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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Team Trump struggles to explain its 'egregious' math error

05/24/17 11:20AM

One of the most glaring problems with Donald Trump's new budget plan is that its architects are bad at arithmetic. Politico's Michael Grunwald explained:
Budget proposals always involve some guesswork into the unknowable, and administrations routinely massage numbers to their political advantage. But this proposal is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math, and in its accounting discrepancies amounting to trillions-with-a-t rather than mere millions or billions. [...]

Trump critics in the budget-wonk world are pointing to another $2 trillion of red ink as a blatant math error -- or, less charitably, as an Enron-style accounting fraud.
Budget fights can admittedly get a little wonky, but this one's pretty straightforward: Trump's White House unveiled a budget plan that double-counts $2 trillion. The president and his right-wing budget director, House Freedom Caucus co-founder Mick Mulvaney, specifically counts on $2 trillion in revenue to eliminate the deficit that the administration also devotes to paying for Trump's tax cuts.

Harvard economist Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and National Economic Council director in the previous two Democratic administrations, wrote in the Washington Post that this represents "the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them." Summers added that the mistake is "a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course."

And while this is certainly a discouraging development for those hoping the White House is capable of rudimentary governmental competence -- $2 trillion isn't exactly a rounding error -- what makes this especially fascinating to me is what Trump World is saying now that "the mystery money" problem has been exposed.
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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-BUDGET

House Republican 'moderates' fracture in the wake of health care dispute

05/24/17 10:51AM

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), as much as any individual in D.C., rescued the Republican Party's radical health care plan from legislative failure. Now he's facing the consequences.

The backlash in MacArthur's home state of New Jersey has already been harsh -- the American Health Care Act's impact on the Garden State is especially brutal -- and yesterday, the GOP lawmaker parted ways with the Capitol Hill caucus he'd been tasked with leading. Politico was the first to report on MacArthur's departure from the Tuesday Group.
Rep. Tom MacArthur resigned Tuesday as co-chairman of the caucus of GOP moderates known as the Tuesday Group in the wake of deep divisions among its members over the House Obamacare replacement bill he helped craft.

"You can't lead people where they don't want to go," MacArthur said Tuesday morning in an interview with POLITICO New Jersey. "I think some people in the group just have a different view of what governing is."
MacArthur, who announced his resignation during the group's regular gathering yesterday after just five months at the helm, conceded that the Tuesday Group "is divided."

The argument that the health care fight is bringing Republicans together with a sense of common purpose is looking a little shaky. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true.

And while it's not yet clear who'll take the reins at the Tuesday Group, MacArthur's resignation offers its members an opportunity to ask themselves an important question: what exactly is the role of an ostensible "centrist" in a Congress where radicalized Republicans are in charge?
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Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines' president, speaks during the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's chat with Philippine President Duterte raises alarms

05/24/17 10:03AM

We learned in late April that Donald Trump had a pleasant chat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and invited the murderous autocrat to visit the White House. The Washington Post reports on a new transcript of the conversation, which makes matters worse.
[Duterte's] administration has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. Trump has not spoken out against that strategy, and in their call he praised Duterte for doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."

"Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that," Trump said, according to the transcript.
In fact, the transcript shows the American president brought this up unprompted. Trump simply thought it'd be a good idea to get the ball rolling with praise for Duterte's most indefensible policy.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the authoritarian Filipino president has been accused of a series of extrajudicial killings, and just last week, a lawyer in the Philippines asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to charge Duterte and officials in his government “with mass murder and crimes against humanity.”

In addition to accusations about relying on death squads in his native country, Duterte has threatened to assassinate Filipino journalists, boasted about personally executing people without so much as a hint of due process, and before taking office, spoke openly about his willingness to commit rape. Let’s also not overlook the time Duterte compared himself to Adolf Hitler.

Just as alarming, the point of the Trump-Duterte chat was apparently to discuss North Korea, and the American president bragged during the call that there are "two nuclear submarines" off the coast of the Korean peninsula.
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Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) arrives in the Capitol for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon on June 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Senator: GOP is writing health care bill in secret, without experts

05/24/17 09:20AM

Later today, the Congressional Budget Office will release its report on the final House Republican health care plan, which passed the lower chamber a few weeks ago. That CBO "score" will initiate a new round of policymaking in the Senate, where the chamber's health care working group -- 13 conservative white guys -- have been quietly crafting their own legislation.

In fact, "quietly" is a polite way of describing the Senate process. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted on as much secrecy as he can muster, and he's made a deliberate decision to exclude all Senate Democrats -- 48% of the chamber, representing more than 50% of the country -- from the deliberations. (There is some irony to the fact that Donald Trump is looking for ways to force Democrats to the negotiating table, while GOP leaders block Dems from reaching that table.)

Making matters quite a bit worse, one Republican senator shed new light on just how ridiculous his party's process has become. The HuffPost reported:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday unexpectedly torched his party's process for crafting an Obamacare repeal bill behind closed doors.

"It's a very awkward process, at best," he told reporters. "There are no experts. There's no actuarials.... Typically, in a hearing, you'd have people coming in and you'd also have the media opining about if a hearing took place, and X came in and made comments."
The Tennessee Republican reportedly added that a public process generally helps "shape policy."

Imagine that.
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Image: Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In St. Augustine, Florida

On entitlements, Trump arrives at his 'Read My Lips' moment

05/24/17 08:40AM

In 1988, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was seen by some in his party as too moderate, and he sought to assuage those concerns by vowing not to raise taxes. It became a central pillar of Bush's national campaign: "Read my lips," he said. "No new taxes."

It was a promise Bush decided not to keep. The Republican, needing to cut a budget deal with a Democratic Congress, eventually agreed to some tax increases, reluctantly abandoning his pledge because, as Bush saw it, Democratic lawmakers didn't leave him with much of a choice.

