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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Bipartisan agreement: Michael Flynn may have broken law

04/25/17 05:00PM

Remember when Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was seeking an immunity deal? It may have been out of concern that he broke a law or two.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn might have violated the law by not disclosing payments from the governments of Russia and Turkey, the bipartisan leaders of the House Oversight Committee said Tuesday.

"As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else. And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for the violation of law," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the committee, told reporters.
Let's note for the record that Chaffetz hasn't exactly been overly aggressive in holding Trump administration officials accountable for alleged misdeeds, so the fact that even the Utah Republican is publicly expressing concerns about this adds important context.

Indeed, when he spoke to reporters today, Chaffetz stood alongside House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who went on to note that the Trump White House has "refused" provide the oversight panel "with a single piece of paper in response to our bipartisan request, and that is unacceptable."

On that same point, the White House claiming executive privilege is apparently on the table as a possible response to congressional requests for information.

Of particular interest in this case was Flynn's application for security clearance, in which he was legally required to disclose foreign payments, but in this case, the retired general did not. Though his wording was a little clunky, Jason Chaffetz suggested to NBC News that Flynn may have broken the law.

"I see no information or no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz said.

Of course, a related question is why in the world the White House didn't vet Flynn thoroughly before he was named as the president's National Security Advisor. Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today Flynn filled out the appropriate forms, which may be true, but it doesn't explain why officials didn't examine those forms to see if the information therein was accurate.

This isn't especially complicated: if Flynn failed to follow the law and disclose the payments, was there no one in the administration responsible for due diligence?
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump brags about executive orders he used to condemn

04/25/17 12:53PM

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama, asked a question of increasing relevance yesterday: "Remember when the GOP thought that signing executive orders during the week and playing golf on the weekend would cause the Republic to fall?"

Why, yes, I do remember that.

As Donald Trump's 100th day as president quickly approaches, the White House has found itself with a difficult rhetorical pitch. On the one hand, Trump continues to say that the 100-day standard is "ridiculous" and unimportant, and the media's preoccupation with the metric is a needless distraction. On the other hand, Trump and his team are desperate to tell everyone what an amazing 100-day stretch it's been for the Republican administration. (The New York Times' headline on this was perfect: "Trump Wants It Known: Grading 100 Days Is 'Ridiculous' (but His Were the Best")

With this in mind, the Trump White House issued a press statement today insisting that this president "has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt." As proof, the White House's press office noted, "President Trump will have signed 30 executive orders during his first 100 days" -- the most seen from any chief executive since World War II.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to look at this boast from Team Trump. The first is to focus on substance, which doesn't do the White House any favors. The Guardian had a good report on this yesterday:
From the desk of the Oval Office to the podium at rallies filled with throngs of supporters, Trump has hailed his executive actions as "big stuff" and "very, very important". The flick of his pen is promoted by the White House a major "win" and a promise kept to voters.

"TRUMP TAKES ACTIONS TO GET WASHINGTON OUT OF THE WAY," blared the subject line of one email blast touting a rollback federal regulations.

But an analysis of Trump's executive actions as he nears the 100th day of his presidency on Saturday -- which thus far includes 25 executive orders, 24 memorandums and 20 proclamations -- show that Trump's actions are more cosmetic than they are substantive. Many of the actions establish big goals, but few provide legislative prescriptions. They order agency reviews and studies, ask for recommendations or tinker at the margins of existing law.
Some of these measures, in other words, are less examples of governing and more examples of issuing glorified press releases. The Guardian spoke to Cristina Rodríguez, a law professor at Yale University who covers constitutional and administrative law, who explained, "A lot of it is for show."
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.25.17

04/25/17 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia's competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has weighed in, throwing her support behind former Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Perriello will face Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in a June 13 primary.

* A Republican judge in North Carolina resigned yesterday, in part to protest the increasingly ridiculous tactics from Republicans in the state legislature to shape the state judiciary in brazenly partisan ways.

* In Georgia, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) ran into a little trouble yesterday for using his official website to help Jon Ossoff's special-election campaign. After a conservative group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) complained, Johnson's office removed the content.

* Looking ahead to next year's midterms, Politico reported yesterday, "Potential GOP candidates whom party leaders want to recruit are afraid of walking into a buzz saw, uncertain about what kind of political environment they'll be facing by the time the midterms come around."

* Kellyanne Conway went on an extended riff this morning on the ambiguity of who leads the Democratic Party in 2017, which isn't an unreasonable point, except she added, "Is it any one of these septuagenarians like Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden?" A septuagenarian is someone between the ages of 70 and 79. Donald Trump -- Conway's boss and the ostensible head of the Republican Party -- is the oldest American president ever elected, turning 70 last June.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

Under Trump, the era of big government is making a comeback

04/25/17 11:23AM

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week found that 57% of the country believes the government should do more to solve problems and meet the needs of Americans, as compared to 39% who believe the government is doing too much. That's striking at face value, but consider some historical context.

