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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

What Donald Trump's White House considers 'demoralizing'

01/24/17 08:41AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a bizarre press briefing on Saturday, lambasting journalists for accurately reporting on Donald Trump's presidential inaugural, and declaring without proof, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period."

Yesterday, Spicer moved the goal posts a bit, conceding that the new president's in-person audience didn't set a record -- Trump's stated plans to break that record notwithstanding -- but if we count inaugural attendees, add viewers who watched online and on television, and include an international audience, then the total viewership is the most ever.

By all appearances, that claim is also wrong.

But even putting aside the factual details, it's worth appreciating the fact that this was the fourth straight day Trump and his White House team have talked about his inauguration's crowd size -- in a presidency that's only existed for four days.

And with this in mind, a reporter asked during yesterday's White House press briefing why Trump and his aides remain preoccupied with the subject. Spicer's answer was extraordinary, but not in a good way. After rambling a bit about Trump winning states in November he was expected to lose, the press secretary explained:
"We want to have a healthy dialogue, not just with you but the American people because he's fighting for jobs, he's fighting to make this country safer. But when you're constantly getting told that can't be true, we doubt that you can do this, this won't happen, and that's the narrative when you turn on television every single day, it's a little frustrating. [...]

"It's not about one tweet. It's not about one picture. It's about a constant theme. It's about sitting here every time and being told, 'No. well, we don't think he can do that, he'll never accomplish that, he can't win that, it won't be the biggest, it's not gonna be that good. The crowds aren't that big, he's not that successful.' The narrative -- and the default narrative is always negative and it's demoralizing."
In all, Spicer used the word "demoralizing" three times in his answer, and the word "frustrating" five times.

In other words, roughly 72 hours after Trump's inauguration, the pressure, the criticisms, and the media narratives are taking a toll on those working in the West Wing.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Trump won't let go of one of his most important lies

01/24/17 08:00AM

Three weeks after winning the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was struggling badly to accept the fact that he received far fewer votes than his opponent. The Republican's discomfort was so intense, he started making up claims that bordered on delusion.

"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide," Trump said, referring to a landslide that exists only in his imagination, "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." He soon after started referring to "the so-called popular vote."

Two months later, the new president still has a tenuous relationship with reality.
At the top of President Donald Trump's agenda for his discussion with congressional leaders Monday night: relitigating the campaign, including saying "illegals" voting deprived him of a victory in the popular vote.

The claim of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election, which Trump argued in late November, has been widely debunked.

Two sources confirmed to NBC News that Trump spent about the first 10 minutes of his bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders at the White House talking about the campaign and about how 3 million to 5 million "illegals" voted in the election, causing him to lose the popular vote.
The rationale for the president's brazen lying is easy to understand. Americans were given a choice between two major-party candidates; Trump lost by nearly 3 million votes; and he lacks the tools necessary to deal with the implications of the results.

As a result, the president apparently finds it necessary to keep reality at arm's length, because the truth hurts his feelings. It leads him to embrace a comforting, albeit ridiculous, lie -- or to use the Trump White House's preferred parlance, alternative facts.

That said, this is the sort of lie that should give pause to all Americans, including Trump's most ardent Republican followers.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.23.17

01/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deadly storms: "A severe storm that brought destructive tornadoes with it killed at least 19 people over the weekend as it moved south from Georgia and Mississippi into the Florida Panhandle."

* Good idea: "Senate Democrats are formally asking Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to have a second confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President Trump's education nominee, arguing that they need an opportunity to further scrutinize her potential conflicts of interests and preparedness to lead the Education Department."

* I hope Trump doesn't punish NOAA for this: "A new report, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the last day of Barack Obama's presidency, presents a series of updated estimates for future sea-level rise, both in the United States and worldwide. It suggests that, under extreme future climate change, global sea levels could rise by more than eight feet by the end of the century -- one of the highest estimates yet to be presented in a federal report."

* SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court rejected on Monday an appeal from Texas officials seeking to restore the state's strict voter ID law.... The Texas law, enacted in 2011, requires voters seeking to cast their ballots at the polls to present photo identification, like a Texas driver's or gun license, a military ID or a passport. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the law is racially discriminatory."

* The election is having consequences in the Middle East: "The city of Jerusalem, emboldened by anticipated support from the Trump administration, on Sunday authorized the construction of some 560 new homes in areas of the city claimed by the Palestinians as a capital of their future state."

* I don't expect this bill to go anywhere, but the fact that it was even introduced is unfortunate: "A proposed House Resolution would set the stage for the United States to remove itself from the United Nations. The proposed 'American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017' is sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL).."
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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

Surrounded by men, Trump takes aim at family planning policy

01/23/17 04:38PM

In his first full weekday as president, Donald Trump kept quite busy, moving forward on a series of executive orders and actions -- an approach to governing Republicans seemed to find offensive when there was a Democrat in the White House.

But one of the many policies Trump acted on today stood out as especially important.
Trump ... acted Monday to reinstate the so-named "Mexico City policy" first instituted by Ronald Reagan. That directive essentially barred recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting abortion as a method of family planning. In the early days of his presidency, Bill Clinton reversed the Reagan-backed policy; President George W. Bush reinstated it shortly after his election; and President Barack Obama revoked it -- each in their first few days as president.
One of the striking aspects of today's directive was the story the visuals told: in a scene reminiscent of the House Republicans' all-male panel on birth control in early 2012, the Republican president re-imposed the global gag rule today in the Oval Office while surrounded by a group of men.

But even more important, of course, is the policy itself.
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FBI Director James B. Comey listens to a question from a reporter during a media conference in San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 27, 2014. (Photo by Ben Margot/AP)

Trump thanks the FBI director accused of helping his campaign

01/23/17 01:00PM

There was a White House reception yesterday to thank law enforcement officers and first responders who worked on Donald Trump's inauguration, and the new president seemed especially eager to thank one person in particular. The Washington Post reported:
FBI Director James B. Comey, who infuriated Democrats during the campaign drama over Hillary Clinton's email, got a pat on the back Sunday from President Trump. [...]

"He's become more famous than me," Trump said to those ringing the room as Comey strode in his direction. The two men shook hands and as Comey leaned in toward Trump, the president patted him on the back a few times.
If you watch the clip closely, it seems as if Trump may have blown Comey a kiss before encouraging him to cross the room for a presidential embrace.

It wasn't surprising that Trump's principal concern was on Comey's "fame" -- the new president seems to prefer to have headlines to himself -- but the scene was nevertheless an awkward one.
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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Counterintelligence investigation into Team Trump casts a wide net

01/23/17 12:30PM

The morning of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, the New York Times published a striking front-page report: multiple U.S. agencies "are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links" between Russian officials and Trump's close associates.

According to the reporting, the counterintelligence investigation is focused on contacts between Moscow and members of Trump's campaign team, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and longtime Republican operative Roger Stone.

NBC News added later in the day that the FBI is not only part of a multi-agency investigation into Russia's alleged intervention in the American presidential campaign, but U.S. officials are also "examining how the operation was paid for and whether any Americans were involved."

The report went on to say, "One former intelligence official briefed on the matter said the investigation is looking into whether certain former Trump campaign aides had improper contacts with the Russians."

It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal pushed this story forward overnight.
U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump's national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump.

It isn't clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump's inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.
[Update: CNN is reporting that the investigation into Flynn's talks with Russia is ongoing.]

If the reporting is accurate, it's a major development. While Manafort, Page, and Stone played key roles in Trump's campaign operation, none of them has an official role in the White House now. Flynn, however, is also allegedly being investigated -- and he has an office in the West Wing.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.23.17

01/23/17 12:00PM

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

* White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted the other day that Trump has gone "above and beyond" to address his conflicts of interest. A new federal lawsuit will try to test that assertion.

