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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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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

FBI examines whether Russian money went to the NRA

01/19/18 04:42PM

The National Rifle Association's interest in recent presidential elections is, at face value, mundane. The NRA has repeatedly expressed its support for Republican candidates, and the fact that it backed Donald Trump in 2016 was one of the least surprising developments of the year.

But many have wondered about the degree to which the NRA intervened on the GOP ticket's behalf in 2016. Four years earlier, for example, the far-right group was eager to defeat Barack Obama, and to that end, it spent $10 million to boost Mitt Romney's candidacy.

In 2016, the NRA spent triple that to support Trump.

What's more, most of money the group spent on the election was spent by part of the NRA's operation that isn't required to disclose its donors. McClatchy News reported this week that the FBI, according to the reporting, is exploring possible connections to Russia.

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

As Rachel explained on last night's show, Torshin, Putin's friend, has faced allegations of money laundering and connections to organized crime.

He's also a longtime NRA member who, during the 2016 campaign, made multiple efforts to arrange behind-the-scenes meetings between Trump and Russians.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

New polling highlights shutdown risks for Republicans

01/19/18 12:59PM

In early 2011, congressional Republicans moved the nation awfully close to a government shutdown, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents who'd they'd blame. It wasn't especially close: 45% said they'd hold GOP lawmakers responsible, while 31% would blame the Democratic president.

Nearly seven years later, with another potential shutdown on tap, conditions are slightly worse for the Republican majority.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds substantially greater Republican risk in a government shutdown, with Americans by a 20-point margin saying they're more likely to blame Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress than the congressional Democrats if one occurs.

Forty-eight percent in the national survey say they'd blame Trump and the GOP, vs. 28 percent who'd blame the Democrats in Congress. An additional 18 percent would blame both equally.

As is often the case in Washington mud fights, political independents make the difference: They're more likely to blame the Republican side by 46-25 percent.

The survey was in the field from Monday through Thursday, as the threat of a shutdown became more acute.

The results are more than just a peripheral curiosity. Ideally, elected officials would be principally concerned with how a shutdown would adversely affect the country, but even for those who have electoral interests on their minds, public opinion should matter: if you're a Republican lawmaker, and you're at all concerned about the 2018 midterm elections, today's polling is a reminder that the GOP is taking a big risk.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.19.18

01/19/18 12:00PM

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

* The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court's order on North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts yesterday. The impact will be significant: the move will almost certainly leave the current, Republican-rigged map in place for the 2018 midterms.

* A new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Donald Trump with a 39% approval rating, "the lowest mark in the poll's history for any modern president ending his first year." Last month, the same poll showed the president with a 41% approval rating.

* Speaking of polling, the new Pew Research Center survey shows Democrats with a sizable advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 53% to 39%.

* In Ohio, Republicans made every effort to recruit author J.D. Vance to run for the Senate this year, but this morning, he declined, saying, it's "just not a good time."

* In Mississippi, Brandon Presley, a leader on the state Public Service Commission, was the Democrats' top choice to run for the Senate, but he announced yesterday that he's skipping the race.

* Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) announced this week that he's running for re-election to the U.S. House, which wouldn't ordinarily be notable, except GOP officials hoped he'd run for either governor or the U.S. Senate.

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Trump's rhetoric about shutdowns and the military doesn't add up

01/19/18 11:21AM

Ahead of last night's House vote on the latest stopgap spending measure, Donald Trump said via Twitter that the bill had to pass because "our Military needs it."

This has quickly become the White House's standard line: a government shutdown, Trump said yesterday, would be "devastating to our military." (The draft-dodging president, who has a dubious record on the issue, then questioned Democrats' patriotism, arguing that Dems "care very little" about the military.) Vice President Mike Pence added, "At a time when we have U.S. soldiers in harm's way in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be unconscionable for Democrats in Congress to jeopardize funding for our military."

And that's effectively what the debate has come down to: if Democrats fail to go along with Republican funding plans, we're supposed to believe they don't support the troops.

It's a lazy and cynical argument for a wide variety of reasons -- not the least of which is that there are several Republicans who oppose their own party's plan, and they probably won't appreciate these attacks -- but as the Washington Post  noted today, the line isn't even true.

