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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

NRA faces new allegations about its spending practices

06/10/19 12:51PM

In late April, as former NRA president Oliver North was ousted from his post, North said in his resignation letter that there's "a clear crisis" within the right-wing organization.

That assessment is increasingly easy to believe. The Washington Post reported this morning on many of the National Rifle Association's unpaid board members benefiting financially from the group.

The NRA, which has been rocked by allegations of exorbitant spending by top executives, also directed money in recent years that went to board members -- the very people tasked with overseeing the organization's finances.

In all, 18 members of the NRA's 76-member board, who are not paid as directors, collected money from the group during the past three years, according to tax filings, state charitable reports and NRA correspondence reviewed by The Washington Post.

The payments received by about one-quarter of board members, the extent of which has not previously been reported, deepen questions about the rigor of the board's oversight as it steered the country's largest and most powerful gun rights group, according to tax experts and some longtime members.

While the NRA denied any wrongdoing, the Post spoke to Douglas Varley, an attorney who specializes in tax-exempt organizations. "In 25 years of working in this field, I have never seen a pattern like this," Varley said. "The volume of transactions with insiders and affiliates of insiders is really astonishing."

If this were the only sign of trouble for the organization, it might be easier to shrug off. But given the avalanche of questions surrounding the NRA's use -- and alleged misuse -- of its resources, it's hard not to see the latest revelations as part of a bigger picture.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.10.19

06/10/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) yesterday conceded that he'd voted for spending bills that included the Hyde Amendment, but explained, "Well, look, sometimes in a large bill you have to vote for things you don't like. But I think my record as being literally 100 percent 'pro-choice' is absolutely correct."

* Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, is reportedly preparing to step down from his post, and he's eyeing a race for his old job: governor of Utah. Huntsman, who also served as the Obama administration's ambassador to China, ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2012.

* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's Democratic presidential campaign picked up its first U.S. Senate endorsement over the weekend: Montana's Jon Tester (D) threw his support behind his home-state ally.

* Fresh off her success championing Georgia's controversial new abortion ban, state Sen. Renee Unterman (R) is running to succeed Rep. Rob Woodall (R) in Georgia's 7th congressional district.

* Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) conceded the other day that he isn't going to qualify for the first round of debates for the Democratic presidential candidates.

* Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway (D), who's currently the only Democratic official holding statewide office in Missouri, is reportedly moving closer to a gubernatorial campaign next year, fueled in part by her opposition to Missouri's newly passed abortion ban.

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A detailed view of the boxing gloves ringside during day one of the Boxing Elite National Championships at Echo Arena on April 29, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty)

At this point in the Democratic 2020 race, the gloves remain on

06/10/19 11:20AM

With two dozen candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, it's unrealistic to think the contenders won't try to draw contrasts with one another. In fact, it's a healthy part of the process: candidates challenge one another, debate one another, and argue why they think they're better than their rivals. Some disagreements are as normal as they are necessary.

It's against this backdrop that Axios reported over the weekend that the "attack" phase of the Democratic race is now underway.

The niceties have ended: 2020 Democrats are breaking their own pledge not to go after one another. The attacks of the past week show what a long primary they're in for.

These jabs and skirmishes show a fracturing Democratic Party -- exactly what some top Democrats wanted to avoid in order to maximize their chances of defeating President Trump. [...]

[I]f the last week is any indication, the gloves have come off and we should expect more Dem-on-Dem attacks to come. And the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee will enjoy every minute of it.

At this point in the Democratic nominating contest, I tend to see a very different landscape. In fact, I think the Axios report has it largely backwards.

Let's take the debate over the Hyde Amendment as an example. Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign initially said last week that the Delaware Democrat hadn't changed his mind about the policy, which prompted many of his 2020 rivals to make clear they feel differently on the issue. The rebukes were substantive and policy-focused, and soon after, Biden changed direction.

But to see this as evidence of "the gloves" coming off is to exaggerate the intensity of what transpired.

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Image: John Hickenlooper

The big flaws in the case against 'big government'

06/10/19 10:44AM

Given the enormous size of the Democratic presidential field, every candidate faces a straightforward practical question: how to stand out in a crowd. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) joined 18 other contenders in Iowa over the weekend, and differentiated himself by running to his rivals' right.

As he did last weekend in San Francisco, Hickenlooper urged Democrats to repudiate socialism. "Trump is the worst president our country has ever had, but defeating him is far from guaranteed," he said. "I'm the only person running who has actually done what everyone else is talking about, so I can tell you that you don't do big things with big government."

Before considering the substance of comments like these, it's worth appreciating the curious political strategy the former governor is implementing.

I tend to think the importance of "lanes" is overstated, but the general idea is that presidential candidates can be grouped together in ways that appeal to specific constituencies: some voters might be looking for a fresh face, others might want someone more experienced, others still might prefer a D.C. outsider, and so on.