This same poll has been asking this same question for more than two decades, and these results are the most progressive responses ever seen.

The Pew Research Center's latest results on a similar question were a little different, but the data nevertheless pointed to a similar trend in Americans' attitudes.
As Congress faces an April 28 deadline to fund government operations, the public is now split in their general preferences on the size and scope of government: 48% say they would rather have a bigger government providing more services, while 45% prefer a smaller government providing fewer services.

This marks the first time in eight years that as many Americans have expressed a preference for a bigger as a smaller government. Support for bigger government has increased 7 percentage points since last September, when more said they preferred a smaller government offering fewer services (50%) than a bigger government providing more services (41%). The last time the public was divided on this question was in October 2008, just prior to the election of Barack Obama.
The same national survey pointed to growing support among Americans for increased government spending on a wide range of public priorities, including benefits for veterans, education, infrastructure, health care, and scientific research.

The next question is what's driving the changes in Americans' attitudes.
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Public, GOP not on the same page on health care, Russia scandal

04/25/17 10:40AM

In recent months, Republicans have worked from the assumption that the American electorate wants GOP policymakers to take a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act. After all, the thinking goes, Republicans made their contempt for "Obamacare" a key aspect of their 2016 platform, and voters rewarded the party with great power.

But the GOP is clearly misreading its mandate. Quinnipiac's latest national poll asked respondents, "Do you think that Republicans in Congress should try to repeal and replace Obamacare again, or do you think they should move on to other issues?" The results weren't close: only 36% of the public wants GOP lawmakers to keep trying, while 60% want Republicans to move on.

Other polling is pointing in the same direction.
As President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress gear up for another attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, an ABC News/Washington Post poll finds broad public preference for keeping and improving it -- including high levels of support for some of its key components.

Just 37 percent of Americans in the national survey say Obamacare should be repealed and replaced; 61 percent say it should be kept and fixed instead. Even more broadly, the public by 79-13 percent says Trump should seek to make the current law work as well as possible, not to make it fail as soon as possible, a strategy he's suggested.
Making matters slightly worse for Republicans, 62% of Americans support nationwide minimum insurance coverage standards (which the GOP is prepared to eliminate), and 70% support mandatory protections for those with pre-existing conditions (which the GOP is also prepared to scrap).

The trend line has to be even more discouraging for the right. As recently as January, this same poll found that 46% of American supporting repealing the ACA, while 47% were against the idea. After listening to the Republicans' pitch and seeing their alternative, it's 37% to 61% -- a striking shift in a short amount of time.

As the White House renews its pressure on congressional Republicans to advance the party's woefully unpopular reform package, polling like this is likely to weigh heavily on GOP lawmakers who are on the fence. With a rough midterm cycle on tap for next year, how eager are they to do the exact opposite of what most of the American mainstream wants on an issue of critical significance?
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Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump's proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Ivanka Trump's influence reaches unprecedented heights

04/25/17 10:14AM

The Women20 summit got underway this morning in Berlin, and the guest list featured some extraordinarily accomplished individuals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting the event, appearing alongside speakers such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, among others.

It was therefore a bit jarring to see Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump's 35-year-old daughter, on hand for the event.
Ivanka Trump was in Germany on Tuesday on her first international trip as a member of her father's presidential team. In doing so, the billionaire's daughter stepped into a land that prides itself on meritocracy. [...]

While Ivanka Trump was in Berlin to promote women, the president himself was front and center during a panel discussion at the summit. The first daughter defended Donald Trump after a handful of attendees booed and groaned when she mentioned his name, saying he had encouraged "thousands" of women who worked for him.
It's worth noting that Merkel invited Ivanka Trump to participate in today's gathering.

There's been a fair amount of scrutiny in recent months over Donald Trump giving his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an almost comically expansive policy portfolio, despite Kushner having no experience in government or public service. But Ivanka Trump's role in her father's administration is quickly reaching  comparable levels, despite her own lack of relevant background.

Yesterday, for example, Ivanka Trump had a piece in the Financial Times on women in the developing world -- an important topic the president's daughter has no background in. A few hours later, Donald Trump was in the Oval Office, speaking to the International Space Station, with Ivanka Trump at his side.

She's the first presidential daughter (or son) to have an office in the West Wing. She's one of the few presidential advisers to have her own chief of staff. She's offering the president guidance on matters of national security. She's meeting with world leaders -- while the business she still owns expands its opportunities in those leaders' countries.
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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

The problem with Trump's massive corporate tax cut

04/25/17 09:20AM

With Donald Trump's presidency nearing its 100th day, the White House is, by all appearances, feeling a little antsy about its lack of accomplishments. It's one of the reasons Team Trump is scrambling this week to fund the government without a shutdown, push Republicans on health care, and unveil some vague ideas about tax policy.

We'll reportedly see some kind of tax blueprint tomorrow, but in the meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports on one of the president's top new priorities.
President Donald Trump has ordered White House aides to draft a tax plan that slashes the corporate tax rate to 15%, even if that means a loss of revenue, according to people familiar with the directive.

