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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House abandons consistency when applying alleged principles

02/24/17 08:40AM

At yesterday's White House press briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about the Trump administration's shift away from protections for transgender kids. The president's spokesperson had a talking point he repeated over and over again.

"It's a states' rights issue," Spicer said. "And that's entirely what [Donald Trump] believes -- that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that's their right. But it shouldn't be the federal government getting in the way of this." He added, "We are a states' rights party. The president on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states' rights."

In all, the press secretary referred to "states' rights" eight times yesterday.

Spicer, however, did not use the phrase when the discussion turned to marijuana use.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he expects the Justice Department to increase enforcement of laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana, a departure from the Obama administration's less aggressive stance as states began legalizing recreational as well as medical use of the drug.

"There are two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer told reporters Thursday. "There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."
Asked if the Trump administration intends to take action in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the press secretary said, "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement" of existing federal law.

In other words, the Trump White House is absolutely committed to states' rights, except when it isn't.
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Image: FILE PHOTO: Trump speaking by phone with Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

White House contacts with FBI take Russia scandal in new direction

02/24/17 08:00AM

Last week, multiple news organizations reported that members of Donald Trump's campaign team had been in contact with Russian officials before Election Day, despite claims to the contrary. Those communications, if true, would mean the Republican officials were speaking with Vladimir Putin's government even as it was illegally subverting the American election.

Almost immediately, the White House denounced the coverage, but according to a CNN report, that's not all the White House did: Team Trump also reached out to the FBI, even as the bureau's investigation was ongoing.
The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official.

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.

The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.
Overnight, the West Wing didn't exactly deny the outreach to the FBI, but rather, tried to put as benign a spin on the developments as possible. "We didn't try to knock the story down," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "We asked them to tell the truth."

We now know, of course, that the FBI rebuffed the White House's requests and officials at the bureau said nothing about the underlying allegations. The trouble, however, is that the White House reaching out to the FBI at all has the potential to be a scandal unto itself.

To borrow Watergate framing, it shifts the focus to the "cover-up" instead of the "crime."
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.23.17

02/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump on Thursday again expressed a desire for America to be an unparalleled military power, saying he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to make it 'top of the pack.'"

* North Dakota: "The protest site for the Dakota Access pipeline has been cleared after some demonstrators refused to leave Wednesday, when a deadline for evacuation passed. The Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared as of 2:09 p.m. local time, a spokesperson for the North Dakota Joint Information Center told ABC News."

* Counting heads, the Senate would struggle to pass a Republican repeal law: "[Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski], in her annual address to the Alaska Legislature, told lawmakers that she would not vote to repeal the expanded Medicaid health care program -- a key component of the health law -- as long as the Legislature wants to keep it."

* Perhaps the president could comment on this: "A 51-year-old Olathe man was charged Thursday in a Wednesday night shooting at a [Kansas] bar that left one man dead and two others wounded.... At least one witness reportedly heard the suspect yell 'get out of my country' shortly before shooting men he thought were Middle Eastern. Both men, engineers at Garmin, appear to be originally from India."

* Pakistan: "For the first time, after years of appeasing certain Islamist militant groups for political and religious reasons, the government has reluctantly agreed to allow the armed forces to enter Punjab province, authorized with special powers to hunt down, arrest and shoot suspected militants."

* I think we can guess what will happen next: "Two lobbying groups representing auto manufacturers have written letters urging the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to reverse a decision last month by the Obama administration to move forward with tougher fuel-economy standards that carmakers are supposed to meet by 2025."

* A powerful piece from Rumana Ahmed: "When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days."
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Image: US President Trump signs executive order to allow Dakota,. Keystone pipelines

Trump's 'military operation' apparently isn't a military operation

02/23/17 04:20PM

Just this week, it seemed Donald Trump's administration was relying a little too often on the "Never-Mind-What-Trump-Said" approach to public policy, and today, it happened again.

At a White House event this morning, the president declared that, thanks to his policies, "we're getting really bad dudes out of this country." Trump added, "And they're the bad ones, and it's a military operation because that has been allowed to come into our country."

