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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.19.19

07/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Seems reasonable: "House Democrats are demanding answers from former Trump aide Hope Hicks after newly unsealed documents showed 'apparent inconsistencies' with her congressional testimony about hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign."

* Iran: "Two British-operated oil tankers were seized and being guided toward Iran in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian forces, the British foreign minister confirmed Friday."

* Here's hoping Trump doesn't fire them: "The nation's top spy has created a new job to coordinate the U.S. response to election security threats. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced Friday he has established the position of intelligence community election threats executive -- and appointed a career official, Shelby Pierson, to serve in this new role."

* Another discouraging choice: "President Trump said Thursday that he would name Eugene Scalia as his next secretary of labor, tapping the longtime labor lawyer and son of the former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia for a position with vast responsibility over the American work force."

* A Bush-appointed judge: "A federal judge on Friday upheld the Trump administration's expansion of health insurance plans that don't meet ObamaCare's coverage requirements. "

* His hatred for Amazon is a little weird: "President Trump said on Thursday that he was looking 'very seriously' at intervening in the hard-fought commercial battle for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract for which Amazon, a company he has frequently attacked, is seen as the leading contender."

* A good piece explaining Puerto Rico's political crisis.

* Priorities: "Sitting amid several plastic fast-food cups, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the so-called Save Chick-fil-A bill into law on Thursday."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump is a recent convert on what counts as a 'sacred thing'

07/19/19 03:32PM

Yesterday, Donald Trump talked about the debt ceiling in ways that suggested he didn't know the term's meaning. Today, the president went a little further.

President Trump said Friday that Democrats should not use the debt ceiling as leverage amid ongoing negotiations between his administration and Congress.

"I can't imagine anybody using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge," Trump said in the Oval Office, calling the debt limit a "sacred thing in our country."

Oh, for crying out loud.

Trump may not be able to "imagine anybody using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge," but that was his own party's strategy when Barack Obama was president. Indeed, in the way of the Republicans' debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) explicitly described the statutory limit as "a hostage that's worth ransoming."

It was during this same crisis that a South Carolina congressman named Mick Mulvaney helped lead the way, threatening to push the nation into default unless the party's demands were met, The young GOP lawmaker at the time not only championed the dangerous scheme, Mulvaney publicly argued that default wouldn't be a big deal, and undermining the full faith and credit of the United States would carry few consequences.

Mulvaney is now the acting White House chief of staff. He was literally standing near Trump today when the president denounced negotiating around the debt ceiling and called it "sacred."

And then, of course, there's Trump's own record on the subject.

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Federal Reserve To Announce Policy Decisions After One-Day Meeting

Trump outraged that the Federal Reserve followed his advice

07/19/19 12:44PM

We're still a couple of weeks out from the next Federal Reserve meeting, at which Chairman Jerome Powell and the board of governors are expected to lower interest rates, at least a little. In the meantime, Donald Trump, who's been a little hysterical at times about the Fed raising rates in 2018, has become fairly explicit in giving his advice to the supposedly independent board.

President Trump urged the Federal Reserve Friday to lower interest rates to spur "unparalleled" growth, telling the central bank, "Don't blow it!"

"This is our chance to build unparalleled wealth and success for the U.S., GROWTH, which would greatly reduce % debt," the president tweeted. [...]

Mr. Trump said there is almost no inflation, "but it is no thanks to the Federal Reserve."

There's no need to guess as to why the president is engaged in such an aggressive lobbying campaign. Trump realizes that higher interest rates mean slower growth, and slower growth may interfere with his re-election campaign.

What often gets lost in the shuffle, however, is the fact that when the Fed raised rates, it was following Trump's advice.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.19.19

07/19/19 12:00PM

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

* The lineups are now set for the Democratic presidential primary debates on July 30 and 31. Among the notable details: former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will again share a stage, and unlike last month's debates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will appear alongside top-tier contenders, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D).

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) didn't qualify for the next debate, but he did pick up a notable endorsement yesterday: retired four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that he's backing the Massachusetts congressman.

