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Image: Donald Trump

Trump rationalizes his failures: 'I'm not going to blame myself'

10/17/17 08:00AM

One of the earliest controversies of Donald Trump's presidency came after he authorized a mission in Yemen, which claimed the life of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens. The president couldn't have dealt with the developments in a worse way.

Trump exploited Owens' death, made dubious claims about the mission, and ultimately tried to avoid responsibility for the operation he personally authorized. "This was something that was, you know, just, they wanted to do," the president said, referring to U.S. generals. "They came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals ... and they lost Ryan."

It was a quote that, under normal political conditions, might have come to define Trump's presidency, haunting him at every turn. And while that obviously didn't happen, the president's response was nevertheless an early reminder that in Trump World, the buck always stops somewhere else.

Trump drove this point home during remarks at a White House cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon:

"Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done.

"And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.... We've had other things happen, and they're not getting the job done."

It was a rare example of the president correcting himself in public. Initially, Trump said "we're" not getting the job done, suggesting he and other Republicans collectively need to pick up their game, before he realized that he should clarify matters. "They're" not getting the job done.

The president's responsibility allergy has never been clearer.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.16.17

10/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault on Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq."

* Somalia: "A huge truck bomb blast in Somalia's capital has killed 276 people and wounded roughly 300 more, the country's information minister said Sunday. It is believed to be the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation."

"Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, "five years a Taliban captive after abandoning his post in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misbehavior-before-the-enemy charges that could put him in prison for life."

* Austria's "right-wing parties made strong gains in parliamentary elections on Sunday, after a campaign in which the main contenders competed with tough stances on immigration."

* That's quite a sentence: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday again declined to clearly say he hadn't called President Donald Trump 'a moron,' but he did deny a Republican senator's claim that he had been castrated as the nation's top diplomat."

* Duterte: "President Trump will meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a marathon trip to Asia next month, the White House announced Monday."

* Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump's new choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, lead a DHS team during Hurricane Katrina that "was widely criticized for its passive and clumsy response."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump forced to walk back ridiculous falsehood about Obama

10/16/17 04:15PM

Part of the problem with Donald Trump's presidency is his profound ignorance of history. This tends to get him into trouble because, when Trump does something he's proud of, he boasts that he's the first president to do it -- largely because he has no idea what his predecessors did and didn't do during their tenures.

After his recent trip to Puerto Rico, for example, the president bragged, "I guess it's one of the few times anybody has done this. From what I am hearing it's the first time that a sitting president has done something like this." And while it's true presidential travel was limited before airplanes were invented, in recent decades, plenty of presidents have traveled to areas affected by natural disasters. Lobbing paper towels at people may have been a presidential first, but the trip itself was routine.

Today, something similar happened. Nearly two weeks ago, four American soldiers were killed in Niger, and before this afternoon, Trump had said literally nothing about it. Asked about his silence at a White House event, the president said he had not yet contacted the fallen Americans' families because he wanted "a little time to pass." He added that he's written letters to those families, but they haven't been sent yet.

Let's note for context that since the ambush that claimed those four servicemen's lives, Trump has golfed five times.

The president then decided to brag about how awesome he thinks he is as compared to his predecessors.

"The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," he said. "I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it."

Even by Trump standards, this was a breathtaking lie. In fact, Alyssa Mastromonaco‏, a deputy chief of staff in the Obama White House, quickly explained that Obama (and other previous presidents) often called the families of Americans killed in action. Disgusted by Trump's smear, Mastromonaco went to describe Trump as "a deranged animal."

But then something interesting happened: the president was fact-checked in real-time, and Trump was forced to backpedal.

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

Donald Trump, demolitions expert

10/16/17 01:00PM

Donald Trump, apparently annoyed by a New York Times piece, was eager to point to some of his perceived accomplishments over the weekend. Among the presidential achievements he touted: scrapping the U.S. role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, trying to end the U.S. role in the Paris Climate Accords, and the recent "cancellations" of EPA environmental safeguards.

What Trump may not have realized is that none of these things are actual accomplishments -- so much as they're attempts to take an ax to his predecessor's accomplishments.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin had a compelling piece on this the other day, describing the Republican president as "Trump the Destroyer."

What is increasingly obvious is that President Trump's motivations and impulses have everything to do with narcissism, personal piques, anger at his predecessor and fear of losing face -- and very little to do with creating real policy outcomes. He prefers to be seen doing something rather than to do something for which he would bear the consequences.

On health care, Trump doesn't have anything resembling a plan. He has a desire for Congress to tear down "Obamacare," and when those efforts came up short, the president took steps to sabotage the nation's health care system unilaterally, but the president has no constructive vision of his own. His principal focus is on tearing down what others have created.

On immigration, Trump doesn't have the foggiest idea what kind of system should be in place, but he's convinced himself that it's necessary to tear down what Barack Obama did. And on the international nuclear agreement with Iran. The president hasn't offered anything resembling a coherent strategy, but he's certain Obama's policy is wrong.

The pattern is hard to miss.

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Image: Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

GOP rep: tackling bump stocks would be 'a perversion' of party agenda

10/16/17 12:30PM

Two weeks ago, the United States suffered its deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The scene in Las Vegas was nightmarish, with dozens killed and hundreds wounded, all as a result of an attack launched by one gunman.

