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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.14.18

11/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* That's hardly reassuring: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described the deployment to the border as 'great training' and told active-duty soldiers in Texas not to pay attention to the news coverage of the operation because they would 'go nuts.'"

* And speaking of underwhelming arguments: "The Justice Department released a memorandum Wednesday defending the legality of President Trump appointing Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general -- rejecting criticism from some lawyers that the move violates the Constitution."

* Remember, Trump hates Amazon because of some weird theory about the Washington Post: "President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Virginia and New York are ''paying a very big price' to house Amazon's next headquarters, adding that 'time will tell' on the merits of the deals."

* Still not fired: "One day after first lady Melania Trump's office called for the ouster of deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel, a White House official confirmed Wednesday that Ricardel is still employed there."

* A Brexit step forward: "Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, faced down her hard-line critics on Wednesday and won the support of a jittery cabinet for a plan to quit the European Union, keeping on track her push to avert an economically damaging rupture with the bloc in March."

* Another discouraging Facebook story: "While Mr. Zuckerberg conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook's critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros."

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Image: Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Emmanuel Macron, Brigitte Macron

French government wishes Trump had shown 'common decency'

11/14/18 12:46PM

Among the problems with Donald Trump's latest tantrum against France was his timing. As the American president mocked our French allies yesterday -- complete with an all-caps missive that read, "Make France Great Again!" -- France was recognizing the three-year anniversary of an ISIS terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people.

Trump may not have realized the significance of the date, but he didn't bother to check, either. Reuters reports that this did not go unnoticed.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who attacked his French counterpart in a series of tweets on Tuesday, should have shown "common decency" instead since the country was mourning the anniversary of deadly attacks in Paris, a French government spokesman said.

In five posts sent on the same day France marked the anniversary of the 2015 attacks that killed 130 people, Trump blasted the key U.S. ally over its near defeat to Germany in two world wars, its wine industry and President Emmanuel Macron's approval ratings.

"Yesterday was November 13, we were marking the murder of 130 of our people," French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Reuters. "So I'll reply in English: 'common decency' would have been appropriate."

It's a difficult sentiment to disagree with.

Trump's offensive was misguided anyway, given that it was rooted in confusion. Emmanuel Macron recently spoke about Europe taking responsibility for its own security, and not looking to the United States for protection, which is a sentiment the Republican White House should agree with. The American president, however, decided it was "very insulting" -- because in Trump's mind, Macron recommended building an army to protect Europe from Americans.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.14.18

11/14/18 12:00PM

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

* In the latest "red" to "blue" flip in the U.S. House, Rep. Jeff Denham (R) has lost his seat in California's 10th congressional district, falling to first-time candidate Josh Harder (D). There are still two more undecided races in California, and as of last night, both are in districts that also appear poised to flip in Democrats' favor.

* According to a report in Roll Call, when the new Congress convenes in January, 73% of House Republicans will be serving in the minority for the first time. (They're not going to like it.)

* Voter turnout in Montana was higher in this year's midterms than in the 2016 presidential election cycle. As things stand, it's the only state that can make that boast.

* As of this morning, the Democratic lead in the U.S. House popular vote stood at 7.1%, though it may yet inch higher. For comparison purposes, note that in 2010 -- which was widely seen as a GOP "wave" cycle -- Republicans won the U.S. House popular vote by 6.6%.

* Senate Democrats formally elected their leadership team for the next Congress. It's a 10-member group of senators representing a variety of positions, but it'll be led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

* As for Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was re-elected this morning as Senate Majority Leader, while John Thune (R-S.D.) replaces John Cornyn (R-Texas) as Majority Whip. The party's term-limits policy prevented Cornyn from keeping his post.

* Orientation is currently underway for new senators, and Florida's Rick Scott (R) is participating, despite the fact that the votes in his race are still being counted. The Washington Post  reported, "Scott's attendance on Capitol Hill this week is without recent precedent."

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Image: Matt Whitaker

Maybe the White House should've vetted Trump's acting Attorney General

11/14/18 11:49AM

Just when it seemed we couldn't possibly learn of a new controversy surrounding acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, the Associated Press uncovered the latest in an amazing series.

While in private business, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker walked away from a taxpayer-subsidized apartment-rehabilitation project in Iowa after years of cost overruns, delays and other problems, public records show.

The city of Des Moines ultimately yanked an affordable housing loan that Whitaker's company had been awarded, and another lender began foreclosure proceedings after Whitaker defaulted on a separate loan for nearly $700,000. Several contractors complained they were not paid, and a process server for one could not even find Whitaker or his company to serve him with a lawsuit.

Well, sure, when you put it that way, it sounds bad.

Vox published a piece  yesterday summarizing Whitaker's many controversies, and I was struck, not just by the seriousness of the allegations, but by the length of the piece itself. Ordinarily, before anyone could put together a lengthy list of controversies surrounding a Trump cabinet official, he or she would have to be in office for at least a couple of months.

Matt Whitaker is currently in his seventh day -- and two of those days were a weekend.

At least in theory, this would ordinarily be the point at which the White House started pushing back aggressively against the acting AG's many controversies, but that's proving difficult -- not just because of the scope of Whitaker's alleged wrongdoing, but also because White House officials didn't know these stories were coming.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by, from left, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., smiles as they unveil the GOP's tax overhaul, Nov. 2, 2017.

