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A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies over Osan Air Base, Sept. 13, 2016, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

U.S. nuclear commander would balk at any 'illegal' order

11/20/17 12:54PM

For quite a while, the topics of Donald Trump and nuclear policy have been an area of concern. As a Republican presidential candidate, he didn't seem to have any idea what the nuclear triad is; he was equally baffled by the first-use policy; and didn't seem to understand what "proliferation" meant.

During the presidential transition process, Trump made matters worse, tweeting senselessly about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal and welcoming a new international "arms race."

Once in the Oval Office, Trump struggled some more, flunking the basics of nuclear modernization and missile defense, even while threatening to rain "fire and fury" on nuclear-armed North Korea.

But there's a related concern that goes well beyond the president's ignorance: what if Trump decided he actually wanted to use the world's most dangerous weapon? There was some notable commentary on the subject over the weekend.

The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be "illegal," saying he would hope to find another solution.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has given a lot of thought to what he would say if Mr. Trump ordered a strike he considered unlawful.

Hyten told the audience that he and his colleagues "think about these things a lot," adding, "When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?"

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.20.17

11/20/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama yesterday, the front page of the Birmingham News featured an all-caps headline that read, "Stand for decency, reject Roy Moore." It was followed by this endorsement of the Republican's opponent, Doug Jones (D).

* Last week, Kellyanne Conway was asked about Moore's candidacy, and said, "The incontrovertible principle is that there is no Senate seat worth more than a child." This morning, however, the White House aide, asked if Alabamans should vote for Moore, replied, "I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through."

* Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said over the weekend that she has "no reason to disbelieve" Moore's accusers, but she's voting for him anyway because he's a Republican.

* The Moore scandal has apparently given Doug Jones' campaign a fundraising boost.

* A progressive group called Not One Penny is launching a seven-figure ad buy, targeting 25 House Republican districts, slamming GOP lawmakers for supporting their party's regressive and unpopular tax plan.

* If you contribute $10 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the NRCC will enter you into a lottery to spend the weekend at Donald Trump's hotel in D.C. -- which the president still profits from.

* With Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) resigning in the wake of a sex scandal, local Democrats have chosen a candidate in the special election to replace him: Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and assistant U.S. attorney. Republicans, meanwhile, have chosen state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) for the March 13 election. Both nominees were chosen at party conventions; there will be no primary.

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Trump touts another airplane deal that doesn't exist

11/20/17 11:20AM

Donald Trump's recent Asia-Pacific trip was largely a bust. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the American president helped China, watched helplessly as former U.S. trade partners forged a deal without us, and instead of taking a stand in support of human rights, cozied up to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump nevertheless pretended his sojourn was a great success, and boasted upon his return about, among other things, Japan's new investments in its own military. "This will include purchases of U.S. advanced capabilities," he said at a White House event last week, including "jet fighters."

The New York Times noted that Trump's claim appears to be wrong.

The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency has yet to notify Congress of any intended sale, which must happen before negotiations can begin.

Japanese officials have also pushed back at the notion. In a report in The Japan Times last week, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said that Tokyo was following its existing defense procurement plan that was approved more than three years before Mr. Trump took office.

If Abe and Trump did reach some kind of agreement about a sale, the Times' report added that it would be "in a very preliminary stage in a process that could take years."

And while this may seem like a fairly modest falsehood by Trump standards, this reminded me of a larger thesis: the president says a lot of weird stuff about airplanes.

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An African elephant is pictured on Nov. 18, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. (Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty)

Under pressure, Trump reverses course on big-game trophy hunting

11/20/17 10:40AM

Last week, for reasons that weren't entirely clear, the Trump administration announced the end of an Obama-era ban on hunters bringing the trophy heads of elephants they'd killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S. The move immediately drew fire, even from some prominent Republicans.

On Friday night, as NBC News reported, the president halted his administration's new policy.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced he is suspending a controversial decision to lift the ban on importing trophies of dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia into the U.S., which had been assailed by conservation and animal rights groups.

"Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts," Trump said on Twitter.

He added last night, "Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal."

It wasn't altogether clear why the administration made the decision in the first place. There was some speculation that Trump World was motivated by a desire to undo every decision from the Obama era, without regard for merit. The Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau had a compelling piece arguing that the decision was intended to be a thumb in Hillary Clinton's eye.

It also wasn't lost on anyone that Donald Trump's sons have a personal interest in the matter. The Washington Post's report noted, "Both of Trump's sons have engaged in big-game hunting, and photos of them posing in 2012 with the carcasses of species including an elephant and waterbuck have circulated widely on social media. In one image, Donald Trump Jr. is wearing an ammunition belt and holding the severed tail of an elephant in one hand, a knife in the other."

