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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.16.18

03/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Six-hour installation? "The pedestrian walkway that collapsed Thursday in Miami, killing at least six people, was being built using a popular but relatively new bridge technology specifically designed to speed construction while maintaining safety."

* U.K.: "Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of Britain said on Friday that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally ordered the nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy this month."

* In related news: "Aside from confirming it would expel some British diplomats, without giving the number, Russia has been coy about its potential responses."

* The Pentagon's former Russia chief makes the case that the Trump administration's new Russia sanctions are "totally inconsequential."

* E.U.: "The European Union on Friday made public a 10-page list of American products that are potential targets for retaliation if President Trump refuses to exempt the allied bloc from his new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports."

* I hope you saw last night's TRMS coverage of this: "The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will."

* Iraq: "An American military helicopter crashed Thursday near the city of Qaim in western Iraq, killing some of the seven service members aboard, United States officials said."

* Expect big ratings: "For a week, the world has waited: When would '60 Minutes' air its interview with porn star Stormy Daniels alleging an affair with President Trump? CBS has been silent. Now there is a planned date, March 25, according to two people familiar with the timing."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: US Treasury Secretary nominee Mnuchin and  Linton arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol

Treasury's Mnuchin racks up sky-high costs with taxpayer-funded travel

03/16/18 04:37PM

It wasn't great when we learned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife flew on a government plane to Kentucky on the day of the solar eclipse. The story looked a little worse when we learned Mnuchin "inquired about the use of a military plane" for his European honeymoon.

The scope of the story, however, is still coming into focus.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin racked up almost $1 million in military flights last year at taxpayers' expense, according to a new report.

In a report issued Thursday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which investigated Mnuchin's travels through Freedom of Information Act requests, found Mnuchin took eight separate trips on military aircraft between spring and fall 2017.

Those dates are of particular significance: it seems likely that the cabinet secretary has taken other military flights since the fall of 2017, which means the overall price tag is probably even higher now.

It's also worth emphasizing that Mnuchin had other travel choices. His recent predecessors, for example, took plenty of commercial flights. He also could've made use of smaller military planes.

But he didn't. Mnuchin isn't part of the military; he's never been in the military; and there's nothing about his office that requires him to make use of military planes, which are extremely expensive. But the Treasury secretary has apparently been taking full advantage of this opportunity, even if taxpayers get stuck with the tab.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Interior's Ryan Zinke just can't seem to stay out of trouble

03/16/18 02:36PM

It seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), a fourth-generation Japanese-American, asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about his agency's grant programs to preserve World War II-era internment camps.

"Oh, konnichiwa," Zinke replied.

There was apparently a momentary silence in the committee room; the Democratic congresswoman corrected his Japanese; and the hearing proceeded. That said, several other lawmakers, including Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), were eager to admonish the cabinet secretary today for his "flippant" and "juvenile" comment.

But before we could catch our breath on this Zinke story, the Associated Press published another.

Trophy hunters are packed on a new U.S. advisory board created to help rewrite federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions and rhinos. That includes some members with direct ties to President Donald Trump and his family.

A review by The Associated Press of the backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 board members appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicates they will agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging American hunters to shoot some of them.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Trump administration announced the end of an Obama-era ban on hunters bringing the trophy heads of elephants they'd killed in Africa back to the U.S. The move immediately drew fire, even from some prominent Republicans, and Donald Trump soon after suspended his own administration's policy. Via Twitter, the president said it'd be difficult to change his mind about "this horror show."

Two weeks later, the Trump administration reversed course again, and now Zinke's advisory board wildlife-protection board is stacked with trophy hunters.

All of which serves as a striking reminder: when the Interior secretary make headlines, it's probably not for flattering reasons.

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Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Steve Scalise

The banking deregulation bill isn't a done deal just yet

03/16/18 12:58PM

In early 2009, when the Great Recession was still very much an ongoing crisis, congressional Democrats began work on reforming the financial industry's rules, including bankruptcy reform proposals. When some of these ideas failed, then-Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) became frustrated, and was willing to say so in candid ways.

"[T]he banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill," Durbin said nine years ago. "And they frankly own the place."

By some measures, that hasn't changed.

The Senate passed on Wednesday legislation sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) that would rewrite parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the landmark financial regulation overhaul enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis. The bill cleared the Senate with ease, 67 to 31, earning support from 16 Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) in addition to 50 Republicans.

The Senate bill would adjust the size at which banks are subject to certain regulatory scrutiny and exempt small banks from some requirements for loans, mortgages, and trading, among other measures.

Right now, banks with more than $50 billion in assets are subject to Dodd-Frank regulations. The Senate bill would, among other things, raise that threshold to $250 billion.

The bill faced fierce criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and much of the left -- the very idea that Congress would roll back financial-industry safeguards right now seems dangerous from a progressive perspective, especially with the industry already flush with cash -- but it cleared the Senate anyway. All 31 "no" votes came from the Senate Democratic caucus, but they were easily outnumbered.

