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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.30.17

03/30/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Muslim ban: "A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday extended his previous ruling blocking President Donald Trump's so-called 'travel ban' that would have restricted entry to the United States by refugees and people from some predominantly Muslim countries."

* Following up on this morning's post: "A deal that North Carolina lawmakers reached to repeal the state's controversial and costly 'bathroom bill' passed on Thursday after a contentious debate -- but the compromise has left LGBTQ advocates exasperated, with some calling it 'shameful' and an 'outrageous betrayal.'"

* There's just no defense for this: "Gov. Sam Brownback has vetoed legislation that would have expanded Medicaid to cover 150,000 low-income Kansans, setting up another showdown between the Republican governor and a state legislature that shifted toward the political center in the last election."

* Somalia: "President Trump has relaxed some of the rules for preventing civilian casualties when the American military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia, laying the groundwork for an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the Horn of Africa."

* Some consequential, Title X drama on the Senate floor today: "The Senate needed a senator just returning from back surgery and the vice president to break a tie just to proceed to a measure that would allow states to restrict funding to health care providers that provide abortion."

* Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) has endorsed the creation of a bipartisan, independent select committee to investigate the Russia scandal. Congressional GOP leaders remain opposed to any kind of independent probe.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House accused of having direct role in Devin Nunes' leak

03/30/17 04:33PM

A couple of weeks ago, Politico had an interesting report that, at the time, went largely overlooked. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, apparently tried to transfer a subordinate, but he was overruled by Donald Trump, who intervened personally. As of today, this seemingly unimportant personnel decision matters in a whole new way.

As Politico explained it, the National Security Council's senior director for intelligence programs, a 30-year-old intelligence operative named Ezra Cohen-Watnick, fell out of favor with the intelligence community, and was poised to be moved to a different position. Cohen-Watnick then reached out to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, who took the matter to the president, who in turn overruled his National Security Advisor and shielded Cohen-Watnick.

And why is Ezra Cohen-Watnick's role in the administration suddenly more interesting? This is why.
A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies. [...]

Several current American officials identified the White House officials as Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer who works on national security issues at the White House Counsel's Office and formerly worked on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee.
This may seem like a lot of names to keep track of, but stick with me for a minute.
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Image: House Votes On Trump's American Health Care Act

GOP lawmaker: House Intel chairman 'works for the president'

03/30/17 12:58PM

How far has House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) fallen? Consider Rep. Ted Yoho's (R-Fla.) appearance on MSNBC this morning.
"You have to keep in mind who [Nunes] works for," Yoho told MSNBC. "He works for the president and answers to the president."

MSNBC's Craig Melvin asked Yoho whether the committee chairman actually worked for his constituents, and not the executive branch. "You do both," Yoho said.
Soon after, Yoho said he works with, not for, Donald Trump, prompting MSNBC's Craig Melvin to note, "But you just said Congressman Nunes works for the president." The Florida Republican, in an answer I didn't fully understand, replied, "As a congressman, they work for their constituents, As a chairman of a committee, [Nunes] has a ..."

Yoho didn't finish his thought, and his office later said he "misspoke" during the interview.

The comments, whether accidental or not, are emblematic of a larger truth: Nunes is flailing as a result of self-inflicted wounds. Another House Republican, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), told the Washington Post yesterday that he believes the House Intelligence Committee won't produce a worthwhile report on the Russia scandal -- a point Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the panel, pushed back against on the show last night.

Making matters slightly worse, Nunes cancelled a hearing this week with FBI Director James Comey, saying the witness wouldn't be able to attend. The FBI told CNN the reason Comey "couldn't make the hearing was because he was never invited."
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.30.17

03/30/17 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) announced yesterday that he's going to take on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) next year in the Lone Star State. Though there have been rumors about Cruz possibly facing a primary challenger, no GOP rival has yet announced any such plans.

* The latest poll from Public Policy Polling shows Donald Trump's approval rating at 40%, the lowest to date in a PPP survey.

* In case Trump's team wasn't already enough of a family affair, the Associated Press reports that Lara Trump has been brought on to serve as a senior consultant for Trump's campaign team. Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, is married to Eric Trump, one of the president's adult sons.

* Despite all kinds of annoying chatter to the contrary, Chelsea Clinton said this week, "I am not running for public office.... I've been asked this question a lot throughout my life, and the answer has never changed."

