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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Trump's latest retreats do further damage to his credibility

06/24/19 03:43PM

The folks at NBC News' First Read flagged an interesting trifecta that's unfolded over the last 17 days.

In less than three weeks, President Trump has made three different retreats:

1. Reaching a deal with Mexico to avert tariffs -- a deal that largely consisted of actions that Mexico had already agreed to.

2. Backing down on military strikes against Iran for shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone.

3. Delaying his plan for nationwide raids to deport undocumented immigrants.

I imagine Donald Trump's followers would respond to this list by arguing that each of their reprieves came with a caveat: the president may yet change his mind. That's fair, as far as it goes, and it's possible the White House will still impose new tariffs on Mexico, launch military strikes on Iran, and initiate a mass-deportation program.

It's also worth noting that in each of these instances, the Republican moved in a direction that I approve of. As an observer who didn't want to see Trump punish Mexico for no reason, touch off another deadly war in the Middle East, or deport thousands of families, these reversals were welcome developments.

But my personal preferences notwithstanding, the behavioral pattern carries consequences. This president has an unmistakable habit of making threats, and then backing off. Starting fires, and then putting them out. Vowing action, and then pursuing inaction.

Trump was going to close the southern border, until he didn't. He was going to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, until he didn't. He was going to subject North Korea to "fire and fury," until he didn't. There have been plenty of bills the president was prepared to veto, lawsuits he was prepared to file, and information he was prepared to divulge, only to have Trump retreat, over and over again.

Trump keeps playing erratic games of chicken, before being exposed as someone who likes to bluff -- badly.

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Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol

Growing Democratic support for impeachment poses challenge for Pelosi

06/24/19 12:46PM

It's been four weeks since this quote first came to public attention:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi likes to talk about the numbers to defend her go-slow approach to launching a formal impeachment process against President Donald Trump.

"I think it's like 35 of them out of 238, maybe its 38 out of 238, have said they wanted to be outspoken on impeachment and many of them are reflecting their views as well as those of their constituents," Pelosi said at a Commonwealth Club of California Wednesday. "Yes, there are some, and the press makes more of a fuss about the 38 than the 200."

The arithmetic created a credible foundation for the House Speaker to lean on. When pressed for answers, Pelosi could simply point to two straightforward metrics: most Americans opposed impeachment, most of her members opposed impeachment, and therefore, there wasn't much else to talk about.

As of this morning, however, the number of House members supporting Donald Trump's impeachment had doubled since Pelosi made those comments: according to NBC News' tally, the total stood at 76 (75 Democrats and one Republican). This afternoon, a 77th came to the same conclusion: Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a House Intelligence Committee member, also endorsed impeaching the Republican president.

The list will almost certainly grow. In fact, even House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who's publicly voiced opposition to the idea in recent weeks, sounded quite a bit more open to the possibility yesterday.

In fairness, it's worth emphasizing that there are some nuances in these positions, with some members insisting that Trump has met the threshold and must be impeached, and others calling for an impeachment inquiry to formally begin. The list of pro-impeachment members aren't all saying the exact same thing.

But they're saying roughly the same thing, which for the House Democratic leadership, poses a meaningful challenge.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.24.19

06/24/19 12:00PM

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

* In an announcement that probably made Republicans a little nervous, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) kicked off a U.S. Senate campaign this morning, hoping to take on Sen. Susan Collins (R) next year. Collins is literally the only Republican in Congress from New England.

* In South Carolina on Friday night, 21 Democratic presidential candidates attended Rep. James Clyburn's (D) famous fish-fry event. None of the contenders threw any jabs at a rival. A day later, the candidates also spoke at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention.

* Also over the weekend, 20 Democratic candidates spoke at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund's "We Decide: 2020 Election Membership Forum." (Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she has no role in the Action Fund and was not involved in this event.)

* Eight of the Democratic presidential hopefuls also spoke on Friday at a Miami forum organized by Telemundo and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

* Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) didn't participate in any of the events, choosing instead to deal with an issue in South Bend: the death of a local black man at the hands of a white police officer. Buttigieg hosted a town-hall event and heard quite a bit from angry constituents.

