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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.19.17

10/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm not sure Spain is making things better: "The standoff over Catalonia intensified significantly on Thursday as the Spanish government said it would take emergency measures to halt a secessionist drive in the economically vital and politically restive northeastern region."

* At least someone's impressed: "President Trump on Thursday said the federal response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico deserves a grade of 10 out of 10 as he met at the White House with Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of the U.S. territory. 'I would say it's a 10,' Trump said."

* What a strange story: "Chad is a top U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism in Africa, so it seemed odd to many experts when the country was added to the list of nations affected by President Donald Trump's third travel ban, issued in September. Apparently, a shortage of passport paper is partly to blame."

* Worth watching: "Sen. John McCain has become the first Republican to sign on to a draft bill from Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner that would increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook. The move, announced Wednesday, marks a win for the bill's Democratic authors, who have been working for weeks to secure GOP support."

* NPR's "Embedded" podcast team examined "charitable giving by Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. It found the organization appears to have fallen short of its bold claims of philanthropic giving."

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Image: President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

The disconnect between the White House's John Kelly and his boss

10/19/17 04:46PM

Two weeks after four American soldiers were killed in Niger, Donald Trump called the families of the fallen on Tuesday. In the case of Sgt. La David T. Johnson's family, the presidential call apparently did not go well.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who is personally close with the family, was with Johnson's widow when Trump called, and heard the president's message, which she said was not well received. The fallen soldier's mother, who was also there, added that she felt that the president showed "disrespect" to the family.

Today, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general and himself a Gold Star parent, appeared in the press briefing room and criticized the Democratic congresswoman's handling of the matter.

In heartfelt remarks about his own tragedy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former general whose Marine son was killed in Afghanistan, said Thursday that he was "stunned" by a Florida lawmaker's criticism of President Donald Trump's condolence call to a fallen soldier's wife.

Kelly described himself as "broken-hearted" coming to work at the White House on Wednesday as he saw Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on news networks disclosing the private details of Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among four soldiers killed earlier this month in Niger.

Kelly covered a fair amount of ground at the podium this afternoon, describing in detail how the Defense Department notifies families on the loss of a loved one, and his own experience after the loss of his son, who was killed in Afghanistan.

The president's chief of staff also explained how he counseled Trump once the president decided he'd call these Gold Star families, advising him on what he might say. Kelly explained that Trump "expressed his condolences in the best way he could."

It seemed that the intended message was that Trump had made a good-faith effort, and he should get the benefit of the doubt. At least as of yesterday, David Johnson's family felt very differently.

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Former US President George W. Bush speaks during "Investing in Our Future" at the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center on Aug. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Trump probably won't appreciate George W. Bush's latest speech

10/19/17 02:12PM

George W. Bush has never publicly rebuked Donald Trump, but the former president hasn't exactly been subtle when putting distance between himself and his fellow Republican. A year ago, for example, Bush confirmed that he did not vote for Trump in the presidential general election.

At Trump's inauguration, the former president was reportedly heard responding to Trump's speech by saying, "That was some weird s**t."

Nine months later, Bush spoke at a forum this morning where he reflected on the state of the body politic, and while he didn't reference Donald Trump by name, it was hard not to get the impression that the former president had the current president in mind. Roll Call described the speech as a "scathing warning" about Trump.

"Since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of the free markets, from the strength of democratic alliance and from the advance of free societies," Bush said. "Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children."

He also warned of the dangers of a worldwide pattern of countries -- including some in Europe -- "turning inward." And though Bush did not name Trump by name during his remarks, his warning about the current U.S. chief executive was clear.

"America is not immune from these trends," Bush said. "Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication."

Hmm. An American political leader who inspires bigotry, peddles conspiracy theories, and relies on near-constant dishonesty. I wonder who the former president might have been referring to.

What's more, while Trump continues to pretend Russia didn't attack the American elections, Bush added this morning that the Russian cyberattacks amounted to a "sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions." The former president specifically condemned the "external attacks on our democracy" and Russia's "project of turning Americans against each other."

This is, of course, roughly the opposite of what Trump says about last year's attack on our democracy.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Another Capitol Hill Republican is quitting Congress early

10/19/17 12:44PM

As a rule, when influential members of Congress decide to quit in the middle of their term, and it has nothing to do with any scandals or investigations, it's evidence that all is not going well on Capitol Hill. Cleveland.com reports that Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) is the latest to head for the exits.

Tiberi, a senior member of the House Ways and Means committee, was first elected to Congress in 2000. In 2015, he lost a bid to chair the influential committee that writes tax laws, and became head of its health subcommittee. He contemplated a U.S. Senate run earlier this year.

In a statement from Tiberi's office, the congressman said he would leave office by Jan. 31.... Tiberi plans to join the Ohio Business Roundtable, a group made up of CEOs from some of the state's largest businesses.

The New York Times, which reported overnight that this news was likely, said the Ohio Republican's decision reflects "mounting frustration" and "a deepening level of discontent" on Capitol Hill. That's understandable, since Republicans have struggled to do anything of real value since taking over all of the levers of federal power.