Nearly three decades later, Donald Trump is in the White House, and with the unveiling of his new budget, another Republican president has arrived at a "read-my-lips" moment of his own.

As a candidate, Trump took care to separate himself from the GOP field and his party's orthodoxy by making a promise other Republicans wouldn't consider and didn't believe:
"I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican's going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do. I do."
In his campaign kick-off speech, Trump said he'd make no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. He bragged about the vow via Twitter, over and over and over again.

These promises helped Trump enormously -- the social-insurance programs are broadly popular, even among Republican voters -- and played a key role in the inexperienced television personality's bid to win the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.

And now Trump is throwing his vow aside, not as part of some tough negotiations with political rivals, but because he feels like it.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Russia scandal reaches new level: Donald Trump lawyers up

05/24/17 08:00AM

When a political scandal grows more serious, and powerful officials grow anxious about the direction of an ongoing investigation, we tend to reach the "lawyer up" phase: the point at which the powerful hire outside counsel to represent their interests.

In the Russia scandal, Donald Trump has now reached this stage.
President Donald Trump is expected to retain Marc Kasowitz as private attorney on matters related to the Russia investigation, sources familiar with the decision told NBC News Tuesday.

Kasowitz has represented Trump in the past. Fox Business and ABC News earlier reported that Trump was expected to retain Kasowitz in relation to the Russia investigation.
Note, Kasowitz will represent Trump as an individual. This is separate from the White House's counsel's office, currently led by Don McGahn, which oversees legal matters related to the presidency.

Kasowitz is a curious choice. The New York attorney does not, for example, have a background in constitutional or defense cases -- whether the president will face specific legal allegations remains unclear -- though he has represented Trump in a variety of civil cases, "including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University."

When Trump sued a New York Times reporter who wrote a book claiming Trump isn't actually a billionaire, it was Kasowitz who oversaw the doomed case. (Trump sued for $5 billion, but his case went nowhere) When Trump was furious with the New York Times for publishing a piece about women who accused him of sexual misconduct, it was Kasowitz who sent an angry letter demanding a retraction. (There was no retraction.)

What's more, as Rachel noted on last night's show, the big high-profile case that Kasowitz has been involved with since Trump became president was representing ... wait for it ... Russia's largest state-controlled bank, which is called Sperbank.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.23.17

05/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Manchester: "This proud British city was in mourning Tuesday after a suicide bombing by a homegrown terrorist killed 22 people -- some of whom were children -- at an Ariana Grande concert. The man responsible for the carnage was identified by police as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent who lived in a south Manchester neighborhood called Fallowfield."

* Also from the U.K.: "[I]n the wake of the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May raised the terrorist threat level to the highest level and warned that another terrorist attack could be 'imminent.'"

* Donald Trump "branded those responsible for the deadly suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert and other terrorist attacks 'evil losers' on Tuesday."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Tuesday refused to address -- but did not deny -- reports that President Donald Trump asked him to push back against allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russia."

* Mueller: "Justice Department ethics experts have concluded that newly appointed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III can oversee the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election -- even though his former law firm represents several people who could be caught up in the matter, authorities announced Tuesday."

* An angle worth watching: "A member of the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton ahead of last fall's presidential election."

* Good question: "Top Democrats are demanding answers from the Trump administration about whether a top healthcare official offered insurance companies a quid pro quo to get their support for the GOP's ObamaCare repeal bill."
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CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our National Security", in Washington, DC, June 16, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Former CIA confirms 'interactions' between Russia, Trump campaign

05/23/17 04:57PM

For months, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their political operation insisted that no one from Trump World was in communications with Russia while Russia was attacking our election in support of Trump. The evidence to the contrary from news accounts has been overwhelming, to the point that the White House doesn't even bother to repeat the talking point anymore.

It was nevertheless helpful to have the former director of the CIA testify under oath today about the "interactions" between Team Trump and its Russian benefactors.
[F]ormer CIA Director John Brennan appeared before the House Intelligence Committee and said he believes Russia "brazenly" interfered in last year's presidential election and that he knew of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials.

"I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign," Brennan told lawmakers.

He added that he is not sure whether "collusion existed" between the campaign and Moscow, but the interactions were enough that he believed the matter warranted an FBI investigation.
So much for the president's "witch hunt" argument.

Brennan, who led the CIA for four years, including throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, also testified that Moscow "clearly had a more favorable view" toward the Trump campaign.

And though the former CIA chief didn't identify individuals from Trump's operation by name, Brennan was willing to say in his testimony, "I know there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding, with Russian officials."
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump wastes little time breaking his key promises in a cruel budget

05/23/17 01:05PM

When Donald Trump rode down a New York escalator and announced his presidential campaign two years ago in front of an audience featuring people paid to be there, the Republican made international headlines by arguing that Mexican immigrants are rapists.

But in the same speech, Trump was careful to break with GOP orthodoxy on some of the nation's most popular social-insurance programs. He said, if elected, he would "save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts." Trump added, "Have to do it."

Those who actually believed his rhetoric fell for an unfortunate scam. Indeed, Trump has made many of his defenders look quite foolish with the unveiling of his first federal budget.
President Donald Trump's 2018 budget proposal includes sweeping cuts to social spending for low-income Americans, including entitlement programs that the president promised to protect as a candidate, while boosting defense spending.
To appreciate just how radical the proposed cuts are, Vox's rundown paints a bleak picture. Trump's budget was expected to be radical -- his budget chief is Mick Mulvaney, a former right-wing congressman and Freedom Caucus leader -- but this blueprint is more of a cruel joke than a proper budget. Among the cuts highlighted by Vox's report:
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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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