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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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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.17.17

10/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another legal setback for Team Trump: "Hours before it was to take effect, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order on Tuesday blocking, for now, President Trump's third attempt at a travel ban. It would have indefinitely stopped almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the Muslim-majority nations included in his original travel ban."

* Staggering death toll keeps rising in Somalia: "More than 300 people were killed by twin bomb explosions in Mogadishu, an official said on Monday, as locals packed hospitals in search of friends and relatives caught by Somalia's deadliest attack in a decade."

* Trump-Russia scandal: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents and testimony from Michael G. Flynn, the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but has not received a response, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News."

* Puerto Rico: "President Donald Trump said military personnel assisting in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts 'shouldn't have to be' distributing food in Puerto Rico, again casting the U.S. territory's challenges as partially self-inflicted during a Monday press conference."

* Brexit was a spectacularly bad idea: "Brexit threatens to reopen wounds in Northern Ireland, where the physical border was a flashpoint during the 30-year conflict known as 'the Troubles.'"

* Once again, you don't need military commissions to try suspected terrorists: "A Manhattan jury needed less than four hours to find terror bomber Ahmad Rahimi guilty of detonating a shrapnel-packed bomb that injured 30 people last year on a terrifying night in Chelsea."

* More on this tomorrow: "An emotional Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) launched a thinly veiled critique of President Trump's global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn 'people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.'"

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

Trump clarifies one of his favorite lies (but ends up lying again)

10/17/17 04:12PM

For quite a while, on a nearly daily basis, Donald Trump claims that the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world." And every time he repeats the line, reality-based observers remind the president that he's lying, which apparently has no effect on him, since he keeps saying it anyway.

This morning, reporter Mike Sacks asked Trump why he keeps publicly pushing a line he knows to be objectively false.

SACKS: With the credibility you need to pass tax reform, why do you--

TRUMP: Some people say it differently, and they'll say we're the highest developed nation taxed in the world.

SACKS: And why don't you say it that way?

TRUMP: Because a lot of people know exactly what I'm talking about it and in many cases, they think I'm right when I say the highest. As far as I'm concerned, I think we're really essentially the highest, but if you'd like to add the "developed nation," you can say that too. But a lot of people agree that the way I'm saying it is exactly correct.

What we're left with is a situation in which the president has tried to clarify a lie by telling new lies, which is almost impressive in its own exasperating way.

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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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