"

The results weren't close: only 36% of the public wants GOP lawmakers to keep trying, while 60% want Republicans to move on. What's more, the results were quite broad: men and women, people of different education levels, people of every age group, people of different races and ethnicities all said they don't want to see the repeal effort to continue.

And yet, Donald Trump, who said last month that he's prepared to move on, now insists he's not moving on. The Washington Post reported:
President Trump is pushing Congress toward another dramatic showdown over the Affordable Care Act, despite big outstanding obstacles to a beleaguered revision plan and a high-stakes deadline next week to keep the government running.

The fresh pressure from the White House to pass a revision was met with skepticism by some Capitol Hill Republicans and their aides, who were recently humiliated when their bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote and who worry now that little has changed to suggest a new revision would fare any better.
The president, referring to proposed changes to the GOP's existing American Health Care Act, told reporters yesterday, "The plan gets better and better and better, and it's gotten really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot."

Like so much of what Trump says, there's no reason to believe any of this. In fact, let's take these two points one at a time.

Is the plan getting "better and better and better"? Well, no. Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have reportedly worked on an amendment that would restore essential health benefits that already exist in the ACA into the Republican alternative, while targeting a "community rating" provision that would hurt Americans with pre-existing conditions.
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