* Bernie Sanders' campaign is facing some criticism from its unionized staffers, some of whom have complained that they're falling short of the $15-an-hour wage the senator supports at the federal level.

* Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign before anyone else in the field -- he announced in July 2017, believe it or not -- but he's reportedly now being advised by his senior aides to quit. Axios' article on this added that the Maryland Democrat has "loaned over $11 million of his own money to his campaign this year."

* In Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats, the head of a prominent evangelical group called The Family Leader, yesterday announced his support for Rep. Steve King's (R) primary rival, state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R).

* Retired Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar (D) was recruited to take on Sen. John Cornyn (R) in Texas next year, but she won't run unopposed: Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards (D) announced her U.S. Senate campaign yesterday.

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Image: Josh Hawley

GOP senator: 'It's time we ended the cosmopolitan experiment'

07/19/19 11:08AM

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has only been in Congress for six months, but he's already managed to make an impression on many political observers.

In May, for example, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern said the Missouri Republican "is vying with Ted Cruz for the mantle of most disingenuous, least principled senator." Last week, TPM's Josh Marshall added, "Hawley is one of the most dangerous figures in contemporary American politics, a more polished version of all of Trump's hostility to democracy and the rule of law."

Welcome to Capitol Hill, senator.

It's against this backdrop that the 39-year-old Hawley spoke this week at the National Conservatism Conference, where the lawmaker shared his vision of what ails American politics. His office published a transcript of the remarks online, and there were elements of the speech that struck me as important.

Consider an excerpt from the remarks as written for delivery:

"The cosmopolitan agenda has driven both left and right. The left champions multiculturalism and degrades our common identity. The right celebrates hyper-globalization and promises that the market will make everything right in the end, eventually ... perhaps.

"In truth, neither political party has seemed much interested in the American middle for quite a long time. And neither has seemed much interested in the republic the middle sustains.

"But the old political platforms have grown stale. And the old political truisms now ring hollow. The American people are demanding something different, and something better. It's time we ended the cosmopolitan experiment and recovered the promise of the republic."

In light of the rise of Trump, certain elements of far-right populism have become more common, though they often lack a slick veneer. It's been a while, for example, since I've heard a sitting senator tie together progressive support for "multiculturalism" and the degradation of Americans' "identity."

And then, of course, there was Hawley's stated concerns about "the cosmopolitan experiment."

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A Burqa-wearing Afghan refugee crosses in front of demolished houses in the Khazana refugees camp outskirts of Peshawar on Oct. 24, 2016. (Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty)

Would the Trump admin effectively halt the US refugee program?

07/19/19 10:04AM

It's been nearly 40 years since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, creating standards for the protection and resettlement of foreigners fleeing violence and persecution. It's widely seen as a successful program -- though Donald Trump and his team tend to disagree.

About a year ago, the Republican administration capped the number of refugees eligible to resettle on American soil at 30,000. As the New York Times reported at the time, the number represented "the lowest ceiling a president has placed on the refugee program since its creation in 1980, and a reduction of a third from the 45,000-person limit that Mr. Trump set for 2018."

Politico reported overnight that the White House now has a new number in mind, which is lower than last year's ceiling -- which is to say, 100% lower.

The Trump administration is considering a virtual shutdown of refugee admissions next year -- cutting the number to nearly zero -- according to three people familiar with the plan.

During a key meeting of security officials on refugee admissions last week, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representative who is closely aligned with White House immigration adviser Stephen Miller suggested setting a cap at zero, the people said. Homeland Security Department officials at the meeting later floated making the level anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000, according to one of the people.

The proposal for a near-shutdown of the refugee program is alarming officials at the Department of Defense, who don't want to see a halt in admissions of Iraqis who risked their lives assisting U.S. forces in that country.

In practical terms, Trump wants to make the transition from dramatically curtailing refugee admissions to effectively ending refugee admissions.

The result, Politico added, "would strand thousands of people already far along in the process and damage the ability of resettlement agencies to process refugees in future years, according to advocates tracking the issue."

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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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