* As hard as this may be to believe, the Democratic presidential field got a little bigger over the weekend: former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who left Congress eight years ago, kicked off his national campaign on Saturday. Sestak ran failed U.S. Senate bids in Pennsylvania in 2010 and 2016.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Why it matters that Trump still rejects his popular-vote loss

06/24/19 11:20AM

Around Thanksgiving 2016, Donald Trump should've been focused on his presidential transition process. As regular readers may recall, the president-elect was instead focused on the inconvenient fact that Americans were given a choice in the election, and he received far fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

Instead of downplaying the significance of the electorate’s preference for his rival, Trump came up with a conspiracy theory to make himself feel better: he secretly won the popular vote, the Republican claimed, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

He soon after started referring to “the so-called popular vote.”

On his fourth day as president, Trump hosted a private discussion with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss his legislative agenda. He spent the first 10 minutes talking about the campaign and his belief that he won the popular vote, even if reality suggested otherwise.

Nearly three years later, Trump hasn't let this go, as was obvious in his "Meet the Press" interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd.

TODD: You didn't like the fact that you lost the popular vote. That bothered you, didn't it?

TRUMP: Well, I think it was a -- I mean, I'll say something that, again, is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don't believe. I look at California.

TODD: Mr. President.

TRUMP: Excuse me.... Take a look at Judicial Watch, take a look at their settlement where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.

TODD: A million votes of what?

While deciphering the president's weird conspiracy theories can be challenging, in this case, I think Trump was referring to California removing a million inactive voter registrations -- folks who either moved out of state or died -- from the voter rolls. At no point did state officials ever "admit" that a million illegal ballots were cast  In fact, there's no evidence of any illegal votes in California.

For that matter, Hillary Clinton's popular-vote advantage over Trump was nearly 3 million ballots, not 1 million.

But even putting these details aside, this is arguably more than just another example of the president believing a weird and discredited theory.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

To defend his family-separation policy, Trump tries gaslighting

06/24/19 10:40AM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Donald Trump insisted to NBC News' Chuck Todd, "I inherited separation from President Obama." The president told the same lie to Time magazine a day earlier.

And then the Republican repeated the lie to Jose Diaz-Balart during a Telemundo interview that aired on Friday night:

TRUMP, When I became president, President Obama had a separation policy. I didn't have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I'm the one that brought 'em together. Now, I said something when I did that. I'm the one that put people together.... They separated. I put 'em together.

DIAZ-BALART: You did not.

In case there are any doubts, Jose Diaz-Balart was right and the president was wrong. As the Associated Press put it in a fact-check piece, Trump was simply "not telling the truth."

To be sure, the president has told this lie before. But the fact remains that the Republican has had a year to come up with a compelling defense for his family-separation policy, and it appears the best he can do is peddle a brazen lie.

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Image: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas

Conditions at migrant detention facilities spark outcry

06/24/19 10:00AM

Reports like this one from the Associated Press are difficult to read, but important not to look away from.

A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they've been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there's inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.

The bleak portrait emerged Thursday after a legal team interviewed 60 children at the facility near El Paso that has become the latest place where attorneys say young migrants are describing neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government.

The article quoted a 14-year-old girl from Guatemala who said she's been looking after two little girls at the facility. "I need comfort, too," she said. "I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too."

An ABC News report added, "From sleeping on concrete floors with the lights on 24 hours a day to no access to soap or basic hygiene, migrant children in at least two U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities face conditions one doctor described as comparable to 'torture facilities.'"

These reports coincided with coverage of Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the Department of Justice's Office of Immigration Litigation, who told a federal appeals court panel last week that the administration believe it's "safe and sanitary" to confine immigrant children in facilities without soap or toothbrushes and to make them sleep on concrete floors.

It was against this backdrop that NBC News' Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump about these conditions on "Meet the Press."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump tries to push back against latest sexual-assault allegation

06/24/19 09:20AM

The public learned on Friday about new sexual-assault allegations E. Jean Carroll, a longtime writer and media figure, raised against Donald Trump. Her account, published as a book excerpt in New York magazine, described an alleged incident in a department store in the mid-1990s in which the future president attacked her in a dressing room.