* On Fox News yesterday, Chris Wallace asked White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to explain why Donald Trump said his inaugural crowd stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Priebus defended the bogus claim, saying the crowd really was that big. When the host patiently pointed to reality, Priebus wouldn't budge, adding, "I was sitting there looking."

* Already assuming he's going to win another term, the president told his new White House team yesterday, "We're going to do some great things over the next eight years."

* On a related note, Trump told supporters and donors the other day that he intends to win in 2020 "the old-fashioned way." He didn't explain exactly what that meant, but presumably it would include winning more votes than his opponent, which he failed to do in 2016.

* Asked Friday for his reaction to the new president's inaugural address, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said, "I've heard some very inspiring speeches that speak to the best of the whole country over the years -- and someday I may again."

* I'm not saying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is running for anything, but his recent moves suggest he may be running for something.
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Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.

GOP skeptics fall in line to support Trump's State nominee

01/23/17 11:30AM

During his latest Sunday show appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday he has the utmost confidence in members of Donald Trump's cabinet. The host quickly followed up with a good question.

"You say you have utmost confidence in his team," Stephanopoulos noted. "Do you have utmost confidence in President Trump?" McCain replied, "I do not know, George. I do not know, because he has made so many comments that are contradictory."

The exchange was largely overlooked, but it's worth appreciating the circumstances: the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee was asked whether he has confidence in his own party's sitting president. Twice, the senator said he didn't know. It's been quite a while since Americans were confronted with such a scenario.

But as striking as this moment was, McCain nevertheless said he'll vote to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for Secretary of State. Soon after, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement he'll do the same.

Earlier this month, after Trump tapped Russia's top American ally to be the country's chief diplomat, McCain was asked whether there was a "realistic scenario" in which he'd vote for Tillerson's confirmation. "Sure," the Arizona Republican replied at the time. "There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly."

And what of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the last undecided Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? The Washington Post reports he's no longer undecided.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will vote for President Trump's nominee for secretary of state, he announced Monday, resolving the final major question surrounding Rex Tillerson's bid to be confirmed as the nation's top diplomat. [...]

"Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy," Rubio said in a lengthy statement posted on Facebook. "Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson's nomination in committee and in the full Senate."
I'm not sure that explanation makes sense -- waiting for a qualified nominee is better for the nation's interests in the long term than rushing through an unqualified nominee -- but Rubio is falling in line, as partisans usually do, and just as Rubio's critics predicted he'd do.
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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

Trump starts making policy without Congress

01/23/17 11:01AM

Before his election, Donald Trump made all kinds of promises about the sweeping agenda he'd impose on his first day in office. By and large, the new president largely ignored those promises over his first three days.

But Trump has nevertheless started to exercise some of his office's considerable power. On Friday, for example, one of the new president's first acts was to overturn an Obama administration policy that made it easier for first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers to afford a mortgage. Soon after, he signed an executive order related to the Affordable Care Act, which was unusually vague, and which experts are still trying to unravel.

The New York Times reported that Americans should expect to see quite a bit more along these lines.
President Trump plans to take executive action on a nearly daily basis for a month to unravel his predecessor's legacy and begin enacting his own agenda, his aides say, part of an extended exercise of presidential power to quickly make good on his campaign promises.

But in a reflection of the improvisational style that helped fuel his rise, he has made few, if any, firm decisions about which orders he wants to make, or in which order. That is a striking break from past presidents, who have entered office with detailed plans for rolling out a series of executive actions that set a tone for their presidencies and send a clear message about their agendas.
Today's changes will reportedly include executive orders on renegotiating NAFTA and withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership. [Update: the president's actions today also included a federal hiring freeze and new restrictions on international family planning.]

Also yesterday, Kellyanne Conway said the new president is prepared to possibly stop enforcing a part of federal health care law he doesn't like -- the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act -- which would likely have the effect of causing serious harm to the overall system.

And while each of these policies deserve to be evaluated on their individual merits, I can't help but wonder where the Republican complaints are about presidential policymaking by fiat.
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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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