Hickenlooper may very well look at his intra-party rivals and notice that he can run to the middle and have the "centrist" lane largely to himself, locking up the Democratic voters who are looking for a presidential candidate hostile to "big government."

As a tactical matter, this would probably be more effective if there were lots of voters in this camp. In reality, however, there's little to suggest this contingent exists. The Coloradan has a lane to himself, but that's largely because no one else wants to be there.

But as important as this is to Hickenlooper's future, it's also important to appreciate the simple fact that he's mistaken about his governing philosophy.

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Mitch McConnell

Did Chao make special arrangements for McConnell's home state?

06/10/19 10:06AM

About a year ago, Donald Trump seemed aware of the fact that his "drain the swamp" rhetoric had become the punch-line to a sad joke, but he defended the line anyway.

"From the day I took the oath of office, I've been fighting to drain the swamp," the president claimed, before conceding that "sometimes it may not look like it."

It was those last seven words that stood out for a reason. All kinds of scandals have unfolded in recent years involving Trump and his team, leading to, among other things, a series of ethics controversies surrounding the White House cabinet. Each of them makes Trump's "drain the swamp" assurance that much more difficult to take seriously.

Some of the controversies, however, are more striking than others. Take this amazing new report from Politico, for example.

The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.

Chao's aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell's Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell -- including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.

The details are a little tough to summarize -- you'll want to read the full report -- but the article describes a dynamic in which the Transportation secretary hired one of her husband's former campaign aides. That aide soon took on a unique role in the cabinet agency, overseeing projects that would benefit Chao's powerful husband's home state ahead of his re-election campaign.

The article added, "Chao's designation of Inman as a special intermediary for Kentucky -- a privilege other states did not enjoy -- gave a special advantage to projects favored by her husband, which could in turn benefit his political interests. In such situations, ethicists say, each member of a couple benefits personally from the success of the other."

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Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo

Pompeo: People may need to relocate in response to climate crisis

06/10/19 09:20AM

A couple of years ago, during the debate over Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, then-Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) raised an unusual argument: his party's approach may require American families to relocate.

If the ACA were scrapped, and conservative states began punishing those with pre-existing conditions, people could simply "go to the state that they want to live in," Pittenger argued.

As we discussed at the time, it was an awkward pitch. Perhaps you have a heart condition? Under the Republican plan, you should be prepared to leave your job, sell your home, and move to a blue state.

All of this came to mind when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reflected on the effects of the climate crisis and suggested that populations can simply relocate to somewhere unaffected.

"The climate's been changing a long time. There's always changes that take place," Pompeo said during an interview with the Washington Times published Friday, when asked whether he thought climate change was man-made and how best to address it. He did not mention anything about man-made pollution in his remarks.

"Societies reorganize, we move to different places, we develop technology and innovation," he added. "I am convinced, I am convinced that we will do the things necessary as the climate changes."

It's worth taking a moment to appreciate just how breathtakingly misguided this posture is.

For example, whether the Kansas Republican has thought about this or not, relocating tens of millions of environmental refugees "to different places" is a bit more difficult than Pompeo seems to appreciate.

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Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Latest Iowa poll points to a Democratic top tier for 2020 race

06/10/19 08:40AM

We've reached an interesting point in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The largest field in U.S. history is (probably) set; the debates are poised to begin; and there's some helpful polling to give us a sense of who's in the top tier -- at least for now.

The field of Democratic presidential candidates is starting to settle into tiers: Joe Biden leads the pack, and Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are in close competition for second place, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll shows. [...]

"We're starting to see the people who are planning to caucus start to solidify," said J. Ann Selzer, president of the Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. "There's a lot more commitment than we normally see this early. And some of these candidates who've been under the radar start to surface and compete with Joe Biden."

Selzer & Co., widely seen as producing the best and most reliable polling in the Hawkeye State, last surveyed Iowa Democrats in March, and for most of the field, there's been quite a bit of movement over the last three months:

Joe Biden: 24% (down from 27% in March)
Bernie Sanders: 16% (down from 25%)
Elizabeth Warren: 15% (up from 9%)
Pete Buttigieg: 14% (up from 1%)
Kamala Harris: 7% (unchanged)

Everyone else was at 2% support or lower.

So, as the race enters a new phase, what can we take away from these results? A few things stood out for me:

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump's breakthrough deal with Mexico turns into a mirage

06/10/19 08:00AM

Donald Trump made an audacious threat a couple of weeks ago, declaring his intention to impose harsh trade sanctions on Mexico unless our southern neighbors "substantially stopped the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory." Those new taxes were scheduled to take effect today.

At least for now, that policy is on indefinite hold: the American president announced late Friday that his administration and Mexico "reached a signed agreement." At first blush, this may look like a clear victory for Trump's controversial strategy.

