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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.18.17

10/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest mass shooting: "A manhunt was underway Wednesday for a gunman who opened fire inside the Maryland business where he worked, killing three co-workers and critically wounding two others, police said."

* Recovery in Puerto Rico has been slow: "Four weeks since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the recovery priorities are: Make sure food, water and supplies get delivered, ensure hospitals are operating and communication and energy is re-established for critical infrastructure."

* A case we've been watching: "A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Trump administration to allow a pregnant, undocumented teenager to obtain an abortion."

* Perhaps there's no "proof" after all? "The White House on Wednesday said President Donald Trump did not record his phone call with the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger, though he claimed to have 'proof' that Rep. Frederica Wilson's (D-FL) account of his remarks was not accurate."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions rebuffed repeated requests from Democratic lawmakers Wednesday to detail his conversations with President Trump on the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey in May."

* Good question: "Two different federal judges this week blocked President Trump from enforcing the latest version of his travel ban, which would have barred various travelers and immigrants from eight different countries from entering the U.S.... What happens to people on the banned list now?"

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Trump faces new scrutiny over grieving military families

10/18/17 04:46PM

It started with a simple, 17-word question. At a White House press conference, a reporter asked Donald Trump, "Why haven't we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger?" The president ignored the question, instead shifting the discussion to how impressed he's been with himself over his outreach to families of Americans killed in action.

In other words, instead of addressing the deadliest attack on U.S. forces since he became president, Trump wanted to have a conversation about himself and his perceived superiority over his predecessors.

This has become problematic in a variety of ways -- lying about Barack Obama, for example, was unwise and unnecessary -- including the fact that Trump's self-aggrandizing boasts has led to scrutiny that makes him look worse, not better. Trump, for example, bragged yesterday that he's "called every family" of American servicemen and women killed in action, unlike other recent presidents. The Associated Press took a closer look and found that the claim isn't true.

...AP found relatives of four soldiers who died overseas during Trump's presidency who said they never received calls from him. Relatives of two also confirmed they did not get letters. And proof is plentiful that Barack Obama and George W. Bush -- saddled with far more combat casualties than the roughly two dozen so far under Trump -- took painstaking steps to write, call or meet bereaved military families.

After her Army son died in an armored vehicle rollover in Syria in May, Sheila Murphy says, she got no call or letter from Trump, even as she waited months for his condolences and wrote him that "some days I don't want to live."

The Washington Post  reports today, meanwhile, that Trump did call Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, was killed in Afghanistan. But as part of their conversation over the summer, the president offered the grieving father "$25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family."

Though the article initially reported that "neither happened," a White House spokesperson insisted a check "has been sent." (At this point, it's not yet clear when the check was sent or what the date is on the check.)

The Post also reported that some of the families who lost loved ones killed in action "said they had not heard from the president," since Trump took office.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Two weeks later, Trump still hasn't addressed US deaths in Niger

10/18/17 12:42PM

On Oct. 4, exactly two weeks ago, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in northwestern Africa. Donald Trump, who routinely tweets a series of provocative thoughts in response to deadly terrorism said nothing. As the remains of the U.S. Special Forces soldiers started to return home, Trump again said nothing, golfing as the caskets arrived at Dover Air Force.

As the Washington Post reported today, the president has had plenty to say about a wide range of topics since the deadly attack in Niger -- he's apparently upset with protesting athletes, Democrats, the mayor or San Juan, and major American news organizations -- but Trump has remained completely silent on the deadliest attack on U.S. military forces since he took office.

That seemed to change on Monday, when a reporter asked about his reticence, but even then, Trump's answer covered a lot of ground -- he's impressed with his communications with family members of the fallen, and he's taken some cheap and misleading shots at Barack Obama -- without even trying to address the underlying question:

Why did these four Americans die?

It's not that the other questions are unimportant. When Trump lies about the records of his predecessors, it matters. When the president says he calls each of the families of those killed in action, but fails to follow through, it matters. When he clumsily tries and fails to bring comfort to those who are grieving, it matters. When Trump seems to exploit the memory of his chief of staff's son, who died in Afghanistan, for petty political purposes, it matters.

But we're still left with the fact that the president, as The Atlantic's David Graham noted today, has "pushed the conversation even further away from the actual question of the fallen soldiers."

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.18.17

10/18/17 12:00PM

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

* Though nearly every recent statewide poll in Virginia's gubernatorial race has shown Ralph Northam (D) with a narrow lead over Ed Gillespie (R), a new Monmouth University poll found Gillespie narrowly ahead, 48% to 47%.

* Confirming what's been widely assumed, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced this morning that he'll run for a third term next year.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election Doug Jones (D) launched a new television ad this week, making an interesting boast: "I can work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone."