It was a striking quote for a variety of reasons -- including plenty of reports about immigrants facing deportation who are not "really bad dudes" -- but it was that reference to a "military operation" that seemed especially problematic. There are all kinds of legal constraints on what the U.S. military can do on domestic soil, and if Trump is implementing his deportation policy while utilizing American troops, a controversial policy is about to get a whole lot more problematic.

Which is why it was important that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, talking to reporters during an official visit to Mexico, clarified matters.
"Listen to this: no -- repeat, no -- use of military forces in immigration operations. None.... So again, I repeat, no use of military forces in immigration.

"At least half of you get that right, because it continually comes up in the reporting."
Look, I don't blame Kelly for pushing reporters to get the details right, but under the circumstances, journalists aren't the ones causing confusion. It was, after all, his boss -- the president of the United States -- who referred to the deportations as a "military operation" about three hours before the DHS secretary was saying the exact opposite.
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Pence's claims on ACA and jobs fall apart under scrutiny

02/23/17 03:47PM

In early December, during the presidential transition process, Mike Pence told ABC News, "[W]e're working on President-Elect Trump's commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's all going to begin right out of the gate by repealing this disastrous policy that's been killing jobs." Yesterday, the Republican vice president said something similar, calling the Affordable Care Act "a job killer."

There are some reality-based criticisms of the ACA, pointing to legitimate areas where the law could be changed, but Pence's argument isn't one of them.

Let's revisit our previous coverage, looking anew at how the data has changed since the last time the vice president got this wrong. As regular readers may recall, in 2014, the first full year of ACA implementation, job growth reached a 15-year high. In fact, the first two years of ACA implementation were the best back-to-back years for job creation since the 1990s.

But we can go a little further with this. Forbes’ Dan Diamond made a great observation, which inspired the above chart, noting private-sector employment in the United States over the last eight years. The red line shows the final two years of the Bush/Cheney era, as the private sector shed jobs; the light blue line shows the first year of the Obama era, when the Great Recession started to end; and the hard blue line shows March 2010 through the present.
 
As Diamond added a while back, “Obamacare was signed into law in March 2010. The private sector hasn’t lost jobs since.”

This continues to be true. The U.S. economy created over 2.2 million jobs in 2016, which was the sixth consecutive year in which we’ve crossed the 2 million threshold. The last time Americans saw a six-year stretch like this was also the late 1990s.
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ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

The travails of being Donald Trump's Secretary of State

02/23/17 12:50PM

In most presidential administrations, Secretary of State is the cabinet post. Though officially no cabinet secretary is above his or her colleagues, being the nation's chief diplomat, traveling the world representing the United States and directly shaping the foreign policy of the world's strongest superpower, is a unique public-service opportunity.

At least, it's supposed to be.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's Secretary of State, is in Mexico today, trying to clean up the mess the president created by antagonizing our neighbor. There's been a lot of that happening lately, with Tillerson in "perpetual cleanup mode," trying to reassure countries rattled by the president's antics.

Making matters worse, the Washington Post reports that the State Department itself has been sidelined by the White House.
The Trump administration in its first month has largely benched the State Department from its long-standing role as the pre­eminent voice of U.S. foreign policy, curtailing public engagement and official travel and relegating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to a mostly offstage role.

Decisions on hiring, policy and scheduling are being driven by a White House often wary of the foreign policy establishment and struggling to set priorities and write policy on the fly.
For weeks, it seems the president has largely ignored Tillerson, not bothering to even alert him to developments that would affect his duties. When the White House unveiled its Muslim ban, for example, no one provided Tillerson with any details about the policy in advance, and Tillerson was forced to tell West Wing officials "that he was baffled over not being consulted."

When Trump balked at a two-state solution in the Middle East, the Secretary of State learned about it by watching the comments live on television, and no one from the State Department was welcome at the meeting between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the White House put Iran "on notice" a week earlier, no one checked in with State about this, either.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.23.17

02/23/17 12:00PM

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

* If you missed last night's show, the chair of the Montana Republican Party explicitly warned state policymakers against making voting too easy, insisting that higher turnout gives Democrats too big an advantage.

