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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump gives chemical industry insider power on regulating chemicals

10/23/17 11:21AM

Up until fairly recently, Nancy Beck was an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the trade association for the nation's chemical industry. As the New York Times reported over the weekend, however, Donald Trump's administration has given Beck a job at the EPA -- helping lead the agency's toxic chemical unit.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.

So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.'s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.

It was, of course, Beck, the former American Chemistry Council executive, who demanded the revision. Voters who supported Donald Trump because they hoped he'd "drain the swamp," preventing corporate insiders from helping call the shots in government agencies, are getting the exact opposite of what they wanted.

But just to twist the knife a little more, consider what the political appointees at Trump's EPA had to say when the New York Times called for a comment.

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Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

The controversial pastor Trump considers 'wonderful'

10/23/17 10:41AM

When Donald Trump uses his Twitter account to promote a supporter's book release, it's worth pausing to note exactly who it is the president is trying to help. The L.A. Times  reported on Friday night:

President Trump promoted a book written by Robert Jeffress, an evangelical megachurch pastor and Fox News contributor who was also a strong Trump backer during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In a tweet sent Friday, Trump praised "A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths About Your Eternal Home," and called Jeffress "a wonderful man."... Trump's tweet came less than an hour after Jeffress appeared on Fox Business Network's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" to discuss criticism of Trump leveled by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

In other words, this looks like a dynamic in which Jeffress defended Trump, so Trump promoted Jeffress' book.

But beyond this clumsy reciprocation, there's the question of why the president cozies up to someone like Jeffress in the first place.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Why it matters if Trump pays his aides' legal bills

10/23/17 10:12AM

Despite his considerable wealth, Donald Trump is not paying for his own legal team. As the investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal continues, the president has several attorneys representing his interests, but it's the Republican National Committee -- and by extension, its donors -- paying the tab.

The same is reportedly true of Donald Trump Jr., who helps lead the president's private enterprise, and who's supposed to be steering clear of politics altogether.

And what about the officials throughout the White House who also face legal scrutiny? Up until very recently, it's been assumed they're on their own, but the Washington Post reported that they may have a rich benefactor: their boss.

President Trump plans to spend at least $430,000 of his personal funds to help cover the mounting legal costs incurred by White House staff and campaign aides related to the ongoing investigations of Russian meddling in last year's election, a White House official said. [...]

The arrangement drew immediate criticism from Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, who suggested on Twitter that it is rife with potential conflicts.

"A potential witness or target of an investigation (and boss of investigators) paying for legal fees of other potential witnesses or targets?" Shaub wrote.

Axios' original report on this used the words "pledge" and "promise" to describe the president's intention to defray the costs of his aides' legal representation.

I'm highlighting the specific verbs because Trump's credibility in this area is something of a joke. This is, after all, a president who's been caught lying about contributions to veterans' charities. Sure, he may say he's prepared to use his own money to help cover the legal costs of his team, but what Trump says and what Trump does often have little to do with one another.

But just for the sake of conversation, let's say the "plan" is legitimate. Let's assume that Trump will follow through on this vow, grab his checkbook, and start writing checks to his staffers' law firms. That brings us back to Walter Shaub's concerns.

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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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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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