* Democratic candidates' success in state legislative special elections continued yesterday, with Paul Feeney (D) winning a state Senate race in Massachusetts. The seat was previously held by a Dem, so his victory will not change the balance in the state legislature.

* Steve Bannon was in Arizona last night, throwing his support behind Kelli Ward's (R) far-right primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake (R).

* On a related note, in Nevada's U.S. Senate Republican primary, Danny Tarkanian said this week he's "disgusted" with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and wouldn't support him if elected. Tarkanian is taking on incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R).

* Facing questions about alleged campaign finance irregularities, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) is starting to pay more in legal fees than his campaign is collecting in contributions. Roll Call  reports that in Hunter's most recent quarterly fundraising report, the Republican spent roughly $134,000 on legal fees, while raising about $91,440.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump World quickly abandons its obsession with email servers

10/18/17 11:20AM

As regular readers know, officials in Donald Trump’s White House cannot credibly claim ignorance when it comes to proper email protocols. Trump World was told not to use private email accounts to conduct official business. The National Security Agency also warned White House officials that use of private email accounts created a security threat.

What’s more, Trump’s entire political operation had just spent two years telling the public that Hillary Clinton should be incarcerated for having used a private email account.

And yet, several top members of the president's team ignored the rules and the warnings, and used private email accounts anyway. This has generated some interest on Capitol Hill, but as Politico reported, the White House has decided not to care.

The White House brushed off a bipartisan request from House investigators for details of senior administration officials' use of private email and encrypted messaging apps for government work, including possible violations of federal record-keeping laws, a letter obtained by POLITICO shows.

In a terse letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) -- leaders of the House oversight committee -- President Donald Trump's congressional liaison Marc Short declined to indicate whether any administration officials had used personal email accounts or messaging services, despite reports suggesting such communications were common in the West Wing.

Gowdy and Cummings requested the "the individual, cellular number and account used" by any White House officials who communicated using "text-messages, phone-based message applications, or encryption software to conduct official business."

Short responded that White House officials "endeavor to comply" with the relevant laws -- which isn't the same thing as actually following the law -- before declining to provide lawmakers with any additional details.

Traditionally, when lawmakers engaged in administrative oversight request information, and the White House blows them off, Congress takes the slights quite seriously. That said, it's a Republican-led Congress and a Republican White House, so it's possible GOP members will simply shrug their shoulders. The decision is largely in the hands of Trey Gowdy, who's generally been an ally of this White House.

While we wait for this to play out, however, let's not miss the forest for the trees.

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Controversial Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at a Texas Capitol rally on March 24, 2015. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/Getty)

As Alabama race tightens, Republicans rally behind Roy Moore

10/18/17 10:41AM

With Alabama's U.S. Senate special election just two months away, most recent polling shows Roy Moore (R) with a modest lead over Doug Jones (D). The extremist Republican is clearly the favorite, but his advantage is hardly insurmountable.

With this in mind, the political world was jolted a bit yesterday when Fox News released a new statewide poll of its own, showing the race tied at 42% each.

It's probably wise to take the results with a grain of salt -- it looks like an outlier, and there are some legitimate questions about Fox's methodology -- but the poll was nevertheless a reminder that Alabama's race is relatively competitive, thanks in part to Roy Moore's radicalism and record that got him thrown off the state Supreme Court (twice).

The broader question, meanwhile, is what Republican officials are thinking about his candidacy at this point. The New Republic's Jeet Heer had a compelling take yesterday, following Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) endorsement of Moore.

Paul's statement is the latest evidence that the Republican Party is going to fall in line behind Moore, despite his long record of political extremism. (Senator Mike Lee of Utah endorsed Moore yesterday.) In doing so, the party is following the pattern that we saw during Donald Trump's presidential candidacy. After the initial qualms about an unfit and extremist candidate, most Republican lawmakers came around to Trump, showing that partisan affiliation outweighed all other considerations.

The last federal election proved that the Republicans are the party of Donald Trump. But the party has since showed that, once Trump is gone, it is prepared to become the party of Roy Moore and whoever else might succeed him.

MSNBC's Chris Hayes added yesterday, "GOP senators from across the spectrum of their coalition endorsing Roy Moore shows that Trump is a symptom not a cause."

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Image: FILE PHOTO -  U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during rally in Denver

After Trump's warning, McCain says, 'I have faced tougher adversaries'

10/18/17 10:02AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center on Monday night, and delivered remarks that sounded like a not-so-subtle shot at Donald Trump. The veteran senator said that "some half-baked, spurious nationalism" should be considered "as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history."

Asked yesterday whether this was a rebuke of his party's president, McCain added that he was really referring to "America Firsters" -- which only reinforced impressions that Trump and his followers were his intended targets.