* To get a sense of how the Republican campaign against the Affordable Care Act is going, Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) town-hall event last night offered a big hint. One local woman asked everyone who's benefited from the law to stand up. The response from attendees was striking.

* In November, Donald Trump won South Carolina by 14 points, picking up 54% of the vote. The latest statewide poll from Winthrop University, however, puts the president's approval rating at 44%. South Carolina will soon be home to a congressional special election in the 5th district.

* Similarly, Trump won Tennessee in November by 24 points, picking up 60% of the vote. A new poll from Middle Tennessee State University, however, puts the president's approval rating in the Volunteer State at 51%.

* In Texas, where Trump won by 9 points, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll shows the president with an approval rating of just 46% in the Lone Star State.

* In Georgia's upcoming congressional special election, local polling shows Jon Ossoff (D) as the top contender in the race to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price (R).
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Ads tout Republican health care plan that doesn't exist

02/23/17 11:23AM

Congressional Republicans are feeling quite antsy following the recent wave of progressive activism, including some fierce audiences at town-hall events, and GOP leaders are eager to ease their burden. The Washington Post noted yesterday that 22 House Republicans are "about to get some air cover from a conservative outside group aligned with Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and his leadership team."
The American Action Network, founded by veteran GOP fundraisers to support the speaker's agenda, will spend $2.2 million on TV and digital buys over the next two weeks to promote GOP efforts related to overhauling the law across two dozen media markets.

That's in addition to $5.2 million already spent on Obamacare-related advertising since the start of the year.
A total of $7.4 million in ad buys in the winter after an election is a considerable investment, and it got me wondering exactly what kind of message the American Action Network is pushing.

The most recent ad features a woman who says, after criticizing the Affordable Care Act, "[W]e need to move forward with a new plan that Republicans are putting forward. I support the Republicans' effort to fix health care for the American people."

This comes a month after a different ad from the American Action Network that touted a new GOP plan that provides "more choices and better care at lower costs" and "provides peace of mind to people with preexisting conditions." The commercial added, "House Republicans have a plan to get there without disrupting existing coverage."

To which the obvious follow-up question is, "They do? Since when?"
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Image: FILE PHOTO: Trump speaking by phone with Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

Abandoning policy plans, Trump's 'fine-tuned machine' stalls

02/23/17 10:41AM

When Donald Trump unveiled his Muslim ban, the president made it seem as if he were responding to a national security crisis in need of immediate attention. When the administration's policy failed in the courts, Team Trump scurried to come up with a quick solution.

More recently, however, the White House's schedule has slowed quite a bit. After Trump vowed he'd see his opponents "in court" -- a phrase apparently intended to signal new judicial appeals -- Trump's lawyers quietly moved in the opposite direction. When the administration decided to move forward with a new, revised policy, Trump said we'd see his executive order "toward the beginning or middle, at the latest" of this week.

Yesterday, the White House said the new policy would be unveiled next week.

In the meantime, Team Trump's plans to unveil proposals on health care reform and tax reform haven't just been delayed; CNBC reported yesterday those plans have been scrapped altogether.
Last year, candidate Donald Trump promised to repeal Obamacare and give Americans a better, cheaper replacement. Last month, President-elect Trump vowed, "we'll be filing a plan" as soon as the Senate confirmed his Health secretary.

But, post-confirmation, Health Secretary Tom Price has told House Republicans "the administration wouldn't be sending us a bill" after all, said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Instead, Cole added, the White House "will cooperate and provide input into what we do."

Two weeks ago, Trump said at the White House that "we're going to be announcing something over the next, I would say, two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax." But House Republicans do not expect the president to announce his own tax plan; instead, they anticipate he will simply align himself with theirs.
The "fine-tuned machine" Trump is so excited about doesn't appear to be running especially well.
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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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