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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

This Week in God, 2.24.18

02/24/18 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at some provocative comments from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who turned to Scripture to help justify his regressive policy agenda.

Pruitt, to be sure, is no stranger to controversy. The far-right Oklahoma Republican, a longtime opponent of his agency's mission, has made headlines of late, for example, for his controversial, taxpayer-financed travel habits. But Pruitt's most serious misdeeds are his official acts on environmental policy, ignoring and neglecting safeguards, while prioritizing corporate interests.

As Vox explained yesterday, Pruitt believes the Bible justifies his approach to environmental protections.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, a media outlet that also seems to double as a propaganda arm of the Trump administration, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said his Christian convictions led him to conclude that America should use gas and coal freely because natural resources exist purely for man's benefit.

"The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we've been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind," Pruitt told CBN's David Brody.

This wasn't necessarily the first time we've heard Pruitt reference the Bible to advance his plans. As Mother Jones reported in the fall, the EPA chief cited the Book of Joshua to defend his conservative approach to reorganizing the agency's science boards.

But his comments this week to TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable network were qualitatively more serious, suggesting Donald Trump's EPA director isn't just hostile toward environmental protections, he's also driven by a philosophy that says humanity has been granted divine dominion over the planet's resources, so we should necessarily assume that there are no limits as to how we use (or abuse) those resources.

Tara Isabella Burton's Vox piece added that for many evangelicals, "this idea of 'dominion' is about mastery: Human beings have the right to take what they want from the earth, in terms of natural resources, without regards to how it might affect other species."

Such thinking is common among much of the religious right movement. Evidently, it's also now found in the top office of Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.23.18

02/23/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* But wait, there's more: "Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine."

* North Korea: "President Trump announced the 'heaviest' set of U.S. sanctions against North Korea on Friday as his administration redoubles its efforts to starve Pyongyang of resources and force the isolated regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

* Florida: "Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers proposed major changes Friday to gun laws, school safety improvements and more money for mental health in response to the killings of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland."

* That's just three months from now: "The Trump administration plans to officially move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state, two American officials said on Friday."

* On a related note: "The Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, four U.S. officials told The Associated Press."

* Capitol Hill: "The House is shortening its Feb. 26 work week, canceling votes that Wednesday and Thursday, for the late Rev. Billy Graham to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda."

* Seems like a problem: "A Trump-appointed federal judge who donated to the Trump campaign and worked on his presidential transition team has rejected requests to recuse himself from overseeing a legal battle involving Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the so-called 'dossier' of unverified intelligence that contains claims about Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia."

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Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland on March 15, 2013.

Trump expects media 'will absolutely support' him ahead of 2020

02/23/18 05:00PM

Donald Trump's contempt for news organizations hasn't exactly been subtle. Once a president describes the media as "the enemy of the American people," it leaves little doubt about the president's perspective on the free press.

But Trump can't seem to make up his mind about whether journalists will work collectively to undermine his presidency or extend it. In January, for example, referring to himself in the third person, he declared at a cabinet meeting, "I think the media will ultimately support Trump in the end, because they're going to say, if Trump doesn't win in three years, they're all out of business."

The president said the same thing in a New York Times interview, and apparently under the impression that this is clever, Trump said it again this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):

"Even the media. The media will absolutely support me sometime prior to the election. All those horrible people are going to support me. You know why? Because if somebody else won, the ratings would go down and they would all be out of business."

So, in the president's mind, news organizations, journalists, and other media professionals are so corrupt, we'll all quietly agree to tilt the playing field in Trump's favor -- for our benefit, not his.

It's fair to say nearly every American president, at various times throughout history, has had difficult relationships with the press, but Donald Trump is unique: he's the first president to ever tell the public he'll benefit from a media that's biased for him, not against him.

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Another Trump aide pleads guilty, strikes deal with Mueller

02/23/18 02:19PM

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday, far-right activists, perhaps forgetting what year it is, launched into an extended "lock her up" chant. This morning, during Donald Trump's remarks, it happened again.

The conservatives' timing could've been better.

Former campaign aide Rick Gates has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement, becoming the third associate of President Donald Trump to make a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gates, who was indicted with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort in October on conspiracy and other charges related to their lobbying work in Ukraine, arrived at federal court in Washington Friday afternoon for a 2 p.m. plea hearing.

This comes just one day after Gates' former colleague, Paul Manafort, was hit with a brand new 32-count indictment, which also implicated Gates.

Manafort and Gates, Trump's former campaign chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, were already under criminal indictment stemming from charges brought against them in the fall. This week's developments were additional counts, brought by a different federal grand jury.