With the threat of a government shutdown looming, Trump repeatedly has warned that the military could be shut down or devastated and that his plans to "rebuild" the armed forces would be thrown into question. In support of the president's claims, the White House points to comments from the Pentagon's comptroller, who said in December that a shutdown could stop maintenance on weapons systems.

A federal law generally bars agencies from continuing to work at taxpayer expense during a shutdown, but that law provides major exceptions for military and intelligence operations, national security and emergencies.

The Defense Department's most recent contingency plan for a shutdown says all active-duty military personnel would stay on the job, as well as 22 percent of its civilian employees. Moreover, the president has broad authority to decide who stays on the job during a shutdown — an authority that extends to maintenance workers for military weapons systems.

That's right, but we can take this a step further.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The routinization of 'governing by near-death experience'

01/19/18 10:43AM

I remember several years ago the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty had a piece highlighting "the cumulative effect of ... governing by near-death experience." She added, "It is as though Washington has had backward evolution -- operating as a primitive, leaderless village where petulance passes for governance."

That was in 2013. The near-death experiences persist.

For most of American history, government shutdowns -- even threats of shutdowns -- weren't a credible option available to policymakers. There were some "funding gaps" in the 1970s, which some might consider shutdowns, but federal officials weren't furloughed and those brief interruptions didn't resemble what you and I consider shutdowns.

The incidents became a little more common in the 1980s and 1990s, but the routinization of shutdown politics didn't begin in earnest until Republicans took control of the House in 2011.

* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation’s debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.

* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.

* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.

* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.

* September 2015: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* November 2015: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* September 2016: Republicans threaten another shutdown.

* April 2017: Donald Trump threatens a shutdown, which is only avoided by Congress ignoring his demands.

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Image: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence

Trump expects the economy to rescue him and Republicans

01/19/18 10:03AM

Donald Trump spoke in Pittsburgh yesterday, where he expressed great optimism about his party's electoral prospects.

President Trump told supporters on Thursday that strong economic growth under his administration will help Republicans "win a lot of elections" later this year. [...]

"If we keep it up like this, we're going to win a lot of elections," Trump predicted, drawing massive applause from the crowd. "'It's the economy stupid,' you ever hear that one?"

This has quickly become a standard presidential talking point: confronted with polls showing him and his party facing headwinds, Trump turns his attention to the economy. If economic conditions are strong, he assumes, the party in control will be rewarded by voters.

The truth is more complicated.

The economy, for example, is faring well right now, but conditions aren't that good. The White House may choose to ignore this, but job growth in 2017 was the slowest since 2010. For that matter, if a healthy economy necessarily bolstered current officeholders, Trump wouldn't have a woeful approval rating and Republicans wouldn't be struggling in special elections.

What's more, there's the question of credit: a Quinnipiac poll released this week asked respondents, "Who do you believe is more responsible for the current economy?" A 49% plurality gave Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, credit.

But even if we put all of that aside, there's still recent history to contend with.

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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Trump's controversial inaugural fund faces new scrutiny

01/19/18 09:20AM

When it comes to transparency, Donald Trump's brief career in politics has consistently come up far short. We are, after all, talking about a president with secret tax returns, secret visitor logs, and secret customers to his privately owned businesses.

But we've also been keeping an eye on Trump's inaugural committee, which by some metrics, was a great success. After his election, the Republican eliminated caps on individual contributions -- caps that George W. Bush and Barack Obama both utilized -- and sold "exclusive access" for seven-figure contributions.

The result was a fundraising juggernaut: Trump's inaugural committee took in nearly $107 million, much of which went unspent during poorly attended festivities.

Whatever happened to that money? USA Today  pulled on the thread this week.

Nearly a year after President Trump's inauguration, the committee that raised a record $106.7 million for the event has not disclosed how much surplus money it still has or provided a final accounting of its finances.

"We must decline comment at this time," Kristin Celauro, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee's chairman, Thomas Barrack, said this week in response to a USA TODAY inquiry about the committee's finances.

The plan, apparently, was for the committee to donate excess funds to charity, and Trump World planned to release details about those contributions in April. That didn't happen.

Five months later, in September, the committee said it would donate $3 million to three non-profit groups, but we don't yet know if those contributions were made or how much of the leftover funds that money constitutes.

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As shutdown deadline nears, Trump faces a leadership test

01/19/18 08:47AM

Federal policymakers still have about 15 hours before reaching the shutdown deadline, and it's possible the relevant players will work something out. It just doesn't appear especially likely.

