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Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

The shutdown may be ending, but the fight is far from over

01/22/18 01:17PM

As government shutdowns go, this one was quite brief. The 2013 shutdown, for example, lasted 17 days. The one that started in December 1995 and ended in January 1996 took a month to resolve. The last three-day shutdown was way back in 1990.

That will apparently be the length of this one, too.

The three-day government shutdown is on the verge of ending after enough Senate Democrats joined Republicans to advance a three-week extension of funding in exchange for GOP assurances that Congress would take up a larger immigration bill in that time.

The stopgap funding measure, which needed 60 votes to clear a key procedural hurdle, was approved 81 to 18.

A pair of Republicans -- Utah's Mike Lee and Kentucky's Rand Paul -- joined 16 Democrats in opposing the measure. (Note, among the Democrats voting "no" were all of the senators rumored to be interested in a 2020 presidential campaign.)

It's worth emphasizing that members didn't for the exact same bill that passed the House on Friday. This one included reauthorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but it also extends funding for the government until Feb. 8, instead of Feb. 16.

In other words, this a three-week continuing resolution (CR), instead of a four-week measure.

The bill will still have to be approved by the House, where most Democrats are expected to balk, but the Republican majority is likely to pass it and send to Donald Trump for a signature. And at that point, we can basically start the clock on the next shutdown deadline.

So, what's changed since before the shutdown?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.22.18

01/22/18 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump couldn't make it to the high-dollar fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night, but Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel headlined the event in the president's place.

* The new Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Democrats with a 12-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot, 51% to 39%, among registered voters. Among likely voters, the Democratic advantage is even larger.

* On the other hand, the news was better for Republicans in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll and CNN poll, both of which showed the Democratic generic-ballot lead in single digits.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democratic U.S. House candidates, raised $105.4 million in 2017. In 2015, the last non-election year, the DCCC raised $68.2 million.

* CBS's John Dickerson asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) yesterday about his possible retirement plans. The Republican leaders said he and his wife would discuss his plans "in late spring."

* How annoyed are some Illinois Democrats with incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.)? Two of his in-state colleagues from his own party -- Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez -- have endorsed Lipinski's primary challenger, Marie Newman.

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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.

Trump administration hedges on Florida's special drilling deal

01/22/18 11:20AM

It's been nearly two weeks since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that Florida would be exempt from the Trump administration's new coastal oil-drilling plan, touching off a controversy that led many governors -- from both parties and both coasts -- to demand equal treatment.

Complicating matters, it now appears the Trump administration may not honor Zinke's promise to Gov. Rick Scott (R). The New York Times  reported:

In a surprise statement undercutting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's announcement last week that he was exempting Florida from President Trump's offshore drilling plan, a senior Interior Department official said Friday that Florida's coastal waters had not been excluded after all. [...]

On Friday, the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Interior Department agency that manages offshore leasing, said Mr. Zinke's Florida decision was not final.... Instead, the bureau was pushing ahead with the required review of resources off the nation's shores, including Florida's, he said. A decision on whether to offer leases off Florida as part of the administration's offshore program would come after that analysis.

Walter Cruickshank, the bureau's acting director, told a House Committee on Natural Resources panel on Friday that Zinke's statement was "not a formal action." Cruickshank added that he didn't know anyone at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management whom Zinke had consulted before announcing special treatment for Florida.

In other words, the controversial cabinet secretary had effectively shared his opinion, but he didn't announce an official policy -- though it looked at the time as if Zinke had done exactly that.

Do you ever get the feeling that, a year into the Trump era, these guys really don't know what they're doing? That the president and his cabinet members are just winging it, making up bold policy moves on the fly without a whole lot of thought or discussion?

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Rep. Patrick Meehan

Key GOP rep removed from ethics panel after harassment settlement

01/22/18 10:40AM

Any time there are allegations of sexual harassment against a person in a position of authority, it's a story that deserves to be taken seriously, but given the broader context, the New York Times' report on Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) is especially important.

Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.

A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her -- first in person, and then in a handwritten letter -- and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.

According to the Times' reporting, the woman found it necessary to begin working from home, before ultimately quitting. She initiated the complaint process with the congressional Office of Compliance and received a settlement from the Pennsylvania Republican's congressional office fund.

Meehan's office denies the allegations, but when the Times asked why the lawmaker agreed to the settlement and the confidentiality provision if the allegations were false, the congressman's spokesperson did not respond.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Trump aims low, falsely claims Dems are 'complicit' in murders

01/22/18 10:00AM

As the federal government shut down as Friday night turned to Saturday morning, the White House issued a formal written statement that referred to Senate Democrats as "obstructionist losers." One might ordinarily expect to see such rhetoric on a far-right Twitter feed, not official statements from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Soon after, the White House changed its voicemail message. "Thank you for calling the White House," the recorded voice said. "Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."

In Donald Trump's America, standards have clearly fallen. Indeed, it's important to understand just how low this president is prepared to go.

After the government shutdown went into full swing this weekend, Trump's campaign operation released a brutal advertisement slamming Democrats as "complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants" if they stand in the way of the administration's attempts at curbing illegal immigration.

I'm not aware of any previous instance in which a sitting president accused a major political party of being "complicit" in murders. Indeed, the fact that Trump World's new, 30-second ad isn't a massive national outrage is evidence that we're all getting a little too inured to this president debasing the political discourse and destroying American norms.

What's more, on a substantive level, the point of the ad isn't just to attack Democrats; it's also to persuade the public to be afraid of immigrants. Vox explained, "It’s important to note that despite the White House’s fear-mongering on the dangers of illegal immigrants, there is no proof immigrants raise crime rates in America or are particularly prone to crime. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary showing immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. There is not extensive data on the exact number of homicides committed by undocumented immigrants."

But to fully appreciate the absurdity of the circumstances, one had to have seen "Meet the Press" yesterday.

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House Members-Elect Pose For Group Photo At The U.S. Capitol

Democratic veteran takes aim at 'Cadet Bone Spurs'

01/22/18 09:20AM

In the runup to the current government shutdown, Donald Trump tweeted  almost  obsessively  about the military, attacking Democrats' patriotism by arguing that failing to endorse the Republican proposal would hurt U.S. troops. It's a cheap line about an issue the president doesn't understand.

And as the L.A. Times  reported, it wasn't just Trump.

Speaking to U.S. troops involved in bombing Islamic State militants in Syria, Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday launched a broadside at Democrats over the government shutdown, accusing the opposition party of "playing politics with military pay."

It is unusual for a sitting vice president to use a meet-and-greet with service members to make political attacks.

We could note at this point that Pence, a fringe congressman in the not-too-distant past, used to be rather enthusiastic about his support for government shutdowns. Or we could note how dangerous it is for national officeholders to take steps like Pence's to mix partisan politics and military service. (Phillip Carter wrote last summer, "This is what leaders do in banana republics: Instruct the people with guns to join the political fray.")

But perhaps the most important detail is the simple fact that Pence appeared to be brazenly lying to servicemen and women. Almost immediately after the shutdown began, it was a Democrat -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- who sought support for a measure that would protect the troops' paychecks from the effects of the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejected it. Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) pushed the same idea, and again Republicans balked.

This stands in sharp contrast to the 2013 shutdown. On the first day of the shutdown, Barack Obama not only signed a bipartisan measure to protect military paychecks, he also recorded a video message to the troops to assuage their concerns.

This year, Trump has made no comparable message to the military, has signed no legislation to protect servicemembers' paychecks, and watched his vice president play politics with the troops in ways that pushed the boundaries of propriety.