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) originally said he was likely to retire in 2018. More recently he said the opposite. Yesterday, Hatch said he still might retire, but only if "a really outstanding person" stepped up to succeed him. The senator's choice? Mitt Romney.

* In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner shared some rather unique thoughts on climate change. "We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off?" Wagner said. "Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can." He's currently a state senator in the Keystone State.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump has seen the enemy and it is the House Freedom Caucus

03/30/17 11:24AM

Last Friday morning, before much of the political world was even awake, Donald Trump was already complaining about members of the House Freedom Caucus -- a far-right GOP faction in Congress opposed to, among other things, the party's health care legislation. The presidential pressure, however, didn't work: later that day, with Freedom Caucus members refusing to budge, Trump's bill was scrapped.

In the wake of failure, did the president try to mend fences with his intra-party foes? Actually, he did the opposite, ratcheting up the whining. On Sunday morning, Trump used Twitter to again complain about the House Freedom Caucus, and the president echoed the sentiment on Monday night.

This morning, apparently unable to let anything go, Trump once again took aim at the Republicans who stubbornly refused to follow his orders:
"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!"
Here's what Trump's allies and supporters should worry about: he seems to have no idea why this strategy is so  unwise.

Look, the arithmetic is easy to understand. There are, as of this morning, 237 Republicans in the House. It takes 218 votes to pass a bill*. There are roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus. With the White House already having pushed away Democrats, and the unpopular president already lacking political capital, you don't have to be a genius or a mathematician to realize Trump's legislative agenda will need some House Freedom Caucus support if it's going to pass.

And with this dynamic in mind, the president has decided his best move is to publicly complain about Freedom Caucus members -- repeatedly -- and threaten them in advance of the 2018 midterms. These same members, reluctant to appear weak, will almost certainly respond to Trump's salvos by sticking to their guns.
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Beakers are seen in a science laboratory. (Photo by Eliseo Miciu/Gallery Stock)

The Republican war on science intensifies in the Trump era

03/30/17 10:47AM

Meet the new Environmental Protection Agency; it's quite a bit worse than the most recent iteration of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved late on Wednesday to reject the scientific conclusion of the agency's own chemical safety experts who under the Obama administration recommended that one of the nation's most widely used insecticides be permanently banned at farms nationwide because of the harm it potentially causes children and farm workers.

The ruling by Mr. Pruitt, in one of his first formal actions as the nation's top environmental official, rejected a petition filed a decade ago by two environmental groups that had asked that the agency ban all uses of chlorpyrifos. The chemical was banned in 2000 for use in most household settings, but still today is used at about 40,000 farms on about 50 different types of crops, ranging from almonds to apples.
As the New York Times' report explained, EPA scientists concluded last year that there are significant health consequences associated with exposure to the chemical. As of late last year, the agency had reviwed its research and "still concluded that the chemical should be banned."

Chlorpyrifos' maker, however, Dow Chemical, insisted the science is inconclusive -- and Donald Trump's EPA chief, as his wont, sided with the manufacturer.

Jim Jones, who ran the EPA's chemical safety unit, told the Times the Trump administration is "ignoring the science that is pretty solid."

Regrettably, there's a lot of this going around. Consider some of the reports published over the last 24 hours:
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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 23, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Paul Ryan accidentally tells the truth, rejects bipartisanship

03/30/17 10:00AM

The Republicans' recent health care effort ended in ignominious failure late last week, prompting a variety of GOP leaders to say they're eager to move on to other issues, most notably tax reform. And yet, many in the party continue to say the health care fight isn't in their rear-view mirror just yet.

There's been quite a bit of chatter this week about Republicans quietly renewing negotiations over health care, looking to salvage the GOP initiative. Indeed, Wall Street watchers noticed yesterday that hospital stocks saw a sharp decline, late in the afternoon, following a report that House Republicans might vote on a new bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, possibly as early as next week.

I'm skeptical anything will come of this -- the intra-party divisions that existed last week haven't gone away -- but House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered some insights as to why he and his members are still trying to push this boulder uphill.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country's health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare.

In an interview with "CBS This Morning" that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.
Referring to Trump's newfound willingness to talk to Democrats about possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, Ryan told CBS, "I don't want that to happen." The Speaker added that if the White House were to pursue bipartisan policymaking, "that's hardly a conservative thing."

