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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.29.17

03/29/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Bridgegate: "Former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were sentenced to prison Wednesday for engineering lane closures at the George Washington Bridge as alleged retaliation against a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse the governor."

* For now, a model of professionalism: "The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the White House has not contacted them about the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election and vowed to conduct an independent probe as their counterparts in the House come under increased scrutiny."

* The ethics mess continues: "President Trump's company is actively seeking to open a second Washington hotel as part of a planned nationwide expansion, potentially creating another venue where he stands to benefit financially from customers doing business in the nation's capital."

* What a terrible shame: "In one of the most consequential diplomatic events in Britain since World War II, Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sent formal notice of the country's intention to withdraw from the European Union, starting a tortuous two-year divorce littered with pitfalls for both sides."

* On a related note: "Scottish lawmakers voted 69-59 in favor of an independence referendum Tuesday, setting Edinburgh on a collision course with the UK government."

* HHS Secretary Tom Price was asked today whether he's divested himself from all health care-related holdings. "The answer is yes," he responded. I wish I knew whether to believe that.

* NATO: "With the support of the Trump administration, the Senate took a swipe at Russia on Tuesday by voting to let one of Europe's smallest countries into NATO. The Senate approved Montenegro's bid to become a full-fledged member of the security alliance by an overwhelming vote of 97 to 2."

* White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer "offered sunny salutations and the first question of Wednesday's briefing to veteran correspondent April Ryan, an acknowledgement of sorts that yesterday's exchange, which some critics saw as sexist and patronizing, may have gone too far."
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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Republicans take new steps to keep Trump's tax returns secret

03/29/17 04:24PM

At a White House press briefing last week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer briefly flubbed a line before correcting himself. "I think there's a huge appetite," he said, "for tax returns, tax reform."

He meant to say the latter, not the former, but in a way, Spicer accidentally told the truth: the public appetite for Donald Trump's tax returns is real, and despite the ongoing efforts to keep the materials secret, calls for the president to be transparent, as all of his modern predecessors have been, aren't going away.

Neither are efforts to force Trump to disclose the materials he doesn't want the public to see. The Huffington Post reported:
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted down a measure offered by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns to the committee.

In a party-line vote on Tuesday, 24 committee Republicans voted against the measure and 16 Democrats voted for it.
In case you're wondering why the GOP-led committee brought up the issue at all, Roll Call reported that it wasn't by choice: Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) had to bring up Bill Pascrell's bill, which would've directed the Treasury Department to provide lawmakers with the tax returns, because Dems forced the issue "under a procedural tool known as a resolution of inquiry."

But forcing a vote obviously doesn't produce a favorable outcome.

For those keeping score at home, this is the third time Republicans have been forced to vote on the issue, and in each instance, they've voted to help shield Trump from scrutiny. That's not terribly surprising, of course, but some of these GOP lawmakers have told their constituents they actually want Trump to release his returns.
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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Supreme Court fight stands at a crossroads

03/29/17 12:53PM

Despite various rumors to the contrary, Senate Democrats appear poised to subject Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination to a 60-vote standard. Politico reports that it's a threshold Donald Trump's choice for the high court isn't likely to reach.
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's path to 60 votes is rapidly closing -- setting the stage for a nuclear showdown in the Senate as soon as next week.

Senior Democratic sources are now increasingly confident that Gorsuch can't clear a filibuster, saying his ceiling is likely mid- to upper-50s on the key procedural vote.
To be sure, some Senate Dems are likely to vote with Republicans, at least on the cloture vote that would, in theory, end a filibuster and clear Gorsuch for an up-or-down floor vote. But Republicans would need more than eight of the 48 Senate Democrats to break ranks, and by all appearances, those votes appear unlikely to materialize.

The question then becomes what the Senate Republican majority intends to do about it. The probable outcome -- the GOP execute its own "nuclear option" -- would eliminate Supreme Court filibusters permanently, for both parties. The may be some reluctance among a few Republicans to do this, but to date, zero GOP senators are on record opposing the move.