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Image: Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March in Washington

As millions participated in Women's Marches, Trump sought credit

01/22/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump was probably feeling a little antsy on Saturday. On the first anniversary of his presidential inaugural, the Republican expected to be at his private club in Florida, but was instead stuck at the White House, detached from the process surrounding the government shutdown, pretending to be busy.

Assuming Trump turned on the television -- as is his wont -- the president likely saw coverage of a shutdown he helped create, but was powerless to end, coupled with coverage of massive national protests, featuring legions of activists who are resisting his agenda.

So, naturally, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to take credit for the progressive activism. "Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months," the president declared.

In reality, of course, Trump's presidency hasn't had any "historic milestones" -- at least none that he should be bragging about -- and the health of the economy has plenty of precedent. But even putting that aside, if Trump wasn't clear on the motivation behind the events over the weekend, he wasn't paying close enough attention.

Demonstrators and activists gathered in cities worldwide on Sunday for a second day of Women's Marches, a year after millions worldwide rallied to highlight women's issues and challenge the presidency and policies of Donald Trump. [...]

The largest demonstrations [on Saturday] appeared to take place in Los Angeles, where authorities said there were about 600,000 attendees, and in New York, where about 200,000 people participated. Tens of thousands has also gathered in Oakland and San Diego, according to authorities. Demonstrators also rallied in Milwaukee, Denver, Dallas, as well as Montgomery, Alabama, and many other towns and cities all over the country.

The NBC affiliate in Chicago put the estimated total of participants in the city's Women's March at 300,000, a figure that "exceeded both expectations on turnout as well as the attendance at last year's march, organizers said."

One of the core messages of the marches from last January was participants declaring, "We will not go away." Twelve months later, it's clear they've honored that commitment: this is a movement that endures.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

As the shutdown continues, Trump relegated to bystander status

01/22/18 08:00AM

In Barack Obama's first term as president, many of his critics embraced a curious line of criticism. New Jersey's Chris Christie (R) insisted in 2011, for example, that the Democrat "stop being a bystander in the Oval Office."

It wasn't long before other presidential detractors echoed the sentiment. Charles Krauthammer pushed the "bystander" line on Fox News, and even the Washington Post's Dana Milbank said he too saw Obama as a "bystander."

The reproach always struck me misguided, if not bizarre, given Obama's actual record, but it turns out the "bystander" thesis was simply too early: Donald Trump is in the White House during a government shutdown he helped create, and instead of working on a deal to resolve the problem, the Republican president is doing effectively nothing.

The Washington Post reported that Trump, at least for now, prefers a "hide-and-tweet strategy" that White House officials like because it means he won't work on an agreement the far right disapproves of. CNN added that the president has already told congressional leaders that they should work out a deal on their own and present it to him once it's done -- as opposed to Trump taking a hands-on role in the negotiations.

And the New York Times  reports that Trump has very little understanding of the current debate and is passively disinterested in getting up to speed. Worse, the article suggested the "unusually disengaged" president isn't really in control of the White House's role in the process.

As the government shutdown continued for its second day on Sunday, one thing was clear to both sides of the negotiations to end it: The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve.

Both sides have reason to be confused. Each time Mr. Trump has edged toward compromise with Democrats, he has appeared to be reined in by his own staff, which shares the hawkish immigration stance that fueled his campaign. And Republican leaders, bruised by past experience with a president who has rarely offered them consistent cover on a politically challenging issue, are loath to guess at his intentions.

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt added over the weekend that the "stunning reality" is that the president isn't even on the same page as his own White House team.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's Obama-era rhetoric on shutdowns comes back to haunt him

01/20/18 10:01AM

Just a few weeks after the 2013 government shutdown was resolved, Donald Trump published a tweet offering his definition of leadership: "Whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible."

It's a safe bet the Republican didn't realize at the time that he'd soon be president, desperately trying to avoid responsibility for his own failures.

In 2011, when Republicans appeared poised to shut down the government, Trump sat down with NBC's Meredith Vieira and focused his attention on one man: Barack Obama.

