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Thursday's Mini-Report, 12.8.16

12/08/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The madness is out of control: "A Florida woman who said the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 people -- including 20 children -- was a hoax has been indicted for making death threats to one of the shooting victim's parents, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday."

* Dylann Roof's trial began today in South Carolina: "Faced with perhaps his only chance to persuade the jury to spare Mr. Roof's life, the lawyer, David I. Bruck, used his opening statement to concede Mr. Roof's guilt and suggest doubts about his stability."

* A stunning statistic: "Opioid deaths continued to surge in 2015, surpassing 30,000 for the first time in recent history, according to CDC data released Thursday. That marks an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014. Deaths involving powerful synthetic opiates, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015."

* President Obama said this week that during his tenure, "no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland." The right may not like it, but that's true.

* Keep expectations low: "In an interview with Time magazine ... [Donald Trump] didn't go into specifics but signaled that he could find a way to accommodate the Dreamers." He specifically said, "We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," though no one knows what that means.

* National Center for Health Statistics: "For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year -- a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States.... In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death."

* I've received a few emails about this: "Some on the left are still circulating theories about how to prevent their emerging Supreme Court nightmare by somehow shoehorning Garland into the nation's top court."
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Demonstrators prepare signs supporting the raising of the federal minimum wage during May Day demonstrations in New York, N.Y., on May 1, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Trump eyes the 'worst-case scenario' for the Labor Department

12/08/16 04:35PM

Last week, The American Prospect had a report on the "Fight for 15" campaign, committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the challenges facing the national initiative. Looking ahead to Donald Trump's Labor Secretary nominee, the article added, "Perhaps the worst-case scenario for low-wage workers would be Andy Puzder."

Take a wild guess who's apparently getting the gig.
President-elect Donald J. Trump is expected to name Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that operates the fast food outlets Hardee's and Carl's Jr. and an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, to be secretary of labor, people close to the transition said on Thursday.

Mr. Puzder has spent his career in the private sector and has opposed efforts to expand eligibility for overtime pay, while arguing that large minimum wage increases hurt small businesses and lead to job loss among low-skilled workers.
Note, while several news organizations have said Puzder is Trump's choice for the Labor Department, this has not yet been confirmed by NBC News. [Update: It's now official; Puzder will be nominated.]

That said, if the reports are accurate, and Senate Republicans confirm the selection, Puzder would join a long and growing list of Trump's team members who have no background in elected office and no governing experience whatsoever. The list already included Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), Ben Carson (HUD), Betsy DeVos (Education), Wilbur Ross (Commerce), and Stephen Bannon (White House strategist).

As it turns out, Puzder is also the latest in a series of multimillionaires and Republican donors to receive a cabinet slot from Trump.

But the most glaring problem with this selection is that Trump's preferred Labor Secretary is deeply hostile towards practically every proposal that would benefit working people. From the aforementioned American Prospect piece:
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt departs after a meeting with U.S. President elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower New York, N.Y., on Nov. 28, 2016. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Trump nominees at odds with the agencies they'll soon lead

12/08/16 12:49PM

In March 2005, then-President George W. Bush, feeling emboldened after winning re-election, made a provocative move: he nominated John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This enraged congressional Democrats -- along with many diplomats from allied countries -- not just because of Bolton's far-right ideology, but because of his overt hostility towards the institution where he'd soon work.

Bolton, after all, was on record saying that "if the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference" and that "there's no such thing as the United Nations." For Bolton's critics, the principle seemed fairly obvious: if someone opposes the core mission of an institution, and is skeptical about the institution's existence, they probably shouldn't work there.

More than a decade later, we're seeing the same dynamic play out on a much broader scale. For example, Donald Trump announced his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday, and the president-elect chose Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), who is effectively a caricature of a ridiculous EPA nominee.

But aside from his hand-in-glove relationship with the oil industry, note Pruitt's Bolton-esque problem when it comes to the EPA. As Rachel noted on the show last night:
"If you were not really sure about what he thinks about the EPA, which the Trump administration is going to put him in charge of, this is a line out of his official state bio. [Pruitt] brags, 'Scott Pruitt is a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda.'

"A leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda. He will now be in charge of the EPA's activist agenda. You kind of have to admire the gumption on this one."
So the good news is, Trump's nominee is neither a billionaire nor an amateur with no background in public service. The bad news is, Pruitt fundamentally rejects the work of the department he'll soon lead.