In the meantime, Republicans are preparing for the showdown with a series of very bad arguments.

* Double standards: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said earlier this week, "We're not going to be treated by a double standard." Given that Cornyn and other Republicans refused to even give a hearing to Merrick Garland, a moderate, compromise nominee, here's a tip for the GOP: if you don't want to be laughed at, avoid references to "double standards."
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.29.17

03/29/17 12:00PM

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

* Making America Great, a group backed by Rebekah Mercer, a prominent Republican megadonor and Donald Trump supporter, is reportedly launching a new ad campaign targeting Democratic senators from states Trump won in 2016. Here's the ad, launched as part of a $1.3 million effort.

* In Georgia's congressional special election, Club for Growth Action is launching ads targeting the top Republican contender, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, for not being conservative enough.

* A new CBS News poll shows Trump with a 40% approval rating. The same results found House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) faring even worse with a 33% approval rating.

* Corey Stewart, who served as the Trump campaign's chairman in Virginia last year, is running an explicitly pro-Confederate gubernatorial campaign this year, including unfurling a Confederate battle flag at a recent event. "Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery," Stewart declared. "I'm proud to be here with this flag."

* On a related note, in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Tom Perriello has made his opposition to Trump a central message of his campaign. Asked about this, his primary rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, told Slate, "Donald Trump is a narcissistic maniac, and I will do all I can to keep his hate out of Virginia."
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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) listens during a news briefing after the weekly Democratic Policy Luncheon March 24, 2015 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

It's a little late for Trump to try reaching out to Democrats

03/29/17 11:25AM

After Donald Trump won the presidency, he found himself in a seemingly enviable position: he would not only lead the executive branch, he also had a Republican Congress to do his bidding. The president decided that Democrats, when they weren't being ignored, could be freely mocked without fear of consequence.

After years in which Beltway pundits implored President Obama to be as bipartisan as humanly possible, the word effectively disappeared from the Beltway lexicon. Trump would be a proud and unapologetic partisan in the White House, leading an era of Republican dominance.

At least, that was the idea. The Washington Post reports that the president is suddenly realizing that his assumptions and instincts may have been wrong.
In the wake of the collapse of his first major legislative push on health care, President Trump and his aides have suddenly begun talking about reaching out to skeptical Democrats to breathe new life into his flagging administration.

But there's little evidence that any outreach by the administration has occurred -- and many Democrats warn it may already be too late.

The abrupt talk of bipartisanship comes after two months in which Trump alienated Democrats with personal attacks and polarizing policies, both of which have made the road to cooperation more politically risky for the minority party.
A Bloomberg Politics piece added today, "It doesn't help that Democrats have been dismayed by Trump's highly partisan first two months in office, and his repeated attacks on his predecessor Barack Obama's legacy. Add in Trump's dismal 36 percent approval rating in the latest Gallup poll and Democrats have little additional incentive to collaborate."

Consider this from a Democratic perspective.
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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Why Trump is suddenly eager to cut funding for medical research

03/29/17 10:47AM

Donald Trump, who ran on a platform of America "winning," has been losing quite a bit lately. What the president may not appreciate is the fact that his troubles are likely to get worse before they get better.

The White House's radical budget proposal is already deeply controversial -- and likely to face quite a bit of resistance on Capitol Hill, even from his Republican allies -- but it refers to a spending blueprint Trump has in mind for the next fiscal year. What's less appreciated is the administration's plans for the current fiscal year, which runs through September.

Politico reported, for example, that Trump "doesn't want to wait until next year to slash government spending on everything from education to mental health programs"; he wants to cut billions of dollars in spending right away. The White House's latest plan includes deep cuts to the State Department and the National Institutes of Health -- which is why you've probably seen headlines about Trump wanting to "cut $1.2 billion from medical research."

Military spending, meanwhile, would get a boost, while $2 billion would go towards Trump's border wall.