Rachel will flesh this out in more detail on tonight's show -- yes, for those who've asked me, she'll be in the chair -- but let's just take a moment to appreciate just how many people close to Donald Trump have been indicted, pleaded guilty, or both.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

'I've never been so unimpressed by a person in my life'

02/23/18 12:40PM

The good news is, Donald Trump took the time to reach out directly to some of the victims of last week's shooting in Parkland, Fla. The bad news is, some of the calls didn't go especially well. The New York Times  reported overnight:

Samantha Fuentes, who was shot in both legs during the Parkland assault, said she had felt no reassurance during a phone call from the president to her hospital room last week.

"He said he heard that I was a big fan of his, and then he said, 'I'm a big fan of yours too.' I'm pretty sure he made that up," she said in an interview after being discharged from the hospital. "Talking to the president, I've never been so unimpressed by a person in my life. He didn't make me feel better in the slightest."

Ms. Fuentes, who was left with a piece of shrapnel lodged behind her right eye, said Mr. Trump had called the gunman a "sick puppy" and said "'oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,' like, seven times."

If this awkwardness reminds you a bit of the president's conversation with Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, when Trump reportedly said the sergeant "must've known what he signed up for," you're not the only one.

When this became the subject of controversy, he lashed out at Ms. Johnson via Twitter. I can't help but wonder if Samantha Fuentes should expect the same treatment.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.23.18

02/23/18 12:01PM

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

* Following Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' (R) indictment yesterday, the Missouri Republican Party this morning lashed out at the local prosecutor, "St. Louis liberals," and George Soros. The GOP statement went on to describe the criminally charged Greitens as a "law-and-order governor."

* With timing running out ahead of the congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, a Democratic PAC, End Citizens United, is investing about $250,000 in support of Conor Lamb (D). Election Day in March 13.

* Fifteen months after the last presidential election, attendees to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) launched into a "lock her up" chant this morning in response to Donald Trump's reference to Hillary Clinton. There was another extended chant yesterday.

* Despite her recent health difficulties, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) insisted this week that she's "definitely" running for another term this fall.

* TPM reports that Arizona's Republican-led state government is moving forward with a plan to undermine the state's independent redistricting commission, which is responsible for drawing state legislative district lines.

* Though Sen. John Barrasso (R) is generally considered a safe incumbent in Wyoming this year, David Dodson, a wealthy entrepreneur based in Jackson, launched an independent Senate bid this week. Dodson, a longtime Republican, said he intends to help "return my party to the party of Alan Simpson and Ronald Reagan."

* I understand that national parties sometimes intervene in primaries, but the DCCC is understandably facing criticism for going after Laura Moser, a progressive Democratic candidate in Houston, who's running in a primary in the hopes of defeating Rep. John Culberson (R) in one of Texas' most competitive districts.

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Leading Conservatives Attend 40th Annual CPAC

Why it matters that the NRA's LaPierre blasted the FBI

02/23/18 11:20AM

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday and said largely what everyone expected him to say. LaPierre ran through his usual list of villains, opponents, and bogeymen, with remarks I generally found more boring than infuriating.

There was, however, an exception. LaPierre also appears to have a problem with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The NRA leader made a point to thank the "honorable, decent, hardworking people" in federal law enforcement, before making clear that he's not happy with the FBI's recent direction. From the transcript:

"[A]s we've learned in recent months, even the FBI is not free of its own corruption and its own unethical agents. Look -- and I know you probably all share this sentiment, and I get people telling me from coast to coast, and they kind of shake their heads when they say it to me -- I could understand a few bad apples in an organization as large as the FBI, but what's hard to understand is why no one at the FBI stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership.

"I mean, really, where was the systemic resistance and repulsion that should protect every powerful institution that serves us?"

There are a couple of angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that on the right, the FBI, despite its reputation as a fairly conservative law-enforcement agency, has quickly become a target for the far-right. There's no real mystery as to why this is: Donald Trump took aim at the bureau as the Russia scandal intensified, and conservatives have taken the cue, looking askance at the FBI in ways the right traditionally has not.

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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

NRA starts losing its private-sector friends

02/23/18 10:43AM

The National Rifle Association has a significant footprint in the United States, with political and cultural influence that's largely unmatched among the nation's major advocacy organizations.

But as Rachel noted on last night's show, the NRA's reach also extends into the private sector, and as the far-right group faces the latest in a series of public backlashes, this is where the organization is beginning to suffer.

Car rental company Enterprise and First National Bank of Omaha have severed their relationship with the National Rifle Association.

First National Bank of Omaha said Thursdsay it will not renew a contract to issue its NRA-branded Visa credit card.

"Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA," a bank spokesperson told CNBC. "As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card."

The bank's announcement came within a day of ThinkProgress' report on the First National Bank of Omaha's partnership with the NRA.

We've seen some of this before. Time magazine's report on this added yesterday, "The Wyndham and Best Western hotel companies similarly came under pressure to end their discount programs for NRA members in early 2013, right after the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 26 children and adults dead. Both hotel companies no longer offer such discounts and are not corporate partners with the NRA, as their social media teams said in replies to countless tweets lately."

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In this photo illustration, an AR-15 rifle is seen with ammunition on Dec. 18, 2012 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Is Rubio right that the assault-weapons ban 'failed'?

02/23/18 10:06AM

During CNN's forum on school shootings this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) faced an outraged parent, whose daughter was shot, and who couldn't understand the Republican senator's opposition to an assault-weapons ban.

Rubio responded that the original assault-weapons ban "failed" after its passage in 1994. But is that true? The Washington Post had a good piece on this yesterday, taking a closer look at the data, and concluding that the since-expired law "had a significant impact."

The 1994 law included a ban on 18 specific models of assault weapons, as well as a ban on any firearms containing certain military-style features, like a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a folding stock. It also banned high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets. The bill allowed individuals already in possession of such weapons to keep them. It was also set to expire after 10 years' time.

"The original intent of the assault weapons ban was to reduce the carnage of mass shootings," [Louis Klarevas, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who wrote a 2016 book on mass shooting violence] said. "And on that front the data indicate that it worked."

Klarevas has compiled data on gun massacres involving six or more fatalities for the 50 years before 2016. His numbers show that gun massacres fell significantly during the time the assault weapons ban was in place, and skyrocketed after the ban lapsed in 2004.

In the American tradition, the country has repeatedly responded to brutal gun violence by imposing new restrictions -- each of which was permissible under the Second Amendment. One of the reasons fully automatic weapons aren't generally available to the public, for example, was the response to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929.

The massacre in Parkland, Fla., last week was also on Valentine's Day. There's no reason policymakers can't take similar, legal steps in the name of public safety now.

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Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009

White House falsely claims Stormy Daniels questions have been 'answered'

02/23/18 09:20AM

It was six weeks ago today that the public first learned about an unusual presidential scandal: Donald Trump's personal attorney paid $130,000 to an adult-film star, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, raising the possibility of a hush-money payoff to one of Trump's alleged mistresses.

It's taken a while, but yesterday, for the very first time, the name "Stormy Daniels" came up during an official White House press briefing. This was the initial exchange between ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah:

KARL: Last week, the president's personal lawyer acknowledged giving a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Is the president aware that his lawyer paid that kind of money to a porn star, to buy her silence? Does he approve of that?

SHAH: I haven't asked him about it, but that matter has been asked and answered.

Karl, to his credit, pressed further, explaining the matter hasn't been addressed since Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime personal attorney, publicly acknowledged that he did in fact "facilitate" the pre-election payment to the porn star. "I haven't asked him about that," Shah said again.

The ABC News correspondent pressed further, asking, "Will you ask him about that?" And again, Shah replied, "I haven't asked him about it." When Karl asked once more, the deputy press secretary said, "I'll get back to you," and then called on someone else.

Time will tell whether the White House gets back to reporters about this, but the assertion that the matter "has been asked and answered" isn't quite true.

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Image: A man placed in handcuffs is led by police near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland

New details undermine the right's 'good guy with a gun' argument

02/23/18 08:40AM

Opponents of new restrictions on guns have presented a variety of ideas in response to last week's high-school shooting in Florida, most of which involve adding more guns to the equation. Maybe tragedies like these can be avoided, the argument goes, if schools had armed guards.

After all, as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre told the public after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun." He repeated the line again yesterday.

There are all kinds of problems with the adage, but new details emerged yesterday that further undermined the right's talking point: at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there was a good guy with a gun.

An armed security officer on campus where a gunman killed 17 people never went inside the high school or tried to engage the gunman during the attack, a Florida sheriff said Thursday.

That officer has now resigned.... Scot Peterson, a sheriff's deputy assigned to the school, "was absolutely on campus through this entire event. He was armed, he was in uniform," [Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel] said.

The county sheriff told reporters yesterday that the armed security officer at the school remained outside, during the mass shooting, "for upwards of four minutes."

I've seen some condemnations of the resigned officer's lack of action, and I can certainly understand the outrage, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes people freeze in a crisis. Scot Peterson is hardly the first person to pause before running toward the line of fire.

The larger point, however, is that details like these don't inspire confidence in the latest Republican talking points.

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