What's especially interesting right now, however, is what House Republicans intend to do with the Senate bill.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.18

03/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) died this morning at the age of 88, following a three-decade career on Capitol Hill. Roll Call  reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will reportedly have some discretion "over when to call a special election."

* At an appearance in New Hampshire this morning, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) offered another not-so-subtle rhetorical shot at Donald Trump. "We have ... succumbed to what can only be described as a propaganda-fueled dystopian view of conservatism," the retiring senator argued.

* On a related note, Flake told the Associated Press, "It's not in my plan to run for president, but I am not ruling it out. Somebody needs to stand up for traditional Republicanism."

* How are Democrats preparing to defend vulnerable Democratic incumbents? The Senate Majority PAC unveiled this new ad today, defending Sen. Joe Donnely (D-Ind.), who's already facing an aggressive ad campaign from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

* According to an AP article, the chair of the West Virginia Republican Party apparently criticized Democratic congressional candidate Richard Ojeda for receiving a military pension. If so, that was probably unwise.

* In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) launched her first TV ad of the cycle, claiming she "steadied the ship" after her predecessor, former Gov. Robert Bentley (R), was forced to resign in the wake of a sex scandal.

* Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) announced this week that he won't seek a rematch against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) this year, citing Donald Trump's unpopularity and the results of Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania.

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Economic analyst Lawrence "Larry" Kudlow appears on CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, March 7, 2018.

Trump's top new voice on the economy is always wrong about the economy

03/16/18 11:20AM

In political circles, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol is known for a few things. He was former Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff; he's one of the more influential Republicans in the D.C. media; he's a notable critic of Donald Trump; and he has an unfortunate habit of making predictions that don't come true.

Larry Kudlow is similar, except instead of always being wrong about political developments, Kudlow is always wrong about the economy. And while that's an unfortunate track record for someone who pontificates about the economy on television -- Kudlow is a longtime CNBC anchor -- it's an even worse trait for someone who leads the White House's National Economic Council.

And yet, that's the job Donald Trump tapped Kudlow for this week.

The New York Times  highlighted some of Kudlow's "not-so-on-the-money predictions" yesterday, and it's an unflattering list. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank added:

It was the eve of the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Many on Wall Street worried that a recession loomed and that the housing bubble was bursting.

And then there was Larry Kudlow, the man President Trump just tapped to be his top economic adviser.

"Despite all the doom and gloom from the economic pessimistas, the resilient U.S. economy continues moving ahead," Kudlow wrote on Dec. 7, 2007, in National Review, predicting that gloomy forecasters would "wind up with egg on their faces." Kudlow, who previously derided as "bubbleheads" those who warned about a housing bubble, now wrote that "very positive" news in housing should "cushion" falling home sales and prices.

That was in December 2007 -- the exact month the Great Recession began -- and the global economy entered a crushing free-fall not long after.

"Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, they say," Milbank added. "But Kudlow's misfires just keep coming."

The point, however, isn't to point and laugh. Rather, what matters here is Kudlow's track record and its relationship to his new responsibilities.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Nunes: There's 'no one left' for Mueller to indict in Russia scandal

03/16/18 10:45AM

Politico  reported late yesterday that House Republicans "are privately venting that they've fumbled the release of their own Russia probe report."

Ya think? The GOP leadership of the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their own investigation of the Russia scandal, long before they had all the facts. They also released a ridiculous pre-cooked report, rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies about Russia backing Donald Trump, and then spent the rest of the week conceding that this core conclusion of the GOP report was wrong.

"Fumbled the release" seems like a charitable way of saying the House Intelligence Committee's Republicans screwed up spectacularly (again). Four days after the release of a GOP document intended to exonerate their party's president, the only people who even remember the report are those who recognize its insulting absurdities.

But the committee's embattled chairman and unyielding Donald Trump ally, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), is undeterred. Indeed, he spoke at a private dinner this week, hosted by a conservative magazine called the American Spectator, and toed the White House line in an interesting way. The Washington Examiner reported:

Nunes said that he doesn't see who [Special Counsel Robert Mueller] could indict for collusion if all the indictments to date have been on other charges.

"Now look at who Mueller has prosecuted at this point, and who is left to prosecute for collusion?" he wondered. "I mean, there's no one left. [Former Trump campaign manager Paul] Manafort would be the obvious guy to think of that was colluding, right? If you could have gotten him on collusion, he would have been the obvious choice. Flynn, I mean, I knew Flynn very very well, and he is not a secret communist supporting Putin. So, they can't get him on that. So who else do they have?"

Was that a rhetorical question? Because if Nunes really wants to know -- if he genuinely believes there's literally no one else who might be prosecuted by the special counsel's team -- the California Republican probably should've run a real investigation and kept it going.

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Buildings are seen near the ocean as reports indicate that Miami-Dade County could be one of the most susceptible places when it comes to rising water levels due to global warming, on March 14, 2012 in North Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

In FEMA's strategic plan, climate change is nowhere to be found

03/16/18 10:00AM

The first sign of trouble came when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau changed its mission statement to show that in the Trump era, the CFPB would be less focused on protecting consumers' finances.