Whatever the motivation, the initial policy change was a dramatic step backwards, so the fact that it's now on hold is heartening. There's also a couple of broader takeaways to keep in mind.

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Image: GOP Candidate In Montana's Special Congressional Election Greg Gianforte Campaigns In Missoula

GOP congressman accused of misleading police following assault

11/20/17 10:00AM

In May, the day before a congressional special election in Montana, the Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, physically assaulted a reporter. At the time, the Guardian's Ben Jacobs pressed Gianforte with a question about health care policy, and the GOP candidate responded by attacking the journalist, throwing him to the ground, and breaking his glasses.

We already know that Gianforte and his campaign lied to the public -- they issued a public statement accusing Jacobs of instigating the physical altercation, despite an audio recording that proved otherwise -- but the Washington Post reported that the Montana congressman, before winning his competitive race, may have misled local law enforcement, too.

Documents released by law enforcement officials in Montana on Friday show that Greg Gianforte, then the Republican candidate in the state's special congressional election, told police in May that a reporter from the Guardian had grabbed his wrist during a physical altercation at his campaign headquarters, blaming the "liberal media" for "trying to make a story."

His statement appears to contradict the apology he later issued to Ben Jacobs, saying the reporter "did not initiate any physical contact with me," raising questions about whether the congressman was truthful with authorities.... The documents from Gallatin County law enforcement, made public for the first time Friday.

Gianforte reportedly told the police at the time that Jacobs "grabbed" his arm and wrist, and "pulled me into him." The Republican added that the "liberal media ... is trying to make a story."

And yet, after the votes were counted, and the electoral risk disappeared, Gianforte apologized and conceded that the reporter "did not initiate any physical contact."

In other words, Gianforte didn't tell the truth to the police about the assault.

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Trump World makes a promise on taxes it probably can't keep

11/20/17 09:20AM

There was an interesting exchange about tax policy yesterday between CNN's Jake Tapper and Mick Mulvaney, the far-right director of Donald Trump's budget office, who made the rounds on the Sunday shows to help defend the regressive Republican tax plan.

TAPPER: So I guess the big question is, how can Republicans and the White House propose a bill that would simultaneously cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, while effectively creating more of a financial burden for Americans earning less than $30,000 a year?

MULVANEY: Yes, the bottom line is that the White House, the president is not going to sign a bill that raises taxes on the middle class, period.

I'm not sure Trump World fully appreciates the degree to which the president will struggle to keep this promise.

After all, it was just last week that the Joint Committee on Taxation, the congressional office responsible for non-partisan analyses of tax bills, found that once the Senate Republican legislation is fully implemented, American households earning between $10,000 to $75,000 would pay more in taxes, while the wealthy would pay less.

Here's the breakdown in chart form:

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

Trump now says he 'should have left' Americans in Chinese jail

11/20/17 08:42AM

As a rule, when two people are trying to generate more attention for themselves, I'm inclined to look the other way, but I think there's something notable about Donald Trump's latest attempt at starting a public feud.

President Donald Trump on Sunday fired off a Twitter tirade against the outspoken father of one of the UCLA basketball players arrested on suspicion of shoplifting while touring in China.

Trump called the young man "ungrateful" for his favor and said he should have left the players in jail.

"Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!" Trump said on Twitter Sunday morning.

The president added yesterday, "Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful!"

If you haven't been following this mess, three UCLA basketball players, in China for a recent tournament, were arrested for shoplifting, which became something of an international incident. As part of his Asia-Pacific tour, Donald Trump reportedly brought up the incident to Chinese President Xi Jinping, asked for the matter to be resolved, and soon after, the young men returned to the United States.

Because Trump is dignity-averse, he publicly called on the athletes to thank him. They did, and the president tweeted his satisfaction with their gratitude.

But when one of the athlete's fathers criticized the president, Trump changed his mind, and said he should have left the young Americans in a Chinese jail.

And while I don't much care about every instance in which the president puts his pettiness on display, Trump is telling the public something important with his latest tantrum.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Mueller's latest request suggests trouble for Trump's White House

11/20/17 08:00AM

For months, Donald Trump has responded to questions about his Russia scandal by insisting, with great vigor, that he isn't personally under investigation -- even if his political operation and top former aides are. But a couple of weeks ago, there was a slight shift in the president's rhetoric.

"As far as I'm concerned, I haven't been told that we're under investigation, I'm not under investigation," Trump said.