Tiberi probably isn't a household name in much of the country, but it's worth remembering that his position on the House Ways and Means Committee gives him a front-row seat to the GOP's efforts at tax reform -- his mid-term resignation suggests the endeavor isn't going especially well -- and he's the current chair of the House Tuesday Group, ostensibly representing the interests of Republican moderates.

The Ohioan also chairs the Ways and Means Committee's panel on health care, which could matter quite a bit if Republicans tried again to take up the issue.

In other words, Tiberi is currently in a position where he can wield some influence on the Hill. And yet, he's leaving anyway, apparently because he believes he can do more working with a state-based business lobbying group.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.18.17

10/19/17 12:00PM

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

* Barack Obama will return to the campaign trail today for the first time since his presidency ended in January. He'll stump for Ralph Northam's (D) gubernatorial candidacy in Virginia and Phil Murphy's (D) campaign in New Jersey.

* If nothing else, the latest polling in Virginia's gubernatorial race offers variety. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Northam leading Ed Gillespie (R) by 14 points, 53% to 39%, which is wildly out of step with other recent surveys. A Fox News poll released last night, meanwhile, found Northam ahead by seven points.

* Speaking of the Gillespie campaign, with time running out before Election Day in the commonwealth, Jack Morgan, a prominent member of the Republican gubernatorial hopeful's team, resigned this week.

* In New Jersey, the latest Fairleigh Dickinson poll, released Tuesday, found Phil Murphy (D) with a 15-point lead over Kim Guadagno (R), 47% to 32%. The election is just 20 days away.

* The HuffPost reports that Roy Moore's foundation in 2005 accepted "a $1,000 donation from a group founded by Willis Carto, a white supremacist, Nazi supporter and World War II vet who famously said he regretted fighting for the U.S instead of Germany."

* Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to headline a Republican fundraiser in Denver next week, but local interest is so low, tickets to the event have already been marked down.

* Speaking of Pence, the vice president's brother, Greg Pence, has filed the paperwork to run for Congress next year in Indiana, in the same U.S. House seat Mike Pence used to hold.

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump raises new allegations against the FBI

10/19/17 11:20AM

One of the more important pieces of the puzzle surrounding the Trump-Russia scandal is the dossier put together by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative, and despite Republican efforts to discredit the document, it's stood up pretty well to scrutiny.

Given that the dossier, put together during the 2016 election, points to connections between Donald Trump and Russia, it's not good news for the White House that the document hasn't been discredited. This also helps explain why the president continues to attack it, as he did again this morning.

"Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?"

For now, let's look past the fact that Trump really ought to avoid admonishing those who take advantage of their 5th Amendment protections -- especially since some people close to him may soon be doing the same thing.

Let's instead focus on the precise nature of the president's new allegation. According to what Trump published this morning for all the world to see, he thinks it's possible that the Federal Bureau of Investigation cooperated with a foreign adversary, in secret, in order to undermine him. Indeed, Trump explicitly raised the possibility of the FBI "paying for" the dossier in question.

That's a rather serious allegation for a sitting president to just casually throw around on Twitter -- without proof -- against the nation's top law enforcement agency. And yet, Trump it did anyway.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Republicans scramble to quickly and quietly wrap up Russia probe

10/19/17 10:43AM

A couple of weeks ago, Politico reported that Donald Trump loyalists on Capitol Hill are "losing patience with Republican leaders over the wide-ranging Russia probes creeping into his inner circle." Trump devotees, the article added, are outraged with GOP leaders for "allowing" the investigation into the scandal to continue.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent marveled at the time, "Remarkably, these Trump-allied Republicans are explicitly asserting that GOP leaders are betraying Trump by failing to squelch ongoing efforts to get to the bottom of a hostile foreign power's apparent sabotage of our democracy, in addition to the possibility of Trump campaign collusion with it."

The pressure hasn't abated. The Washington Post published an op-ed last week from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, on the efforts to conclude the probes.

[Despite recent discoveries], there are growing calls from the White House and outside parties aligned with the president to halt the congressional investigations rather than allow the evidence to dictate the pace and breadth of our inquiry. The White House may hope it can prematurely end the congressional probes and then apply pressure to wrap up special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's work as well.

This would be a terrible subversion of justice. But already these efforts are having an effect, as some witnesses are being rushed before Congress without regard for best investigative practices, sometimes out of order or before we obtain documents necessary to question them. Still other witnesses, essential to laying the foundation for the more significant interviews, have yet to be invited before the committee.

The president himself is helping lead the charge. At a White House event on Monday, Donald Trump called for an "end" to the investigations, adding, "I think the American public is sick of it,"

A CNN report added yesterday that a "growing number of key Republicans" are pushing congressional leaders to wrap up the probe, insisting that the examination of last year's events shouldn't extend into 2018.

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San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Roy Moore falsely claims kneeling protests are 'against the law'

10/19/17 10:00AM

When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) formally endorsed Roy Moore's Senate candidacy in Alabama this week, the ostensibly libertarian Republican made a specific kind of pitch on Moore's behalf. "We need more people in Washington, D.C., that will stand on principle and defend the Constitution," the senator said.