After all, the president took a gamble by threatening an ally and risking the health of his own country's economy, but as a result of Trump's tactics, the White House says Mexico is taking new steps to stem immigration, including deploying national guard troops.

Doesn't this count as a presidential tantrum getting results? Do Republican loyalists touting this as a success story have a point? Alas, no. The New York Times reported on a nagging detail: Mexico had already promised to take these actions before Trump issued his threat.

Friday's joint declaration says Mexico agreed to the "deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border." But the Mexican government had already pledged to do that in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, the officials said.

The centerpiece of Mr. Trump's deal was an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. But that arrangement was reached in December in a pair of painstakingly negotiated diplomatic notes that the two countries exchanged. Ms. Nielsen announced the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee five days before Christmas.

A Politico report added, "A person familiar with the negotiations under former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed New York Times reporting that much of what Mexico agreed to do this week was already on track months ago."

Oh. So, Trump wants us to believe he extracted historic concessions through his hardball negotiating tactics, which, as it turns out, isn't at all what happened.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.7.19

06/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This was not the first incident of its kind: "A Russian destroyer accelerated toward a U.S. warship in the Philippine Sea and almost collided with it, putting the safety of the crew at risk, the Navy said Friday."

* Stay tuned: "After a week of threats, President Donald Trump declared Friday that now 'there is a good chance' the U.S. will strike a deal with Mexico to avert the tariffs he had scheduled for Monday to force the U.S. ally to stem the flow of Central American migrants into the United States."

* Remember when Trump was a candidate vowing to fight for the LGBTQ community? That was then; this is now: "The Trump administration is rejecting requests from U.S. embassies to fly the rainbow pride flag on embassy flagpoles during June, LGBTQ Pride Month, three American diplomats told NBC News."

* Republican officials often talk about punishing abortion doctors, but they occasionally shift their focus to women seeking abortions: "Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) said Thursday that 'of course' women who perform their own abortions should be punished since 'they committed murder.'"

* Seems a little embarrassing: "Larry Kudlow, the President's chief economic adviser, once said Donald Trump's proposed policies on trade would lead to a bad recession, cause 'incalculable damage' to the economy and kill consumers and businesses alike."

* Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks "it's strategically unwise to antagonize every country in the world simultaneously." That seems fairly reasonable, though I get the sense the White House disagrees.

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American astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walking on the moon on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong's reflection in the visor of the helmet. (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Why Trump suggested the Moon 'is a part' of Mars

06/07/19 03:09PM

Three weeks ago, Donald Trump was so eager to send Americans to the moon, the president updated the White House budget, requesting an additional $1.6 billion for NASA's budget for a lunar mission.

It's one of the reasons Trump raised a few eyebrows with a new tweet this afternoon.

"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!"

Oh my.

The part of this that seems to be generating the most attention is the presidential assertion that Earth's moon "is a part" of Mars. Having a little fun at the Republican's expense, the DNC issued an official statement that read, "The moon is not part of Mars."

In fairness, I think I know what Trump was clumsily trying to say: the mission to the moon and the mission to Mars may eventually be related. Administration officials have argued on multiple occasions that they envision an exploration model in which the United States -- at some point in the future -- uses Earth's moon as a launch site for other space missions.

What I found weirder was Trump's assertion that moon missions are somehow a passe goal -- "We did that 50 years ago," he wrote -- and therefore NASA "should NOT be talking about going" there.

To put it mildly, this is a radical departure from everything the White House has said on the subject for quite a while.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump attends a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels

Trump forgets an important rule: don't make up quotes from real people

06/07/19 02:17PM

Earlier this year, Donald Trump told reporters that "some" of his presidential predecessors had told him they wish they'd built a wall along the United States' southern border. It was, of course, an impossible claim to take seriously, which was made worse when each of the living former presidents issued statements debunking Trump's claim.

There was a moral to the story: when Trump describes made-up conversations -- something he does with alarming frequency -- he needs to avoid references to real people who can expose his nonsense.

As we discussed at the time, the president tends to understand this fairly well, which is why he frequently quotes "anonymous validators": mysterious unnamed people, whom the president swears exist, who we're supposed to believe secretly tell Trump how right he is about the major issues of the day. It's impossible to definitely prove that all of these people are fictional, which creates a rhetorical safe harbor for the Republican.

Occasionally, however, Trump forgets the rule. Take, for example, his comments to Fox News yesterday about NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"Secretary Stoltenberg has been maybe Trump's biggest fan, to be honest with you. He goes around -- he made a speech the other day, he said, 'Without Donald Trump maybe there would be no NATO.'"

If Trump had said, "A prominent international said the other day, 'Without Donald Trump maybe there would be no NATO,'" there might at least be some wiggle room. We'd know it was false, but it'd be difficult to prove.

But in this case, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg actually exists.

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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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