This is, however, a knowable thing. As far as Trump is "concerned," he's not being investigated, but the president's perspective is of limited value. He has no idea what lines of inquiry federal investigators are pursuing and isn't necessarily in a position to know who is and isn't under investigation.

Meanwhile, there are ample reports that suggest the special counsel's investigation is, in fact, keenly interested in actions the president took while in office that were directly related to the scandal. ABC News had this report last night:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents, ABC News has learned.

In particular, Mueller's investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source who has not seen the specific request but was told about it.

ABC News' report, which hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that this line of inquiry "marks the special counsel's first records request to the Justice Department, and it means Mueller is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation."

The piece went on to say, "The latest move suggests the Special Counsel is still actively digging into, among other matters, whether Trump or any other administration official improperly tried to influence an ongoing investigation."

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

This Week in God, 11.18.17

11/18/17 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a report out of Alabama, where Republican Senate hopeful Roy Moore pushed back against allegations of sexual misconduct with a faith-based appeal that didn't go as planned.

The GOP candidate appeared at a televised press conference on Thursday with several provocative allies from the religious right movement, When reporters asked Moore about the scandal, one of his allies announced that the Republican wouldn't be answering any questions at the event. When those in attendance pressed on, Moore left.

But even more controversial was a letter of support for Moore from pastors, which the campaign promoted this week in the hopes of addressing the scandal. The problem, as reported, was that some of the pastors listed as Moore supporters don't actually support Moore.

The undated letter is posted to Moore's website under the "news" category. The letter references the Aug. 15 primary and contains the name of more than 50 pastors who urged support for Moore.

"For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars - a bold defender of the "little guy," a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty. Judge Moore has stood in the gap for us, taken the brunt of the attack, and has done so with a rare, unconquerable resolve," the letter said.

Moore's wife, Kayla, posted the letter to Facebook this week but omitted the first three paragraphs that referenced the date. Since that time, four pastors have come forward to say they were not asked about their support for Moore and asked that their names be removed from the letter.

By all appearances, Moore and his team took a previously released letter and re-packaged it this week in response to the firestorm. The apparent point was to give the impression that these religious leaders were standing with Moore despite the serious allegations, which proved problematic when some of the pastors publicly balked.

Neither the candidate nor his campaign have yet explained the apparent attempt at deception.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.17.17

11/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is quite a story: "A Panama tower carries Trump's name and ties to organized crime."

* In case you missed the latest on Trump-Russia: "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump's campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter."

* That's quite a while to wait: "Jared Kushner is still working with an interim security clearance 10 months into President Donald Trump's administration, according to White House officials and others with knowledge of the matter."

* Changing the makeup and direction of America's courts: "President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America's federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation's diversity."

* Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak "said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. 'First, I'm never going to do that,' he said. 'And second, the list is so long that I'm not going to be able to go through it in 20 minutes.'"

* In case you missed Rachel's segment on Reza Zarrab: "A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn."

* I was eager to see today whether Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) faced any additional accusers today. At least so far, that hasn't happened, and we've instead seen statements like these.

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

White House tries to defend Trump's double standard on misconduct

11/17/17 04:32PM

Donald Trump is comfortable weighing in on the controversy surrounding Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), but he's been conspicuously silent about Roy Moore's (R-Ala.) scandal. This morning, Kellyanne Conway said it's because the Moore story, which broke last week, is "eight days old."

Given that the president has brought up last year's election, on average, every five days this year, Conway's argument could use some work.

But the problem extends beyond well Moore. Trump himself has faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including women who said the president targeted them in ways he bragged about on tape. If Franken is going to face Senate Ethics Committee scrutiny, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today if it'd be fair for the claims against Trump to also be investigated. Not surprisingly, the president's chief spokesperson pushed back.

SANDERS: Look, I think that this was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this president.

REPORTER: But how is this different?

SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Sen. Franken has admitted wrong doing and the president hasn't. I think that's a very clear distinction.

OK, two things.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

A senatorial clash that explains what's wrong with the tax fight

11/17/17 02:18PM

If you've spent any time on social media today, you've probably come across the clip of Senate Finance Committee Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) clashing with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) ahead of a vote on the Republican tax plan last night. That's probably a good thing: the quarrel helps define the terms of the broader policy fight.

If you missed it, Brown explained, accurately, that the Senate GOP tax plan isn't intended to help the middle class; it's written to benefit the richest Americans. Hatch, visibly angry, appeared to take great personal offense.

"I come from the poor people, and I have been here working my whole stinkin' career for people who don't have a chance, and I really resent anybody that says I'm just doing it for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys overplay all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.

