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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

Unanswered question hangs over the GOP's anti-Mueller offensive

12/11/17 10:41AM

Promoting a piece from a far-right pundit yesterday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller "has got some explaining to do." It was a timely reminder that when it comes to the Trump-Russia scandal, many Republicans have begun turning their fire, not on the White House or its benefactors in Putin's government, but on the official overseeing the investigation.

GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee, for example, appeared desperate last week to tear Mueller down. Several congressional Republicans have also called for Mueller's resignation. Conservative media, meanwhile, has become almost hysterical in targeting the special counsel, eager to discredit the entire probe.

Clearly, Mueller's investigation is causing some of Donald Trump's allies to panic, and their fears are well grounded. It's hardly unreasonable to think the Russia scandal poses an existential threat to this presidency -- a threat made more potent following the arrests of Trump's former national security advisor, campaign chairman, and others.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne today touched on a question that too often goes unasked.

Because we are inured to extreme partisanship and to the political right's habit of rejecting inconvenient facts, we risk overlooking the profound political crisis that a Trumpified Republican Party could create. And the conflagration may come sooner rather than later, as Mueller zeroes in on Trump and his inner circle.

Only recently, it was widely assumed that if Trump fired Mueller, many Republicans would rise up to defend our institutions. Now, many in the party are laying the groundwork for justifying a coverup. This is a recipe for lawlessness.

There was a point earlier this year in which Mueller, a Republican and a former FBI director, received bipartisan praise. With him at the helm, the political establishment declared in unison, there was reason to feel confidence in the integrity of the investigation.

But as the threats to Trump's presidency have grown more serious, so too has the GOP's willingness to attack Mueller. Trump's conservative media allies have begun practically begging the president to fire the special counsel before Mueller brings down the White House.

So what happens if he does?

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Desks in a classroom. (Photo by Bob O'Connor/Gallery Stock)

Some Republicans rethink tax plan's changes to education

12/11/17 10:00AM

The Republicans' tax plan is more than just a package of regressive tax cuts. This is a sweeping proposal that would affect many areas of modern American life.

That includes education. Under the GOP's vision, student loans would become more expensive, employer-based tuition assistance would get taxed, college endowment would take a significant hint, teachers would see key tax breaks disappears, and graduate students would find their tuition waivers treated as taxable income.

Politico reported two weeks ago that Republicans are proposed "unprecedented new taxes" on education, leaving "college leaders shocked and scrambling." The piece added that college presidents contend that the GOP package "would be a devastating blow that would make college -- especially graduate school -- more expensive, and further out of reach of low- and middle-income families."

The effects on the American workforce, as well as American society, would likely be significant. It's against this backdrop that the Dallas Morning News reported the other day that some Republican lawmakers are rethinking some of their party's plans.

Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions is pressing GOP leadership to ensure that the party's final tax revamp preserves the tax-exempt status of a critical tuition reduction used by tens of thousands of graduate students across the U.S.

That tax-free standing, tied to those students' work as teaching or research assistants, has hung in the balance for weeks after the House-approved version of the tax bill marked it for elimination.

Such a change would make the reductions count as taxable income, skyrocketing the burden for many grad students already feeling a financial squeeze.

Last week, more than two dozen House Republicans, each of whom already voted for their party's tax plan, co-wrote a letter to GOP leaders calling the tax on grad students "misguided."

To be sure, it's encouraging to see these conservative lawmakers come around on an important issue, but it's hardly unreasonable to wonder why they didn't raise concerns before voting for the provisions they now oppose? Is it because House Republicans rammed through a radical tax plan before members had a chance to know what's in it?

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Rep. Steve King

House Republican declares, 'Diversity is not our strength'

12/11/17 09:20AM

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has earned a reputation for divisive, racially provocative rhetoric. Even John Boehner (R-Ohio), before he stepped down as House Speaker, reportedly dismissed the far-right Iowan as an "a**hole."