Carroll said she told two friends about the alleged incident at the time, both of whom are journalists the writer did not identify by name. She's the latest in a series of women who've accused Trump of misconduct.

The president issued a written response on Friday afternoon, claiming he's never met Carroll. The New York magazine article, however, included a photograph of the two interacting at an event years before the alleged attack,

During a brief Q&A with reporters a day after the book excerpt was published, Trump again said he has "no idea who this woman is." Reminded of the photograph, he said of the picture, "Standing with coat on in a line -- give me a break --with my back to the camera." The president went on to say:

"What she did is -- it's terrible, what's going on. So it's a total false accusation and I don't know anything about her. And she's made this charge against others.

"And, you know, people have to be careful because they're playing with very dangerous territory. And when they do that -- and it's happening more and more. When you look at what happened to Justice Kavanaugh and you look at what's happening to others, you can't do that for the sake of publicity."

Trump proceeded to question New York magazine's financial footing -- twice -- before claiming that Fox News has evidence of "numerous" women who were paid to "say bad things" about him.

Given the seriousness of the sexual-assault allegations, this isn't much of a response.

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Why Trump's dubious Iran claims are so important

06/24/19 08:44AM

Given all of the available evidence, it's clear that Donald Trump and his team four days ago considered some kind of military strike against Iran. It's also clear that the considered strike did not occur.

Every other relevant detail, including each of the claims the president has made to the public, should be taken with a grain of salt.

According to the version of events Trump published to Twitter, the military was "cocked and loaded" to hit three Iranian targets when he asked U.S. generals about the expected casualties. After being told to expect 150 fatalities, the Republican -- again, according to him -- aborted the mission "10 minutes before the strike."

The story he shared on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd was a little different.

TRUMP: Nothing is green lighted until the very end because things change, right?

TODD: So you never gave a final order?

TRUMP: No, no, no, no. But we had something ready to go, subject to my approval. And they came in. And they came in about a half an hour before, they said, "So we're about ready to go." I said, "I want a better definition --"

TODD: Planes in the air? Were planes in the air?

TRUMP: No, no. "We're about ready to go." No, but they would have been pretty soon. And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn't turn back or couldn't turn back. So they came and they said, "Sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision." I said, "I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed, in this case Iranians?" I said, "How many people are going to be killed?" "Sir, I'd like get back to you on that," great people these generals. They said, came back, said, "Sir, approximately 150." And I thought about it for a second and I said, "You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead." And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was, I didn't think it was proportionate.

Given the seriousness of the subject -- at issue is a life-or-death decision that risked a potentially devastating new war in the Middle East -- it matters that the American president's story is literally unbelievable.

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Image: U.S. ICE officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta

Ahead of ICE raids, Trump again puts out the fire he set

06/24/19 08:00AM

It was a week ago today that Donald Trump announced a dramatic new plan: he'd use Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to "begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States." The raids were scheduled to get underway yesterday in several major American cities.

By any sensible measure, the plan was difficult to defend: the president's gambit was a "family op" that John Sandweg, who was an acting director of ICE in the Obama administration, said had "very limited operational value." Indeed, Sandweg told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, "You're draining tremendous resources away from the apprehension of dangerous criminals, and from the current humanitarian crisis at the border."

Some officials within the Department of Homeland Security made little effort to hide their opposition to the plan and their concerns that they were being used as part of a political ploy. Even acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan made his wariness known.

Over the weekend, the entire plan was put on (ahem) ice.

President Donald Trump announced Saturday that he would delay plans to begin mass immigration raids Sunday against undocumented families.

The president said on Twitter that "at the request of Democrats" the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) would delay the planned mass raids targeting people with deportation orders.

If you're thinking that it seems odd for the Republican White House to delay an anti-immigrant plan "at the request of Democrats," you're not alone. In fact, the president's stated reason should probably be taken with a grain of salt: NBC News talked to DHS sources who said the raids were called off "in large part because details of the plan had leaked to media. A second issue was that ICE did not have plans in place for detaining the 2,000 immigrants -- mainly families -- whom they were going to arrest and deport, the officials said."

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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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