At face value, this was plainly ridiculous in light of Moore's brazenly unconstitutional beliefs, but Rand Paul's endorsement looked just a little worse yesterday when Time magazine published this piece.

Senate candidate Roy Moore believes that professional athletes who take a knee during the national anthem are breaking the law.

In an interview with TIME magazine, the Alabama Republican argued that NFL players and others who have protested police violence are violating a section of the U.S. code which outlines how people should conduct themselves when the anthem is played. (The code merely outlines proper etiquette, and there are no legal penalties outlined in the law.)

"It's against the law, you know that?" he said. "It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That's the law."

No, it's not. There is no such law. In fact, if Congress tried to pass such a law, it'd be unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent. As one justice famously wrote, "[T]hose who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

Have I mentioned that Roy Moore has spent much of his adult life as a judge -- albeit a judge who was twice removed from the bench for ethics violations? Presumably he'd have some basic familiarity with the idea of state-imposed exercises in patriotism.

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Sen. Patty Murray speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol July 10, 2014.

Trump's health care 'incoherence' undermines bipartisan deal

10/19/17 09:23AM

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has earned a reputation for being pretty mild-mannered, and we don't usually hear her publicly express frustrations with other policymakers. But yesterday, as the AP reported, even Murray found Donald Trump erraticism hard to take.

President Donald Trump is proving to be an erratic trading partner as he kicks thorny policy issues to Congress and then sends conflicting signals about what he really wants.

His rapid backpedal on a short-term health care fix this week is the latest example to leave Republicans and Democrats alike scratching their heads.

"The president has had six positions on our bill," an exasperated Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Wednesday after Trump offered multiple reads on a bipartisan plan to keep health insurance markets in business, ultimately ending with a thumbs-down.

That's not much of an exaggeration. Over a brief  period, the president was against, then for, then against, then for, then against a bipartisan agreement struck by Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The deal, in which both sides benefit, seeks to undo much of the damage Trump himself imposed on the system.

Indeed, the president personally called Lamar Alexander two weeks ago to encourage him to strike this deal, and according to Trump, White House officials participated directly in the talks that produced the compromise --- which made it all the more curious when the president rejected the proposal (after supporting it, and opposing it, and, well, you get the idea).

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the core problem appears to be Donald Trump's profound confusion over the basics. The president has somehow convinced himself that insurers have "made a fortune" from cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments, which isn't at all true. He also seems certain that these CSRs represent a "bailout" of the insurance industry, which doesn't make any sense at all. Slate and Vox yesterday both described Trump's posture yesterday with the same adjective: "incoherent."

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Team Trump suggests it's 'hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy'

10/19/17 08:40AM

Republican policymakers are confronting all kinds of challenges while trying to advance some kind of tax reform package, and near the top is a political problem: Americans don't want to see the wealthy get another giant tax break, and that appears to be the centerpiece of the GOP plan.

For the most part, Donald Trump and his allies have largely dealt with this dilemma by lying -- the president has repeatedly said working-class Americans would be the main beneficiaries, which is absurdly untrue -- but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made a very different case to Politico this week. As Mnuchin sees it, Republicans are giving the rich a big tax cut, but only because it's too darn difficult not to.

Mnuchin also changed course somewhat in his defense of the GOP's tax blueprint, conceding it would slash taxes on the wealthy but that doing so was unavoidable because rich people already pay so much in tax.

"The top 20 percent of the people pay 95 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of the people pay 81 percent of the taxes," he said. "So when you're cutting taxes across the board, it's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do."

This is amusing for a variety of reasons, but the phrase to remember is "when you're cutting taxes across the board." There's some truth to the fact that if one starts with an across-the-board tax cut as the principal goal, those Americans at the top are bound to end up as the biggest beneficiaries in real terms.

But therein lies the rub: an across-the-board tax cut isn't necessary. If Mnuchin and the other Republican architects of the party's tax plan wanted to craft a less regressive proposal, it'd be incredibly easy to do so.

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Image: Trump Announces Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act

The check Trump promised to send to a grieving father, but didn't

10/19/17 08:00AM

In January 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Iowa for veterans' charities, and at the end of the event, the Republican made a bold boast: he'd raised $6 million for vets, and he'd contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.

A few months later, the public learned that neither of Trump's claims were true: he'd exaggerated the total amount of donations, and the money Trump vowed to contribute from his personal finances hadn't been sent. The then-candidate scrambled to send the money only after journalists began asking about his broken promise.

Something eerily similar happened yesterday.

We talked briefly about the Washington Post's reporting on Chris Baldridge, whose son, Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, was killed in Afghanistan. The president called the father directly and said something unexpected.

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

A White House spokesperson insisted yesterday that a check "has been sent," and described the line of inquiry as "disgusting." But that led to an obvious question: did Trump send the money or not?

As it turns out, the White House did send the check -- yesterday. In other words, Trump kept his promise months after the fact, but only when confronted with questions, just like when he lied last year about the money he'd donated to veterans' charities.

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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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