All of this, according to the White House, should be approved by Congress in the coming weeks -- before current federal funding is exhausted on April 28.

As the New York Times reported, no one seriously expects Trump's requests to pass.
Democrats said such a plan would arrive dead at the doorstep of the Senate, and Republicans on Tuesday sounded no more enthusiastic. "We just voted to plus up the N.I.H.," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who has also been lukewarm on the border wall plan. "It would be difficult to get the votes to then cut it."

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, was more blunt. "I think it is too late for this year," she said about the proposed cuts, echoing several Republican colleagues. As for a border wall, which is not well supported by American voters, "that debate belongs in the next fiscal year," she said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was asked yesterday whether Congress is likely to approve a $1.2 billion cut to the NIH. "No," Blunt said, adding, "No."

What's striking about this is watching the White House put itself in a lose-lose situation.
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2011 Ford Motor Co. Flex sport utility vehicles (SUV) sit on display at the Capital Ford dealership in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's 'big' jobs announcement points to Obama-era success story

03/29/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump declared with pride yesterday morning, "Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!" Soon after, Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to the president, added that Ford's investments come just "two weeks after" Trump's meeting with auto-industry executives.

The implication wasn't subtle: Americans are supposed to believe that the president met with industry leaders, which led to Ford's good news soon after.

But the White House's latest effort to take credit for good economic news is eerily similar to its previous efforts -- which is to say, it was wildly misleading. CNBC reported:
The White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants, most of which was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.

The U.S. auto giant on Tuesday outlined new details of its planned $9 billion in U.S. facility investments through 2019. The company said it planned to create or retain 8,500 jobs as part of its 2015 contract with the United Auto Workers.
A company spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed that "the majority of what was announced" yesterday was the result of "the 2015 UAW contract."

Steven Rattner, who oversaw President Obama's successful rescue of the American auto industry eight years ago, noted the news and asked, "When will [Trump] stop misleading people?"

That need not be a rhetorical question. As we discussed the other day, Trump has trumpeted jobs announcements in recent months -- from Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Walmart, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Softbank, Sprint, Alibaba, and Charter Communications -- in which the president sought credit for developments he not only had nothing to do with, but also, in most instances, pointed to Obama-era news.

A fact-check piece from the Washington Post added, "Trump's bravado on these jobs announcements is becoming a bad joke."
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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

House Intelligence Chair's antics generate bipartisan criticism

03/29/17 09:26AM

At one point yesterday afternoon, in a Capitol Hill hallway, a reporter asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) if he's prepared to recuse himself from the Russia investigation the Republican congressman compromised. Nunes responded to the reporter, "Why are you so lame?"

That's emblematic of the state of the debate surrounding Nunes and his increasingly strange behavior.

One of the key points of contention surrounding the House Intelligence Committee chair is his effort last week to bolster Donald Trump's conspiracy theory about being the subject of covert surveillance. Nunes claims to have a secret source, whom he met secretly at the White House complex last week, who gave him secret information Nunes was eager to share with the media last week in vague and unhelpful ways.

The Huffington Post noted yesterday that the beleaguered GOP lawmaker said yesterday he'll never identify his source -- even to the Intelligence Committee he ostensibly leads.
"We will never reveal sources and methods," Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said to ABC News' Mary Bruce on Tuesday.

Even other members of the committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the presidential campaign, will not learn how Nunes obtained information he said indicated that key figures close to Trump were monitored by U.S. intelligence, Nunes said.
Reuters had a related report, noting that Nunes will not divulge information on who gave him intelligence information on Trump, even to his colleagues on the intelligence panel.

This isn't a situation in which other committee members lack the necessary clearance, but rather, Nunes simply wants to keep a secret from his colleagues related to the investigation on which they're supposed to be working together. It's as if the Intelligence Committee is proceeding with a bifurcated process: one investigation from the panel, and another from the panel's chair.

If there's a compelling defense for this, Nunes hasn't come up with it yet.
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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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