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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump keeps rejecting plans to pay for his proposed tax cuts

10/23/17 09:21AM

Republicans remain eager to pass a massive tax plan, which still doesn't actually exist. That said, GOP lawmakers continue to consider some provocative ideas to help offset the costs of the package they have in mind.

The New York Times  reported the other day, for example, that Republicans are "considering a plan to sharply reduce the amount of income American workers can save in tax-deferred retirement accounts." According to the lobbyists who are working with GOP lawmakers -- Democrats have been excluded from the process -- Republicans have weighed capping "the annual amount workers can set aside to as low as $2,400 for 401(k) accounts," far less than the $18,000 a year most Americans can put in their 401k without paying taxes upfront.

This would only cover about a tenth of the cost of the GOP tax plan, but it's a start. Or, it might have been a start if Donald Trump hadn't just rejected the idea in his latest morning tweet. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump vowed on Monday that his tax cuts plan would not include any changes to tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, following reports last week that House Republicans were weighing a sharp reduction in the amount of income American workers could save through such programs.

Trump tweeted Monday morning: "There will be NO change to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!"

I'm going to take a wild guess and say the president didn't run this by Capitol Hill negotiators before announcing his opposition to the idea.

And while I can appreciate why this may seem like dry policy minutiae, this morning's developments are actually kind of amazing for a couple of reasons.

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Donald Trump's 'blind spot on Russia' isn't going away

10/23/17 08:41AM

After Congress approved new economic sanctions against Russia, Donald Trump grudgingly signed the bill into law, but not before blaming lawmakers -- including members of his own party -- for undermining the U.S. relationship with the Putin government.

But the story took a strange turn recently when the public learned that the sanctions still haven't been implemented, despite the deadline included in the law. On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC's Chuck Todd sought an explanation from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a proponent of the sanctions.

TODD: [Y[ou've come on this show numerous times and said, "Russia needs to be punished." You passed a tough sanctions bill. You passed it in July. The president signed it in early August. There was a deadline of October 1st. It is not October 1st. It is October 20th and the sanctions have not been implemented. Why?

GRAHAM: I think that the Trump administration is slow when it comes to Russia. They have a blind spot on Russia I still can't figure out.

Really? You still can't figure it out? It's just a total mystery as to why this president might have a "blind spot" when it comes to the foreign adversary that launched an espionage operation that help put Donald Trump in power?

Is it really that difficult to wager a guess?

For his part, the president isn't done trying to downplay the significance of the scandal. On Saturday, for example, Trump took aim at the dossier put together by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, insisting it's been "discredited." In reality, as Rachel has noted on the show, the document has stood up pretty well to scrutiny.

Soon after, Trump suggested that Moscow's investment in campaign-related ads on Facebook was "tiny," adding, "What about the billions of dollars of Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?"

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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)

Evidence contradicts Trump claims on calls to soldiers' families

10/23/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's timing could've been better. When Sgt. La David Johnson's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base, the president was golfing. On Saturday, Johnson was laid to rest, and Trump spent part of Saturday morning tweeting not about the fallen hero ahead of his funeral, but taking juvenile  shots at Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who mentored Johnson and is close with his family.

And then the president went golfing again.

Complicating matters is Trump's demonstrable dishonesty on his interactions with the families of American soldiers killed in action. As part of his self-aggrandizing boasts last week, the president told Fox News Radio, "I have called, I believe, everybody -- but certainly I'll use the word virtually everybody." The Associated Press found soon after that of the 20 families who lost loved ones since Trump took office, half had not heard from the president.

Roll Call reported late last week that the White House apparently knew that Trump's boast wasn't true.

In the hours after President Donald Trump said on an Oct. 17 radio broadcast that he had contacted nearly every family that had lost a military servicemember this year, the White House was hustling to learn from the Pentagon the identities and contact information for those families, according to an internal Defense Department email.

The email exchange, which has not been previously reported, shows that senior White House aides were aware on the day the president made the statement that it was not accurate -- but that they should try to make it accurate as soon as possible, given the gathering controversy.

Not only had the president not contacted virtually all the families of military personnel killed this year, the White House did not even have an up-to-date list of those who had been killed.

What's more, The Atlantic reported over the weekend that, in a mad dash to deal with the president's false claim, the Trump administration has begun "rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago."

In other words, Trump World is trying to make true what clearly was not true.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.20.17

10/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The deadly attack in Niger: "A senior congressional aide who has been briefed on the deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Niger says the ambush by militants stemmed in part from a 'massive intelligence failure.'"

* Afghanistan: "A suicide bomber detonated explosives in a Shiite mosque in Kabul on Friday as worshipers were gathering for evening prayer, killing at least 32 people in the latest in a series of attacks against Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan."

* Things are not all right in Puerto Rico: "Back-up diesel generators in Puerto Rico that have provided a lifeline for hospitals and other critical facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria are starting to break down and need fixing."

* It'd be nice if the sitting president were a reliable source of national-security information, but he's not: "President Trump misrepresented a recent report on crime in Britain with a Twitter message Friday blaming 'Radical Islamic terror' for an uptick in reported crime, critics in the United Kingdom say."

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Donald Trump vs. Generals: A brief history

10/20/17 04:50PM

As we discussed earlier, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked this afternoon to defend a discredited story Chief of Staff John Kelly shared yesterday. She replied, "If you want to go after Gen. Kelly that's up to you but I think that that – if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate."

This is problematic for all kinds of reasons, but let's take a moment to focus on Trump's own record on showing deference and respect towards American military leaders with stars on their shoulder.

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” he insisted during the campaign. “Believe me.” Several months later, Trump added that U.S. military leaders “don’t know much because they’re not winning,” As recently as September 2016, the Republican said American generals “have been reduced to rubble,” adding, “They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country.”

During the Democratic National Convention, Trump was especially disrespectful towards retired four-star General John Allen. Politico reported at the time:

Trump then proceeded to pounce on criticisms levied against him by Allen, who Thursday night gave an impassioned speech framing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a leader who possessed the needed experience to helm the United States military.

"They had a general named John Allen. I never met him, and he got up and started talking about Trump, Trump, Trump," the Republican nominee said before unleashing his counterassault. "You know who he is? He's a failed general. He was the general fighting ISIS. I would say he hasn't done so well, right?" Trump said.

It was around this time that the GOP candidate tweeted, "General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD"

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Confronted with evidence, White House won't acknowledge falsehood

10/20/17 04:16PM

As part of the White House's offensive against Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Chief of Staff John Kelly delivered dramatic remarks to the press yesterday, including an anecdote intended to highlight the Florida Democrat's pettiness and offensive partisanship.

It was a lengthy, 300-word story about the dedication of an FBI field office in Miami, which was being named after two FBI agents who'd been killed in a firefight in the city. As Kelly explained it, Frederica Wilson "stunned" the audience by speaking about how she was "instrumental in getting the funding for that building" from President Obama, when she should've shown more dignity at the event.

It was a striking anecdote, which we now know wasn't true. The Sun-Sentinel  published the video today of Wilson's remarks, and pretty much every relevant detail from Kelly's story was wrong: she didn't mention Obama; she didn't mention the money; and she didn't take credit for the building. What's more, the audience didn't seem at all "stunned" by Wilson, who actually received applause at the end of her remarks.

Kelly's anecdote may have been powerful, but it was also fictional.

Given the circumstances, I thought it was likely Kelly would apologize. But when a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to comment on the fact that the chief of staff was wrong, she replied:

"If you want to go after Gen. Kelly that's up to you but I think that that -- if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate."

This followed a White House written statement that stood by Kelly's remarks, which we now know weren't true.

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