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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.3.19

06/03/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's about time: "Congress is finally shipping President Donald Trump a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill, a measure stalled for months by infighting, misjudgment, and a presidential feud with Democrats."

* Not what the White House was hoping for: "The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from the Trump administration to speed up its consideration of the future of DACA, the federal program that has allowed 700,000 young people -- known as Dreamers -- to avoid deportation."

* Newly relevant in light of Friday afternoon's mass shooting: "A Virginia bill designed to ban sales of large-capacity magazines similar to those used by the Virginia Beach gunman died in committee in January on a party-line vote."

* Hmm: "China and Mexico both signaled a willingness to negotiate with Washington over escalating trade issues, while the Trump administration took to the airwaves to defend its use of tariffs to gain concessions from trading partners."

* This should be interesting: "House Democrats announced Monday they'll hold a hearing next week focused on the Mueller report and 'presidential obstruction.'"

* Notable White House Departure #1: "President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that a member of his legal team, Emmet Flood, will leave his post later this month after helping him handle the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign."

* Notable White House Departure #2: "Kevin Hassett ... is stepping down as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Trump said Sunday night."

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Image: President Donald Trump

Asked about Russian interference, Kushner offers discouraging answer

06/03/19 12:40PM

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner doesn't do many interviews, so those who've wondered about his role in a variety of stories -- including the Russia scandal -- have generally been left wanting.

It made it all the more notable when he sat down with Axios' Jonathan Swan for an interview that aired last night on HBO. Kushner's futile defense of Donald Trump's racism has generated plenty of headlines, and for good reason. But the back and forth on Russia was every bit as important, if not more so.

SWAN: On June 8, 2016, you were sent an email with an offer of help for the Trump campaign from the Russian government.

KUSHNER: I'm sorry? Which email are you talking about?

SWAN: The email from Rod Goldstone.

KUSHNER: Look, Jonathan --

SWAN: My question to you is why didn't you pick up the phone and call the FBI? It was an email that said Russia, that said the Russian government was trying to help. Like, why didn't you do that?

Though the presidential son-in-law clearly didn't think so, it was a good question. Kushner did, after all, receive an email with a subject line that read, "FW: Russia - Clinton - private and confidential."

He nevertheless spent the next minute downplaying the significance of the email and the infamous Trump Tower meeting he attended with Russian emissaries. He complained about how busy he was at the time ("Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I'm running three companies, I'm helping run the campaign....") and the about attitudes of "self-righteous" people who've played "Monday morning quarterback."

It led to an important follow-up question: would Kushner call the FBI if Russia again offered assistance to the Trump campaign?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.3.19

06/03/19 12:00PM

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

* With California hosting a massive presidential primary early next year, 14 presidential hopefuls attended the California Democratic Party's convention over the weekend. It was, by all accounts, a rather raucous affair.

* At a Fox News town-hall event last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, "We want women to have a seat at the table." Host Chris Wallace asked the presidential candidate, "What about men?" to which the New York Democrat replied, "They're already there -- do you not know?"

* Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a prominent Democratic presidential contender, has begun fleshing out his plan to overhaul the U.S. Supreme Court. Under his vision, the high court would have 15 members: five justices affiliated with Democrats, five affiliated with Republicans, and five chosen by the other 10.

* In case there were lingering doubts, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ruled out the possibility of a 2020 presidential campaign over the weekend. Hogan had considered taking on Donald Trump in a Republican primary.

* On a related note, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) late last week also said there's "no path" for him to defeat his party's president in 2020.

* In one of this year's most closely watched contests, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is one of the nation's most unpopular governors, but he may win re-election anyway because he's a Republican.

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Pentagon reminds the White House not to mix politics and the military

06/03/19 11:20AM

One of the first signs of real trouble came six months into Donald Trump's presidency. The Republican was headlining an event commissioning the USS Gerald Ford, and Trump departed from his prepared text to suggest his audience, which included active-duty servicemen and women, should do him a favor.

Referring to his budget request for increased military spending, the president said at the time, "I don't mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it." Trump went on to suggest they should also lobby Congress in support of the Republican health care plan.

It was immediately problematic: sitting presidents aren't supposed to order uniformed officers to help lobby Congress in support of a political agenda. Ben Rhodes, a national security adviser in the Obama White House called Trump's comments "a huge deal," adding that Trump's appeal "violates most fundamental norms separating military and politics."

But in this White House, those lines don't much exist. It's against this backdrop that the Washington Post reported on the Pentagon's reminder on the subject.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had a message for the White House: Politics and the military don't mix.

Shanahan and Navy officials have faced intense scrutiny over a White House request to hide the USS John S. McCain warship during President Trump's visit to Japan last month — a moment, among others, some defense officials and analysts have said is a sign of decay in the civilian-military relationship, which has been traditionally immune to partisan rancor.

Amid the backlash, Shanahan directed his chief of staff to tell the White House not to put the military in political situations, Shanahan's spokesman, Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, told The Washington Post.

The Associated Press added that Shanahan is "considering a clearer directive to the military about avoiding political situations." The goal, the report said, would be to "ensure there is less ambiguity" in matters such as these.