"I get kind of sick and tired of it. True, it's a nice political play. It's not true.... What you said was not right. That's all I'm saying, I come from the lower middle class, originally. We didn't have anything. So don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap. Let me just say something. If we worked together, we could pull this country out of every mess it is in. We could do a lot of the things that you are talking about, too.... [T]his bullcrap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while."

Republicans are apparently under the impression that Hatch's fiery harangue bested the Ohio Democrat, and it's worth taking a moment to understand why that's ridiculous.

Brown's argument was, at its core, substantive: non-partisan analyses of the Senate Republican tax plan make clear that it would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans, and raise taxes on millions of middle-class families. That's not some lazy "political play"; it's an argument backed up by evidence.

Hatch had an opportunity to defend his proposal on the merits and/or explain why he disagreed with the non-partisan assessments, but he chose instead to make this personal. The Utah Republican is apparently under the impression that his upbringing matters, and factual descriptions of his legislation don't.

Hatch is "tired" of Democrats criticizing tax breaks for the rich? I suspect Democrats are equally tired of Hatch and his Republican brethren demanding tax breaks for the rich.

Indeed, it's hard not to wonder if Hatch's outburst was the result of his genuine belief that Sherrod Brown's argument is "bullcrap" or if it was because the truth hurts. The Republican National Committee this morning highlighted the committee clash and said the GOP chairman "set the record straight" -- which, in reality, is the opposite of what actually happened.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Republican tax plan extends tax break to private jet owners

11/17/17 12:47PM

When Congress takes up a massive tax bill, it's inevitable that lawmakers are going to tuck some pretty controversial measures into the package. The House Republican version, for example, included "a lucrative break for golf-course owners," even as it raised taxes on some middle-class families.

It's the kind of policy Donald Trump is likely to appreciate.

Business Insider today highlights a similar piece of the Senate Republicans' plan.

One of those exemptions in the Senate version of the bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), would give a break to owners of private jets.

Currently, the federal government imposes an excise tax on the use of private planes for every flight an aircraft makes. Under the Republican tax legislation, costs for maintenance and other support activities for the planes would be exempt from the excise tax.

The article added that, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, the price tag on this tax break is quite modest -- less than $50 million in tax revenue over 10 years -- probably in part because so few Americans can take advantage of the benefit.

For proponents of the Republican tax plan, this may seem like a defense: in a trillion-dollar package, the argument goes, a policy that costs less than $50 million isn't worth much of a fuss.

But isn't that backwards? If it's "only" $50 million over 10 years, why include it at all?

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.17.17

11/17/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, the latest Fox News poll out of Alabama shows Doug Jones (D) leading Roy Moore (R) in their upcoming Senate special election, 50% to 42%.

* The same poll also found Barack Obama with a higher favorability rating in Alabama than Donald Trump, which suggests the poll is suspect, or the winds of change are blowing in a direction Republicans aren't going to like.

* Though he was under considerable party pressure to run for the Senate next year, Rep. Fred Upton (R) has instead decided to run for re-election in his Michigan district in 2018. The GOP has not yet fielded a top-tier challenger to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

* Speaking of Midwestern Senate races, Rep. Luke Messer (R) is considered a top-tier candidate who hopes to take on Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana next year, but the Associated Press reports that the congressman's only address in the Hoosier state is his mom's house. [Update: I spoke to a Messer aide, who said the congressman has co-owned the house with his mother for many years.]

* In October, the DCCC's fundraising for the 2018 cycle outpaced the NRCC's fundraising, $7.7 million to $4.5 million. It's the sixth month in a row the DCCC has enjoyed this advantage, which is unusual given the fact that Republicans have the House majority.

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

Why the White House's 'welfare reform' focus matters

11/17/17 11:20AM

Ahead of the House Republicans' vote yesterday on the regressive GOP tax plan, Donald Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to help apply a little 11th-hour pressure. The president's remarks weren't recorded, but by all accounts, he made a rather predictable pitch in support of the party's far-right efforts on tax policy.

But the Washington Post took note of something else Trump reportedly told his House allies.

Trump thanked party leaders, expressed optimism about the Senate bill, and said he believed that Congress ought to move to "welfare reform" after completing the tax bill, according to several members in the room.

The Hill had a related report, quoting unnamed House GOP members who said Trump specifically brought up welfare reform as of one his priorities. The article added, "The welfare line got a big applause, with one lawmaker describing it as an 'off-the-charts' reception."

And while I'm sure the president was delighted by the applause, the political world needs to understand what the White House means by "welfare reform" -- because it may not mean what everyone thinks it means.

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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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