But the controversies have done little to deter King from using insulting language. Late last week, the GOP congressman added to his greatest-hits collection.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has again flirted with being an open white nationalist. In a tweet Friday, the congressman lashed out at multiculturalism.

"Diversity is not our strength," the congressman wrote, linking to an article on a deeply dubious anti-immigration website called Voice of Europe, which quotes Hungary's far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, as saying that "mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one."

As the HuffPost's piece added, "diversity is not our strength" is a popular phrase on the right-wing fringe.

The nation's founding creed may be "E pluribus unum," but it appears there are some who take issue with the principle.

My question, however, is less about Steve King and more about what Republican leaders intend to do about Steve King.

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Image: Embattled GOP Senate Candidate In Alabama Judge Roy Moore Continues Campaigning Throughout The State

Alabama's GOP senator: 'I didn't vote for Roy Moore; I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore'

12/11/17 08:40AM

When it comes to the Sunday shows, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is not a regular guest. Before yesterday, the Alabama Republican hadn't made any Sunday show appearances at any time in 2017. For that matter, if we add up all of Shelby's appearances from 2014, 2015, and 2016, the grand total is zero.

And so, when he sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday on "State of the Union," it stood to reason the Alabama Republican had something to say. Asked whom he voted for, Shelby said he wrote in the name of a GOP official he wouldn't identify, adding:

"...I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. The state of Alabama deserves better. I think we have got a lot of great Republicans that could have won and carried the state beautifully and served in the Senate honorably."

Asked about a possible expulsion vote if Moore prevails in tomorrow's election, Shelby added, "Well, if he wins on Tuesday, the Senate, under the Powell case out of the Supreme Court, will have to seat him. And we will see what happens after that. But I want to reiterate again I didn't vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better."

When Tapper noted Donald Trump's intervention in the race in support of Moore, Shelby largely dodged the question before returning to his underlying point: "I do believe -- and I'm going to say it again -- the Republicans could do better."

Subtle, it wasn't.

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers the State of the State in the House chambers at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jan. 20, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/AP)

Top cabinet official says Trump's accusers deserve to be heard

12/11/17 08:00AM

As recently as late October, Donald Trump chief spokesperson said it's the official position of the White House that each of the women who accused the president of sexual misconduct was lying. A top Trump administration official said something quite different yesterday.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual impropriety have a right to be heard.

Haley, speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," broke from the Trump administration line on the 16 sexual misconduct allegations that face the president. The White House has said that the women who have accused Trump were lying .... But when asked whether she thought the matter was settled, Haley said "that's for the people to decide."

"Women should always feel comfortable coming forward," Haley said. "And we should all be willing to listen to them." Asked specifically about the women who've accused her boss, the ambassador added, "Women who accuse anyone should be heard. They should be heard and they should be dealt with."

Haley and Trump haven't always been on the same page this year, but this seemed like a break with the White House line.

This comes on the heels of a story from Friday in which Juliet Huddy, a former Fox News host, said Trump tried to kiss her after a lunch visit in 2005.

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Image: Trump announces in Washington that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Washington

This Week in God, 12.9.17

12/09/17 08:01AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Donald Trump's announcement of a new U.S. policy towards Israel, which drew swift criticisms from a wide variety of countries, friend and foe, leading to speculation as to what motivated the Republican president to place such a dangerous bet.

A Wall Street Journal report explained that evangelical Christians and Trump's allies in the religious right movement launched a "sustained push," which "began before he was in office," and which had the intended effect.

Evangelical leaders have urged supporters to email the White House about moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They have advocated on television. And since Mr. Trump took office, they have spoken about it frequently with him and other White House officials, according to multiple evangelical leaders close to Mr. Trump.

"While this decision was not made exclusively in response to evangelicals, it would not have been made without the evangelical influence," said Johnnie Moore, a member of Mr. Trump's evangelical advisory board.... Mr. Moore said recognizing Jerusalem as the capital has been a frequent topic of conversation when evangelical leaders visit the White House, which under Mr. Trump has been almost daily.