Soon after, it was U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changing its mission statement, eliminating the phrase "America's promise as a nation of immigrants." Then it was the Department of Housing and Urban Development mission statement, which will apparently no longer reference "free from discrimination," "quality homes," or "inclusive communities."

The Interior Department's mission statement no longer references native Americans or providing "scientific and other information." The State Department's mission statement no longer prioritizes the goal of a "just and democratic world."

And then there's FEMA and its new strategic plan.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal government's first responder to floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters, has eliminated references to climate change from its strategic planning document for the next four years.

That document, released by FEMA on Thursday, outlines plans for building preparedness and reducing the complexity of the agency.

FEMA's strategic plan mentions expected cost increases "due to rising natural hazard risk," but makes no mention of the global crisis that contributes to those risks.

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Image: Donald Trump, Justin Trudeauo

After admitting he makes stuff up, Trump clings to bogus claim

03/16/18 09:20AM

Even for Donald Trump, it was a bizarre moment. The president boasted at a fundraiser this week that he hosted a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the two leaders discussed which country had a trade deficit with the other. According to his own version of events, Trump insisted the U.S. has a trade deficit with our neighbor to the north, though he had no idea whether or not that was true.

It was striking for several reasons. The president not only admitted that he makes stuff up, Trump also acted as if this is worth bragging about -- even in the context of trying to mislead the prime minister of one of the United States' closest allies. It also served as a reminder that the president doesn't feel like doing his homework, even on one of his signature issues.

But nearly as important is what Trump did when this news caused a stir: the president repeated the falsehood he's so fond of:

"We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn't like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do...they almost all do...and that's how I know!"

The child-like logic is a sight to behold:

1. Trump believes the United States has a trade deficit with almost every country.
2. Canada is a country.
3. Ergo, the United States must have a trade deficit with Canada. QED.

Meanwhile, in reality, the United States does not have a trade deficit with Canada. We know this largely because of data provided by ... wait for it ... the Trump administration.

Faced with the evidence, Trump seems determined to dig in further, and the rest of his team feels compelled to play along with the fantasy.

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Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo. (Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Why Ben Carson's office decorating mess matters

03/16/18 08:40AM

As if Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson wasn't already struggling enough, things got worse for the brain-surgeon-turned-politician a few weeks ago. The New York Times  reported Carson's agency spent more than $31,000 on furniture for the cabinet secretary, despite a law that requires congressional approval for furniture costing more than $5,000.

A HUD spokesperson said at the time that Carson "didn't know the table had been purchased," a point amplified by the secretary himself in a Facebook post. "I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered," he wrote.

As Politico  reported this week, there's new reason for skepticism about the official Carson line.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was involved in selecting a $31,000 dining table set for his office suite, emails show, despite Carson and HUD's statements that he had no knowledge of the costly request.

A cache of emails obtained by the advocacy group American Oversight show a HUD employee referring to "print outs of the furniture Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out" on Aug. 29, 2017.

The emails, for what it's worth, came by way of a Freedom of Information Act request (as opposed to a leak from agency staffers who don't like Carson).

At a briefing yesterday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about whether Carson misused public funds. The president's spokesperson said, "Look, this is something we're looking into."

The Washington Post  reported overnight that Carson is "considered at risk for being fired," and the Weekly Standard, a prominent conservative magazine, had a related piece.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Donald Trump's latest head-scratcher: The 'bowling ball test'

03/16/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump had all kinds of curious things to say at a fundraiser in Missouri this week, but as the Washington Post  reported, one of the more notable head-scratchers came when the president was describing gimmicks Japan uses to deny U.S. auto companies access to its consumers.

"It's called the bowling ball test; do you know what that is? That's where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car," Trump said of Japan. "And if the hood dents, then the car doesn't qualify. Well, guess what, the roof dented a little bit, and they said, nope, this car doesn't qualify. It's horrible, the way we're treated. It's horrible."

No one had any idea what he was talking about. Yesterday, the White House insisted the president was kidding.

Hours after President Donald Trump told a group of Missouri donors that Japanese regulators were dropping bowling balls on American automobiles to keep them off the market, the White House insisted the president's anecdote was just an allegory.

"Obviously, he's joking about this particular test," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon, telling a reporter who said he'd covered the auto industry in Japan that Trump's anecdote was merely "illustrative of creative practices" countries use to keep American goods out of their markets.

But the president, delivering the story Wednesday evening, offered no indication that he was joking.

Indeed, if you read the transcript, the only thing that's perfectly clear about this story is that Trump most certainly wasn't kidding. The president believes there are stringent Japanese regulations in place, including the "bowling ball test," that American manufacturers struggle to overcome, creating an unfair advantage for Japanese auto companies.

Another White House reporter added that, according to a White House aide, Trump "frequently" mentions this bowling ball test in meetings, for reasons no one understands.

So, what's going on here?

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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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