Around 7:30 p.m. (ET) last night, House Republicans passed their stopgap spending bill on a 230-197 vote. GOP leaders are well aware of the fact that the bill -- a "continuing resolution" (or CR) -- needs to clear a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate, and they're well aware that their measure doesn't have the votes, but the House passed it anyway.

Senate Democratic leaders urged the upper chamber to vote on the House plan last night, defeating it quickly so that lawmakers could begin work on an alternative, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) balked, scheduling a vote for today, hoping the added pressure will persuade some wavering members to vote for the GOP proposal. (This won't work.)

As NBC News reported, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also offered "a shorter stop-gap measure, lasting just four or five days, to be used as a hard deadline on an agreement on government spending levels and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA." That, too, would prevent a shutdown, though Republicans do not appear amenable, at least not yet.

But of particular interest was another idea Schumer presented last night: the New York senator suggested the top four members of Congress -- the Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers -- simply get together and craft a compromise. McConnell objected to this, too, insisting that the president is "not irrelevant" in our system of government, and his views "have not been made fully apparent yet."

Donald Trump, I believe that's your cue.

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Stormy Daniels visits a local restaurant in downtown New Orleans, Wednesday, May 6, 2009.

Trump World's payment to porn star comes into sharper focus

01/19/18 08:00AM

It's been a week since the Wall Street Journal first reported on an unexpected controversy surrounding the president and a porn star. The article said that Donald Trump's lawyer "arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump."

The story was met with a series of denials about the alleged extra-marital relationship, though the relevant players didn't deny the apparent six-figure payment to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Since then, there have been a series of revelations about the alleged affair, but I continue to think the focus should be on the money. Where'd the $130,000 come from? How was the payment made? Did it raise any legal concerns?

With these questions in mind, the Wall Street Journal moved the ball forward with a new article late yesterday, reporting that Trump's attorney used a private Delaware company to pay Daniels in exchange for her pre-election silence.

The lawyer, Michael Cohen, established Essential Consultants LLC, on Oct. 17, 2016, just before the 2016 presidential election, corporate documents show. Mr. Cohen, who is based in New York, then used a bank account linked to the entity to send the payment to the client-trust account of a lawyer representing the woman, Stephanie Clifford, one of the people said.

Mr. Cohen's decision to establish the company in Delaware offered him privacy and simplicity, hallmarks of a state that has attracted more than one million business entities. Unlike some states, Delaware doesn't require companies to publicly disclose the names of their managers.

When "The Rachel Maddow Show" asked Cohen and the White House for comment, we didn't hear back.

Nevertheless, we now know the bank account used to pay Trump's alleged porn-star mistress, shortly before the 2016 election, though we don't yet know who put the money into that bank account.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.18.18

01/18/18 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A shutdown is more likely than not: "The possibility of a government shutdown grew dramatically Thursday as House and Senate GOP leaders struggled to round up the votes to keep the government open past midnight Friday."

* A bill to watch: "Taxpayers would no longer foot the bill for sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress under new bipartisan legislation released Thursday. Coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the bill would require members to pay such settlements themselves as part of an effort to overhaul a byzantine, secretive system that has been in place on Capitol Hill for decades."

* Guess what's been happening in the TRMS offices today: "The House Intelligence Committee decided on Thursday to release the transcript of its meeting with the man who commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier."

* Censure: "Led by the Congressional Black Caucus, about 130 House Democrats are backing a resolution to censure President Trump over remarks he made at a meeting over the fate of DACA recipients -- remarks in which he suggested that the United States' immigration policy should consider more applicants from nations such as Norway, and fewer from what he reportedly termed 'shithole' countries."

* CFPB: "Every quarter, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau formally requests its operating funds from the Federal Reserve. Last quarter, former director Richard Cordray asked for $217.1 million. Cordray, an appointee of President Barack Obama, needed just $86.6 million the quarter before that. And Wednesday, President Donald Trump's acting CFPB director, Mick Mulvaney, sent his first request to the Fed. He requested zero."

* Someone should let the White House know: "Despite a handful of high-profile announcements, the recent cuts in corporate taxes haven't yet had a meaningful impact on American companies' plans to boost investment or raise workers' pay, a CNBC survey of large companies found."

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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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