Leading House Republican: tax cuts made a 'huge difference' in midterms

11/14/18 11:20AM

As House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) gets ready to give up his gavel and adjust to life in the congressional minority, he's still pleased with the tax package he helped write last year. The Washington Examiner noted:

On Tuesday, Brady also claimed that the tax code rewrite helped Republicans in the midterm elections, despite the losses suffered by the party and many of the lawmakers who helped write the bill.

"Can you imagine the outcome if we didn't have a booming economy?" Brady asked. "It made a huge difference across this country and I think was key in a number of our Republican races."

The Texas congressman added that he believes House Republicans exceeded expectations in this year's midterm elections.

That last point is especially difficult to take seriously. In the days leading up to Election Day, the chatter in GOP circles was that the party might be able to eke out a narrow House majority. As recently as Nov. 3, Vice President Mike Pence declared, "I think we're going to hold our Republican majority in the House of Representatives."

Where exactly were those intra-party expectations about Republicans suffering their largest losses since the Watergate era?

But even putting this aside, the idea that the GOP's tax breaks for the wealthy "made a huge difference" for Republicans is an even stranger argument.

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A twenty dollar bill. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

New deficit figures mark a fitting end to the Tea Party era

11/14/18 10:03AM

The U.S. budget deficit for the last fiscal year, which ended in September, was $779 billion, up 16% from the previous year. That deficit was the fifth largest in modern American history -- in non-inflation adjusted terms -- and stood at 3.9% of GDP, up from 3.5% a year prior.

For those concerned with the ballooning budget shortfall, the new fiscal year isn't off to a good start. Bloomberg News reported yesterday:

The U.S. recorded a $100.5 billion budget deficit in October, an increase of about 60 percent from a year earlier, as spending grew twice as fast as revenue.

The deficit widened from $63.2 billion in the same month last year, the department said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. October marks the start of the U.S. fiscal year.

As a rule, it's best not to overreact to monthly deficit numbers, which can bounce around a bit. The fact that the deficit was $100 billion in the first month of the fiscal year, for example, does not necessarily mean that it will be $1.2 trillion when the fiscal year ends.

That said, the $100 billion deficit in October doesn't do any favors for the Republicans who assured Americans that massive tax breaks for the wealthy will pay for themselves.

What's more, as Democrats prepare to reclaim their majority in the House of Representatives, the monthly shortfall also serves as a fitting coda to Tea Party era.

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Iowa governor discovers her Steve King concerns at a convenient time

11/14/18 09:20AM

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) recently found herself in an awkward position. As Election Day approached, polls showed the Republican governor narrowly behind her Democratic challenger in a year where Dems appeared likely to make gains in this Midwestern swing state.

Complicating matters, Reynolds' campaign co-chair was right-wing Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), whose racist antics were drawing fire from within their party. If the governor denounced her ally, she risked alienating parts of the GOP base. If Reynolds voiced support for King, she risked alienating mainstream voters offended by the congressman's conduct.

The Iowa governor's solution? She tried to avoid King's mess and hoped voters would back her anyway. The strategy may have ruined Kim Reynolds' chances of ever winning a Profile in Courage Award, but it was enough to win the election: the governor prevailed by three points over Fred Hubbell (D).

And wouldn't you know it, now that the race is over, Reynolds feels empowered to show the kind of courage she was afraid to show before Iowans cast their ballots. The Des Moines Register  reported yesterday:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled Tuesday she's lost her patience with U.S. Rep. Steve King, who narrowly won a ninth term in the U.S. House last week despite a firestorm of criticism for aligning himself with far-right European politicians and repeatedly making remarks many have deemed racist.

Reynolds, a Republican who defeated Democrat Fred Hubbell in a close race to win a full four-year term, offered a bluntly worded response when asked by a reporter if she had visited with King about a series of controversies he has been facing.

Reynolds said she hasn't talked with the Iowa congressman because she has been busy since the election. But, she added, "I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that."

This was apparently the most forceful Reynolds has been to date in her criticisms of the right-wing congressman. And while King's detractors will likely welcome the governor's comments, her timing is extraordinarily convenient.

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Image: U.S. first lady Melania Trump announces the launch of her "Be Best" initiative at the White House in Washington

First Lady's latest gambit emblematic of White House dysfunction

11/14/18 08:40AM

A week out from Election Day, and on the heels of Donald Trump's latest failed overseas trip, there's ample evidence that all is not well in the White House.

The Los Angeles Times  reports that Trump "has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment," and much of his staff is "trying to avoid him." A former Trump aide told  Politico of conditions in the White House, "It's like an episode of 'Maury.' The only thing that's missing is a paternity test."

Trump is picking fights with the president of France and haranguing the British prime minister. He's threatening to fire much of his team. He's whining about the Secret Service. Some members of his team are publicly denouncing remarks from their own colleagues. After skipping a ceremony honoring fallen American soldiers who served in World War I, he blamed his aides "for not counseling him that skipping the cemetery visit would be a public-relations nightmare."

But to fully appreciate the level of dysfunction in this White House, consider the fact that First Lady Melania Trump is getting involved in national security personnel decisions.

In an extraordinary move for a first lady, Melania Trump's office on Tuesday publicly called for the firing of a senior National Security Council official.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's communications director issued a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying the official, Mira Ricardel, should no longer serve as the NSC's No. 2.

"It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," Grisham said.

That was weird, though the story got a little weirder.

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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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