VIEIRA: So if there were a partial shutdown of the government come Friday, that would be OK with you.

TRUMP: In my opinion -- you know, I hear the Democrats are going to be blamed and the Republicans are going to be blamed. I actually think the president would be blamed. If there is a shutdown, and it's not going to be a horrible shutdown because, as you know, things will sort of keep going.... If there is a shutdown I think it would be a tremendously negative mark on the president of the United States. He's the one that has to get people together.

He kept going (and going). "I'm a deal man," Trump added. "I've made hundreds and hundreds of deals and transactions. He never did deals before. How can you expect a man that's not a deal man that never did a deal, other than frankly becoming president of the United States, he never did a deal, how's he going to corral all these people to get them to do a deal?"

Asked how he would prevent a shutdown, Trump boasted, "I would get everybody together and we'd have a budget and it would get done." Reminded that the relevant officials had already gotten together, he added, "[T]hey don't have the right leader. You don't have the right leader."

By this reasoning, the fact that the government shutdown is apparently proof that we don't currently have the right leader.

What's more, this wasn't the only quote along these lines.

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As the government shuts down, 'it's as bad as it looks'

01/20/18 09:07AM

Americans have seen a few government shutdowns in recent decades, but they've never seen one when one party controls all of Congress and the White House.

The fact that the latest shutdown happened on the anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration is a little on the nose for my tastes, but clearly, the political gods are not without a sense of humor.

It's entirely possible that the current shutdown, which began just nine hours ago, will be resolved fairly quickly. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Capitol Hill this afternoon, at which point they'll begin work anew on an agreement that will need bipartisan support. Several senators suggested overnight that a deal was near, so it's at least possible that this won't be a prolonged breakdown.

But while we wait for that work to continue, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the circumstances that led to last night's failure. NBC News' report touched on a detail that stood out for me after Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House yesterday:

Schumer presented a proposal to break the logjam to Trump in a mid-day meeting over cheeseburgers at the White House, according to multiple Democrats -- a plan to fund the government over the next two years, including money for disaster aid, the low-income children's health insurance program, opioid funding, border security and relief for those Dreamers covered by DACA.

"I even put the border wall on the table," Schumer said.

But when Schumer left the meeting, the concept started to unravel when McConnell and Trump's chief-of-staff John Kelly opposed it, according to a person familiar with the situation.

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt added that it was Kelly who called Schumer after the meeting, telling the senator that the framework Schumer and Trump agreed to wasn't far enough to the right.

And if these details sound ridiculous, there's a very good reason for that. It suggests we have a person in the office of the presidency, but we don't have a president in any meaningful sense.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.19.18

01/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* There are only six-and-a-half hours remaining: "With hours left before a possible shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he and President Trump made 'some progress' in a private meeting about keeping the government open but did not strike a final deal."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would consider a challenge to President Trump's latest effort to limit travel from countries said to pose a threat to the nation's security, adding a major test of presidential power to a docket already crowded with blockbusters."

* The first attempt didn't go well: "The Department of Justice announced on Friday that it will retry Senator Robert Menendez, the senior Democratic senator from New Jersey, on federal corruption charges, two months after his initial trial ended in a mistrial after a jury said it could not reach a verdict."

* I'm a little skeptical of this: "In a major change announced Friday to the Newsfeed used by 2 billion users every month, Facebook will now ask users to rank the news organizations they trust and abdicate its role as an arbitrator of what content people see."

* Climate crisis: "President Trump may have doubts about climate change, but a pair of new federal reports indicate that our planet's long-term warming trend continues -- and that 2017 was one of the hottest years on record."

* HHS: "Citing President Trump's 'pro-life mission,' the Health and Human Services Department announced actions on Friday that are designed to roll back key health-care policies of the Obama administration."

* Noted without comment: "Former Trump White House staffer Sebastian Gorka has an active warrant out for his arrest in Hungary, according to the Hungarian police's website."

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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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