During a meeting in the Oval Office last week, Mr. Trump told staff he wants a massive tax cut to sell to the American public, these people said. He told aides it was less important to him that such a plan could add to the federal budget deficit, though that might make it difficult to sell to GOP lawmakers who are wary of such a large tax cut.
It's worth pausing to note that the idea of congressional Republicans prioritizing the deficit over tax cuts is very hard to believe. GOP interest in balanced budgets has long been a ridiculous sham, used primarily as an excuse to reject popular Democratic priorities.

But even putting that aside, the White House's proposed corporate tax cut -- lowering the rate from 35% to 15% -- is worth paying close attention to. In fact, I heard from a Republican reader last night who made two points that we're likely to hear quite a bit: (1) the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, so in the name of competitiveness, a reduction is necessary; and (2) President Obama proposed cutting the corporate tax rate, too, so there's no reason to see this as a purely partisan endeavor.

Do these points have merit? Not exactly.
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State Department retreats after promoting Trump's for-profit business

04/25/17 08:40AM

Either the State Department didn't realize it'd be unethical to use official resources to promote one of Donald Trump's for-profit business, or the State Department did realize it and the promotion happened anyway.
A glowing description of President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago -- calling it the "winter White House" -- was posted on State Department websites, bringing criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats. [...]

The text appeared on the website for Share America, a State Department platform intended to "spark discussion and debate on important topics;" the website for the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom and the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Albania.
This was, for all intents and purposes, an advertisement endorsed by the U.S. government for one of the president's business ventures. It touted, for example, the Florida resort's "style and taste."

Norm Eisen, the chief ethics lawyer in the Obama White House, highlighted the obvious problem: there are ethics rules in place to prevent the use of government resources to promote private businesses, especially those owned by the president. The State Department promoting Mar-a-Lago is at least as problematic as Kellyanne Conway encouraging Fox News viewers to purchase Ivanka Trump-branded merchandise, if not more so.

The State Department eventually removed the online content, saying in a statement, "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post."

Oh, I see. The Trump administration didn't ignore conflict-of-interest rules; we just "misperceived" the administration's misstep.
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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

To prevent a shutdown, Trump begins an embarrassing surrender

04/25/17 08:00AM

Just last week, Donald Trump's White House tried to play a little hardball. With a government-shutdown deadline looming, Team Trump sent word to Capitol Hill that the president expects any spending bill to include taxpayer money for a border wall. Since there was no chance Democrats would agree to such a demand, it meant one of two things would happen.

Either Trump would shut the federal government down on Friday at midnight, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration, or Trump would surrender, which would be politically problematic for him and his administration.

The president has apparently chosen the latter.
President Donald Trump has indicated that he's willing to back away from his demand that a government funding bill include money to build a wall on the Southern border, a move that could help clear the way for Congress to avoid a shutdown.

A senior administration official tells NBC News that the president is open to obtaining funding for the border wall in the regular appropriations process for 2018 later this year instead of insisting it be included as part of the large spending bill to keep the government's lights on past this week.
According to a Washington Post report, the president personally hosted a private meeting with some conservative media figures yesterday afternoon and told them he's prepared to delay funding for the wall "until September."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters yesterday. "The president is working hard to keep the government open." And by "working hard," Mnuchin apparently meant, "crawling away from the corner he backed himself into without any plan for success."
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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.24.17

04/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A stunning death toll in Afghanistan: "Afghanistan's defense minister and army chief stepped down Monday amid growing outrage over the deaths of more than 100 soldiers in one of the deadliest Taliban attacks of the 16-year war."

* Related news: "U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Afghanistan for a surprise visit on Monday, just hours after the resignations of his Afghan counterpart and the army chief of staff following the deadliest attack by insurgents on government forces since the war began in 2001."

* Syria: "The Trump administration on Monday said it was imposing sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian government agency that produces chemical weapons and ballistic missiles, blacklisting them from travel and financial transactions in the wake of a sarin attack on civilians this month."

* It's tough to blame them: "With the future of Europe in French hands, the continent's leaders have cast aside their tradition of staying out of each other's elections and weighed in with some unsolicited advice: Pick the candidate who wants to make the European Union stronger, not the one who wants to blow it up."

* He was careful not to mention his successor: "Former President Barack Obama said Monday that his post-White House work will focus heavily on encouraging young people to become politically involved during his first public event since leaving office."

* Filling the swamp: "Former campaign aides, fundraisers and others with ties to President Trump and Vice President Pence have attracted dozens of new lobbying clients in Washington, raking in more than $2.2 million in lobbying fees in the first months of the administration, a USA TODAY analysis shows."

* I neglected to mention this on Friday: "The Treasury Department said Friday that it would not issue any waivers to U.S. companies -- including ExxonMobil -- seeking to do oil and gas drilling with Russia in violation of current economic sanctions."
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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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