And while that's as disheartening as it is bizarre, this keeps happening.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.8.16

12/08/16 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.) bid to become the next DNC chairman received a big boost this morning with an endorsement from the AFL-CIO.

* And speaking of the national party committees, the RNC has chosen the venue for its holiday party this year. That wouldn't ordinarily be notable, except Republican officials have decided to rent space in the newly renovated Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

* On the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, Newt Gingrich thought it'd be a good idea to praise the Japanese for having "displayed professional brilliance and technological power launching surprises from Hawaii to the Philippines."

* Following up on a heated dispute during a post-election forum last week, Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post today. Among other things, Palmieri argued, "I don't know whether the Trump campaign needed to give a platform to white supremacists to win. But the campaign clearly did, and it had the effect of empowering the white-nationalist movement."

* It looks like the recount in Michigan is ending: "After two days of ballot counting, conflicting court decisions and legal wranglings between frustrated lawyers, a federal judge on Wednesday halted the hand recount of 4.8 million ballots cast for president in Michigan, concluding there's no real evidence of foul play and there's no valid reason to continue the recount."

* Glenn R. Davis Jr., a Republican delegate in Virginia, kicked off his campaign for lieutenant governor the other day, saying in a written statement, "Donald Trump isn't a lawyer and he isn't an insurance salesman. He's a job creator, and so am I." Trump lost Virginia this year by four percentage points.
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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Will allegations of Russian interference get Congress' attention?

12/08/16 11:20AM

A few months ago, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence looked into allegations that Vladimir Putin's Russia took deliberate criminal steps to interfere with the American presidential election. The agencies came to the same conclusion: Russia apparently stole American materials in order to interfere with our political process, hoping to boost one American candidate over the other.

An alleged crime of this magnitude should probably be of great interest to Congress, but of late, the Republican majority, satisfied that suspected Russian efforts helped the GOP, has ignored Democratic calls for an investigation. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the partisan attitudes are starting to change, at least a little.
Democrats' efforts got a bipartisan boost Wednesday, when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he would lead an inquiry into the Russian operation. Mr. Graham, who previously had called on Congress to look into the Russian hacks, told CNN that he would pursue inquiries via subcommittees that he chairs. [...]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said his committee has looked into holding closed-door hearings on the issue of potential Russian interference in the election. "We have committee members that are interested and we certainly intend to pursue what if any interference took place," Mr. Corker said.
Mother Jones' David Corn reported yesterday that Democrats are pushing for an independent commission -- along the lines of the 9/11 Commission -- to investigate the allegations, but no Republicans have endorsed the idea. What's more, the creation of such a panel would need a presidential signature -- and Donald Trump continues to believe that Putin is telling the truth and U.S. intelligence agencies are lying about Russian activities.

I'm sure this is going to come across as horribly naive, but there's no reason this controversy should be seen as necessarily partisan or ideological.
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U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 8, 2014.

Jeff Sessions' record on desegregation draws fresh scrutiny

12/08/16 10:42AM

Shortly after Donald Trump chose Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as his choice for Attorney General, the president-elect's team put together talking points for Senate Republicans, urging them to sing the senator's praises. In particular, Team Trump asked GOP lawmakers to say Sessions has a "strong civil rights record."

Given the senator's actual civil rights record, it's a tough sell.

But as Politico reported., the talking points were also more specific in some cases, noting that Sessions also "led desegregation lawsuits in his home state." Trump's spokesperson pushed the same line with reporters recently, claiming the Alabama Republican "filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama" during his tenure as a U.S. Attorney.

But did that actually happen? The Atlantic's Adam Serwer did some interesting digging into Sessions' record.
The Atlantic could not find evidence Sessions filed any new school desegregation lawsuits. Searches of the legal databases Westlaw and PACER found no evidence that any new school-desegregation lawsuits were filed in Alabama's Southern District by Sessions between 1981, when Sessions became U.S. attorney in Alabama, and 1995, when he became Alabama attorney general, though it is possible that the records exist but are not in those databases. The Atlantic could find no reference to the claim in the transcripts of his 1986 confirmation hearing.

Former Justice Department officials and civil-rights experts expressed puzzlement when asked about the claim, in part because nearly every school in Alabama was under desegregation orders by the 1970s, years before Sessions became U.S. attorney.
The report noted that even if there were such cases during Sessions' tenure, they would've been filed by the Justice Department's civil rights division, not the local U.S. Attorney.