The piece added that the evangelicals who lobbied the president and his team "prize Jerusalem as a holy city, with special status as the place of Christ's death and his awaited return."

Radical TV preacher Pat Robertson seemed to reference this on his television show this week, telling viewers, "The last battle is going to be over Jerusalem ... that is the holy city. You go in favor of breaking up Jerusalem, you're going against the direct word of Jesus, and this is a prophecy that has stood for hundreds of years." Robert Jeffress, a Texas megachurch pastor and prominent White House ally, added that Jerusalem is the place Jesus “will set foot again on earth at his second coming.”

There's no reason to believe Trump made his controversial decision for theological reasons. Indeed, there's nothing to suggest the president even knows anything about this aspect of the issue.

But while the White House confronts international criticisms for abandoning a delicate U.S. policy, and deals with the regional unrest generated by Trump's announcement, it's worth recognizing who had the administration's ear. And in this case, those who had access and influence with the president's team had a faith-based vision that came to fruition this week.

The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, another close White House ally, added this week that U.S. foreign policy towards Israel "is coming into alignment with biblical truth," at least as the religious right movement sees it.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.8.17

12/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Unrest in the Middle East: "Thousands took part in angry anti-U.S. demonstrations around the Muslim world Friday over the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital."

* In related news: "President Trump, in formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, declared that the United States still supported a two-state solution to settle the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, provided it was 'agreed to by both sides.' For the first time in his 26 years as a peacemaker, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians did not agree."

* Congo: "In the deadliest single attack on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in recent memory, rebels in eastern Congo killed at least 14 peacekeepers and wounded 53 others in an assault on their base that was launched at nightfall and went on for hours."

* The story suddenly makes more sense: "Arizona Rep. Trent Franks allegedly made unwanted advances toward female staffers in his office and retaliated against one who rebuffed him, according to House GOP sources with knowledge of a complaint against him." Franks' last day was supposed to be Jan. 31. Instead, he quit today.

* Trump-Russia: "F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump's top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events."

* Southern California: "Six major wildfires continued to rage out of control Friday morning, fed by erratic winds that have blanketed parts of Southern California in thick smoke and blown hot embers onto rooftops, turning communities to ash."

* Hurricane Maria: "Official Toll in Puerto Rico: 62. Actual Deaths May Be 1,052."

* Brexit: "A breakthrough Friday marked a milestone in grueling divorce talks between the U.K. and the European Union and opened the door to tough trade negotiations that will determine Britain's economic relations with Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world."

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Trump World has a new line on tax returns (which still doesn't work)

12/08/17 03:24PM

Last year, Donald Trump became the first major-party presidential candidate since Watergate to keep his tax returns hidden from public scrutiny. The official rationale was that he was under an IRS audit, which (a) was never substantiated and may not have been true; and (b) wasn't a legitimate excuse for secrecy, since the Republican candidate's returns could've been disclosed anyway.

The issue doesn't come up much anymore -- the answer is always the same -- so I was glad to see a reporter broach the subject at yesterday's press briefing with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The secrecy position hasn't changed, but I was glad to see a slightly different answer from the president's spokesperson:

"My understanding -- and I will double-check -- but the president's taxes, no matter who the president is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed."

In this case, Sanders is actually telling the truth. Since Watergate, every president, as a matter of course, has his or her annual tax returns audited so long as he or she is in office. It's not optional, and Trump's tax materials will be subjected to the same analysis as each of his modern predecessors' returns.

In fact, this creates a convenient excuse for Trump World. No one in the president's orbit would say this out loud, but they can now effectively tell the reporters and the public, "We refused to offer any proof of an audit last year, but now we can say with legal certainty that Trump's returns are the subject of an IRS audit."

There are, however, two nagging problems.

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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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