This has all the makings of a Michael Kinsley Moment: a politician making a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.
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View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.

When it comes to Trump's vow to build a wall, read the fine print

03/30/17 09:20AM

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke raised a few eyebrows this week, conceding that Donald Trump's dream building a "big, beautiful wall" along the U.S./Mexico border may face some physical challenges that make the task impossible. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
"The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall," [Zinke] said in comments first reported by E&E News. "The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We're not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we're probably not going to put it in the middle of the river."
Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in some areas, Zinke said, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

I saw some commentary that suggested Zinke was referring to possible plans to build the wall on Mexican soil, since he said we're not going to put it in the middle of the river, and we're "not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico." That leaves the third option of building on the Mexican side, right?

Wrong. What the Interior Secretary was saying was in areas such as these, building a wall simply isn't a realistic option.

But while these details debunk some of yesterday's chatter, let's not brush past Zinke's assessment too quickly. Donald Trump continues to insist that he really is -- no kidding, he really means it -- committed to putting a giant, 2,000-mile border wall between American soil and Mexican soil. His administration has even begun inviting bids for the construction, and the White House expects Congress to appropriate some preliminary funding for the project before April 28.
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North Carolina

In North Carolina, the end of an error?

03/30/17 08:40AM

It was just last year that city officials in Charlotte approved a broad anti-discrimination measure, which included protections that allowed people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. With remarkable speed and efficiency, then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and the Republican-led state legislature swiftly approved an LGBT state law, HB 2, to undo what Charlotte had done.

GOP officials were woefully unprepared for the culture-war backlash, which by some estimates, ended up costing the state dearly. It also contributed to Pat McCrory losing his job -- the Tar Heel State Republican was the only incumbent governor in either party to lose in 2016.

The current effort in North Carolina is cleaning up the mess. NBC News confirmed that state policymakers have reached an agreement to repeal the so-called "bathroom bill," but the solution is not without controversy.
The proposed reversal -- which will be debated and voted on Thursday -- has incensed gay-rights activists, who want nothing short of an unconditional repeal of the divisive House Bill 2.

This is because the new plan would not cancel out the legislation entirely but replace it with a new law. The new framework would give the state final say over multi-stall restrooms and ensure "women and girls should not have to share bathrooms with men," according to its backers.

Unimpressed, activists alleged the proposal was "simply another version" of the old law, and was merely an attempt by officials to stop the financial hemorrhage sparked by its passing.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D), an HB 2 opponent from the outset, told reporters last night, "It's not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation."
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Image: President Trump Departs White House To Honor NAVY Seal Killed in Yemen Raid

Trump prefers to keep power (literally) inside the family

03/30/17 08:00AM

Just a few days after the election, CBS News' Lesley Stahl interviewed members of Donald Trump's family and asked Ivanka Trump whether she'd be part of her father's administration. "No," she replied. "I'm going to be a daughter." Pressed further, the president's daughter said she'd fight for issues important to her, "but not in a formal administrative capacity."

Last week, that changed, with news that Ivanka Trump would get an office in the West Wing, but she wouldn't have an actual job on her father's team.

Yesterday, that changed again.
Ivanka Trump is now officially an employee of the U.S. government.

The White House announced Wednesday that she will take no pay and serve as an assistant to the president. The role comes after NBC News confirmed earlier this week that the first daughter would have an office in the West Wing.
I've seen some competing reports on her official title, with some accounts saying she'll be an "assistant to the president," while others say she'll be a "special assistant to the president." The distinction matters -- the former enjoys a higher rank than the latter -- but in either case, Ivanka Trump is poised to become an influential figure in the White House.

Indeed, it's not just the West Wing office. The president's adult daughter is already participating in meetings with foreign leaders – literally sitting next to Canada's Justin Trudeau and Germany's Angela Merkel during recent White House discussions – and building a policy portfolio, despite having about as much relevant experience in these areas as her father (which is to say, none).

There are all kinds of related questions that need answers, including potential controversies surrounding nepotism laws and ethical conflicts. Bloomberg Politics reported that Ivanka Trump "doesn't plan to divest from her brand of clothing and accessories as part of her compliance with ethics standards."

But it's also worth pausing to consider why, exactly, Trump is intent on keeping so much power literally within his family.
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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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