As the Washington Post reported, the president was asked about this during a radio interview yesterday.

"People have to be careful because at some point, I fight back," Trump said in an interview Tuesday with WMAL, a D.C. radio station.

"I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won't be pretty," Trump said.

Soon after, McCain didn't sound overly concerned about the president's warnings. "I have faced tougher adversaries," he said of Trump.

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Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. (Photo by Reuters)

Trump's boasts about ISIS crumble under scrutiny

10/18/17 09:20AM

By any fair measure, ISIS is on a losing streak. As Rachel noted on last night's show, ISIS militants have suffered a series of setbacks and defeats in places such as Dabiq, Mosul and Raqqa, offering hope that the network is on its heels.

Take a wild guess who wants credit.

President Trump gave himself a pat on the back during an interview Tuesday, taking credit for the Islamic State "giving up." U.S.-backed forces liberated Raqqa, Syria, on Tuesday, seizing ISIS's de facto capital, and Trump declared his strong leadership was the reason.

During the interview on The Chris Plante Show, a talk show hosted by Plante and broadcast in Washington, D.C., Trump claimed that the U.S. was losing the war on terror before his administration took charge. CNN notes that Trump has applauded himself before for efforts against ISIS, glossing over the fact that operations in Iraq and Syria began under former President Barack Obama.

Asked why ISIS is "giving up," Trump immediately praised himself. "Because you didn't have Trump as your president," he replied.

To be sure, this isn't surprising in the least -- he'd take credit for the sunrise if he thought he could get away with it -- but whether the White House likes it or not, reality keeps getting in the way.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump's confusion puts bipartisan health care compromise at risk

10/18/17 08:41AM

Bipartisan compromises on Capitol Hill aren't especially common, so the news out of D.C. yesterday afternoon understandably caused a stir. The top two lawmakers on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy -- Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced the outline of an important agreement that would undo some of the systemic damage done by Donald Trump.

The basic contours of the Alexander/Murray deal are pretty straightforward: Democrats would get funding for cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments through 2019 and renewed investments in ACA outreach programs, while Republicans would get expanded state flexibility and lower eligibility standards for catastrophic plans. Essential health benefits under the existing law would remain unchanged.

While there are still some details to be worked out, all things considered, it's a good, bipartisan package. The plan is probably too late to help consumers in the short term who've already been hurt by Trump's antics, but it would it nevertheless help bring some stability to markets that need it.

The question, however, is whether it can pass. The answer may depend on the wishes of the president who created the mess Alexander and Murray are trying to clean up.

So, what does Donald Trump think of the compromise? It depends on the day and time you ask him -- because at this point, he's starting to sound a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

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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)

Trump's call to slain soldier's widow sparks controversy

10/18/17 08:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reported that White House aides felt anxiety over what Donald Trump might say (or tweet) about the mass murders. They were nervous, of course, because of the president's "troubled track record in such delicate moments."

As the AP explained, "Trump often has had difficulty embracing a central role of the American presidency: consoling people dealing with intense grief."

There's a growing body of evidence to bolster the point.

A Florida congresswoman said that the family of a U.S. service member killed in Niger was "astonished" when President Donald Trump suggested in a phone call that the soldier "must've known what he signed up for."

Rep. Frederica Wilson told NBC Miami that she heard the president's comment to Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow, Myeshia, on speaker phone as they traveled together to meet his body on Tuesday.

"He said, 'But you know he must've known what he signed up for,'" the Democrat recounted Trump saying more than once during the call to express his sympathy. According to Wilson, the conversation lasted somewhere from three to five minutes.

Myeshia Johnson has not yet spoken publicly about the call, and the White House declined to discuss the conversation, telling NBC News it's "private." For his part, Trump wrote on Twitter this morning, "Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!" (The last time he claimed to have "tapes" of a private conversation, he was lying.)

Nevertheless, if the Democratic congresswoman's account is accurate, it fits into a larger pattern in which the president's capacity for human empathy is in doubt.

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Statement on DHS nominee Kirstjen Nielsen

10/17/17 09:02PM

Statement to The Rachel Maddow Show from Blain Rethmeier, who is assisting Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Kirstjen Nielsen in her confirmation process:

“Ms. Nielsen’s role in the response to Katrina has been vastly overstated by the media.  As a policy director, she was responsible for coordinating policy and information flow. After she left the White House, she took the lessons of Katrina and put them to good use.  First she worked with Fran Townsend to draft the Katrina Lessons Learned Review that objectively looked at many of the flaws in the state, local and federal response. Second, she worked with members on the Hill to draft the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that radically improved the way the Federal Government is structured to respond to major disasters. And finally, she worked to develop the National Response Framework, from which all major disasters are addressed.”  

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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