So did Sessions and Team Trump straight-up lie about the senator's record? Not exactly.
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Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Linda McMahon celebrates her in win in the Connecticut primary over Chris Shays in Stamford, Conn., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012.

After chiding the 'elite,' Team Trump adds another multimillionaire

12/08/16 09:49AM

At a post-election forum in D.C. recently, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, emphasized one of her key political observations: the 2016 campaign was a rejection of the "elites." In fact, she said her own Republican Party was "veering dangerously close to being the party of the elites" until Trump campaign along -- a point she's repeated in other interviews.

Even in the new Time cover story naming Trump "Person of the Year," Conway argued, "You cannot underestimate the role of the backlash against political correctness -- the us vs. the elite."

Soon after the article reached the public, Team Trump made a new personnel announcement.
Donald Trump has picked Linda McMahon, co-founder of pro wrestling company WWE, to lead his Small Business Administration, his transition team said Wednesday.

The 68-year-old McMahon was a major Trump backer during his campaign.... The publicly-traded WWE, which McMahon and husband Vince founded more than 30 years ago, has a market value of about $1.5 billion.
McMahon wasn't just a generous donor to Trump's campaign; she and her husband were also the nation's largest outside donors to the controversial Trump Foundation, which has already admitted to breaking a couple of laws in recent years.

She joins an incredibly wealthy team of Republican officials. Donald Trump, himself a billionaire celebrity, has now chosen several billionaires and multimillionaires for top posts in the upcoming administration.

The Washington Post recently added a striking observation: "When George W. Bush assembled his first Cabinet in 2001, news reports dubbed them a team of millionaires, and government watchdogs questioned whether they were out of touch with most Americans' problems. Combined, that group had an inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million -- which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump's nominee for commerce secretary alone."

What a relief it is to know Republicans are no longer "the party of the elites."
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Image: John F. Kelly

Yet another general agrees to join Trump's team

12/08/16 08:48AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump did something without any real precedent in modern U.S. political history: the Republican, who has no background in the military or matters of national security, went after American generals in surprisingly aggressive ways.

In fact, to hear Trump tell it, generals are incompetent and pathetic. "I know more about ISIS than the generals do," he insisted a year ago. "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, 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."

Despite these broadsides, Trump won the election -- and proceeded to stock his team with generals.
Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly has been selected to serve as President-elect Donald Trump's secretary for homeland security, NBC News has confirmed. [...]

The retired four-star general led the U.S. Southern Command, and commanded Marines during some of the most intense fighting in Iraq.
Note, Kelly was still on active duty as recently as January.

Ordinarily, the first question in response to any announcement about a cabinet nominee is the most obvious: is this the right person for the job? Given the scope of the Department of Homeland Security's responsibilities, it's an especially important question now, and Kelly's positions on a range of issues will warrant careful scrutiny.

But under the current circumstances, there's also the broader question of why Trump has chosen quite so many generals for his team, and the degree to which this is democratically unusual.
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President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Stung by criticism, Trump goes after local union leader

12/08/16 08:00AM

Donald Trump should be incredibly busy. The transition period is limited, as we talked about the other day, presidents-elect are expected to maintain a rather grueling schedule, choosing a cabinet, attending security briefings, staffing a White House, speaking to international leaders, shaping a policy agenda, and even preparing for his inauguration. Every hour of every day counts.

Trump, however, hasn't yet learned the value of focusing his attention on what matters most. He instead likes to take time complaining about Broadway productions, sketch-comedy shows, and as of last night, local union leaders.
President-elect Donald Trump pledged to be "so presidential you will be bored" during the election, but he continues to keep Americans on their toes after again taking to Twitter to battle his most recent critic.

Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers 1999, told NBC News that he had been harassed and threatened in the wake of Trump's latest attack -- a broadside against Jones leadership of union workers at a Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana that took center stage last week.
It should've been a relatively minor story. Trump made claims about the Carrier deal that were demonstrably untrue, and Chuck Jones spoke up about it -- as American citizens are still free to do. Last night, the labor leader appeared on CNN to "correct some of [Trump's] math," and soon after, the president-elect who lacks impulse control decided it'd be a good idea to go after Jones directly.

Jones, Trump said on Twitter, "has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!"

None of this makes sense. For one thing, blaming American workers for corporate outsourcing decisions is bonkers. For another, Trump likes to pretend he's a champion of regular, everyday Americans -- unless, apparently, they cross him, in which case the president-elect will go after them personally.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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