In the immediate aftermath, in response to public clamoring for some kind of action, policymakers raised the prospect of action on "bump stocks" -- an after-market modification that helps semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, fire like automatic weapons, which are already largely banned. A bipartisan bill was introduced on Capitol Hill, and even some Republicans suggested publicly that action on this issue was at least possible.

But as the horror of Las Vegas has faded from front pages, the bump-stock debate has shifted. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that Congress would probably look to the Trump administration to deal with the issue, suggesting legislative progress is unlikely. The Washington Post reported:

Instead, Ryan and many of his fellow House Republicans hope the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will act administratively to outlaw the devices, which the agency ruled legal in 2010.

"We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and then, frankly, we'd like to know how it happened in the first place," Ryan (Wis.) told reporters Wednesday. He did not discuss pursuing legislation to address the issue.

Ryan made his remarks a day after 20 bipartisan House members backed a bill to ban bump stocks and similar devices meant to accelerate the firing rate of semiautomatic rifles.

In other words, despite support for a legislative fix, Ryan is prepared to wait for a regulatory fix through the ATF. Those looking for action should turn to Trump administration officials, not elected Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps the most amazing quote came from the chairman of the House's Second Amendment Caucus.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.16.17

10/16/17 12:00PM

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

* California state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon (D) made it official yesterday, launching his U.S. Senate bid, even though incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is seeking re-election. (Remember, California has a jungle primary, not a traditional nominating fight.)

* Election Day is three weeks from tomorrow in Virginia, and the deadline for registering to vote is today.

* And speaking of Virginia, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie continues to say he doesn't know Donald Trump, but he seemed eager to campaign over the weekend alongside Trump's vice president, Mike Pence.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, was with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ralph Northam on Saturday, at the other end of the commonwealth.

* Donors to the president's re-election campaign may be interested to learn that it spent more than $1 million on legal bills, stemming from Trump's Russia scandal. That includes money to cover the legal expenses of Donald Trump Jr., who helps run the president's business, and whose work is supposed to be unrelated to politics.

* Former Vice President Al Gore hasn't been too engaged in electoral politics this year, but he was in New Jersey yesterday, campaigning with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Phil Murphy. The statewide race in the Garden State is also three weeks from tomorrow.

* Following the first round of balloting in Louisiana over the weekend, New Orleans is poised to elect its first woman mayor in city history.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's views on the 'executive-order concept' have evolved

10/16/17 11:30AM

In January 2014, then-President Barack Obama hosted a cabinet meeting, where he expressed optimism about working with lawmakers from both parties to advance the nation's interests. He also seemed realistic. however, about whether Congress would get anything done.

"One of the things that I'll be emphasizing in this meeting is the fact that we are not just going to be waiting for a legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help that they need. I've got a pen and I've got a phone," Obama said. The pen referred to executive actions, including executive orders, and the phone referred to Obama's willingness to reach out to people beyond the Beltway -- "non-profits, businesses, the private sector, universities" -- to help work on his priorities.

Almost immediately, Republicans were outraged, suggesting Obama's "pen and phone" rhetoric was proof that the Democratic president intended to ignore our system of government and make major policy changes without congressional input. The "pen and phone" framing quickly became a GOP shorthand for the party's impression that Obama saw himself as a dictator.

And yet, there was Donald Trump last week, arguing that in response to the Republican Congress' ineptitude, "I will be using the power of the pen" to tackle health care policy unilaterally -- which is awfully similar to the kinds of actions GOP lawmakers condemned when Obama was in the Oval Office.

The New York Times had a piece on this over the weekend:

The president was frustrated. Lawmakers were not passing what he wanted. They were "obstructionists," he complained. So he took out his pen, signed his name to an order and took action on his own. "We're taking a little different route than we had hoped because getting Congress -- they forgot what their pledges were," he said.

The chief executive attacking Congress was President Trump, but his words might have been spoken by President Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has concluded that he cannot wait for a polarized Congress to act, so he is turning to executive power to accomplish what lawmakers will not, in this case erasing the legacy of the Obama years.

As is always the case, the substantive details matter, and there's no denying the fact that Obama was far more ambitious when it came to using executive power, at least given what we've seen from Trump thus far.

But at the same time, Obama didn't run on a platform predicated on avoiding executive orders -- and Trump did.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Trump's new drug czar has some explaining to do

10/16/17 11:01AM

While the opioid epidemic has earned a place in the national spotlight in recent years, our understanding of how the crisis went from bad to worse is still coming into focus. To that end, the Washington Post and "60 Minutes" have done some important reporting.

The Post published an amazing piece yesterday explaining that early last year, Congress "effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation's streets." The point of the measure was to "weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market."

And leading the way on the effort was Tom Marino, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, who championed the controversial legislation, which seems tough to defend.

For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.

The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA's chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.

As the piece explained, the nation's major drug distributors hired a former DEA insider to help formulate a strategy, and then invested in an ambitious lobbying campaign, which included at least $1.5 million in political action committee contributions to the small number of lawmakers who helped advance the issue.

All of this unfolded with almost no scrutiny: "Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill's import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials."

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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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