It's no small development that this would even be considered necessary.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Poll shows public support for Trump's impeachment inching higher

06/03/19 10:48AM

As Democrats grapple with Donald Trump's possible impeachment, the party's leaders have some informal metrics in mind. For them, it's not enough to simply ask whether the president committed impeachable acts or not.

It also matters whether Congress is meeting public demands and expectations. As the AP reported this morning:

The threat of impeachment hangs over the White House, but it also vexes House Democrats wary of taking next steps against President Donald Trump without broader public support.

It's against this backdrop that CNN released the results of its new national poll, which asked respondents, "Based on what you have read or heard, do you believe that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don't you feel that way?"

In mid-March, shortly before the release of Attorney General Bill Barr's misleading "summary" of the Mueller report, 36% supported impeaching Trump and removing him from office. In late April, it was 37%. In the results released over the weekend, that number is now up to 41%.

Obviously, that's not a majority. In fact, the same CNN poll found 54% oppose these congressional actions against the president. But there's been some movement of late: since March, support for impeaching Trump is up five points, and opposition is down five points.

Time will tell if we're seeing evidence of a larger trend or whether this is a minor, temporary shift in public attitudes. But as we recently discussed, it matters that polls change. As 1973 got underway, support for Nixon's impeachment was pretty low, too, but as congressional hearings unfolded, and the public came to terms with the scope of the president's misdeeds, attitudes shifted.

As former Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine), who broke with Nixon on impeachment as a young lawmaker in 1974, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week, "It's ... important to remember that public opinion is not anchored in concrete. It shifts according to the information it finds to be persuasive and free of rank partisanship."

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An AT&T store is seen on 5th Avenue in New York on Sept. 23, 2016. (Photo by Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty)

Trump not above using his office to target private US companies

06/03/19 10:10AM

Donald Trump is aware of public perceptions that he watches a ridiculous amount of television every day, and occasionally, the president pushes back against the assumptions. "I don't get to watch much television," the Republican said a couple of years ago. "Primarily because of documents. I'm reading documents. A lot."

We're often reminded why this was among his most audacious falsehoods. Take this morning, for example, when Trump published these items to Twitter:

"Just arrived in the United Kingdom. The only problem is that CNN is the primary source of news available from the U.S. After watching it for a short while, I turned it off. All negative & so much Fake News, very bad for U.S. Big ratings drop. Why doesn't owner AT&T do something?

"I believe that if people stoped using or subscribing to AT&T, they would be forced to make big changes at CNN, which is dying in the ratings anyway. It is so unfair with such bad, Fake News! Why wouldn't they act. When the World watches CNN, it gets a false picture of USA. Sad!"

Missives like these raise a variety of questions. For example, why is it that Trump "just arrived" in the U.K. and immediately started watching television again? For that matter, is "stopped" really that hard to spell?

But in this case, I think there's a little more to this than just pointing and laughing at the Republican's nonsense.

It's important, for example, to appreciate how extraordinary it is to see an American president publicly target prominent American businesses. It's a historical rarity, though Trump has used his office to go after GM, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Amazon.com, and now AT&T.

In the not-too-distant past, the right condemned moves like these as "gangster government." Where are those same conservatives now?

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Asked about Trump and racism, Kushner struggles badly

06/03/19 09:20AM

In an interview that aired last night on HBO, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner covered quite a bit of ground with Axios' Jonathan Swan, though an exchange about racism stood out as especially notable.

Swan noted that Kushner's boss and father-in-law, Donald Trump, has been accused of being a racist, and the reporter asked whether Kushner has ever heard the president say or do anything he'd consider racist.

"So, the answer is no, absolutely not," Kushner replied. "You can't not be a racist for 69 years, then run for president and be a racist. And what I'll say is that when a lot of the Democrats call the president a racist, I think they're doing a disservice to people who suffer because of real racism in this country."

And that's when the trouble started.

SWAN: Was birtherism racist?

KUSHNER: Um, look, I wasn't really involved in that.

SWAN: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I wasn't involved in that.

SWAN: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Um, look, I know who the president is and I have not seen anything in him that is racist, so again I was not involved in that.

SWAN: Did you wish he didn't do that?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I was not involved in that.

The White House aide eventually argued, in reference to Trump's crusade in support of a racist conspiracy theory, "That was a long time ago."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, the president's embrace of the "birther" garbage was not "a long time ago." After seeing Barack Obama's birth certificate in 2011, Trump proceeded to question Obama's citizenship in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

As recently as September 2016, the Washington Post asked the Republican whether he considered Obama a natural-born American citizen. Trump refused to answer.

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Image: Baby Trump Blimp protest in parliament square in London

Ahead of visit, Trump causes trouble in the UK (again)

06/03/19 08:40AM

Eleven months ago, ahead of his first official visit to the U.K. since taking office, Donald Trump sat down with The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper. It quickly became apparent that this was not a wise move: the American president ended up insulting British Prime Minister Theresa May and caused a minor international incident by praising one of her prominent critics.

What's more, the article appeared online during a gala dinner that May had thrown in Trump's honor.

As Politico noted yesterday, it was hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu over the weekend.

On the eve of his first state visit, President Donald Trump is giving British officials reason to believe this latest overseas trip will be no different from his disruptive foray into local politics when he was here last July.

The normally unpredictable president provoked déjà vu on Saturday when he granted an explosive interview to The Sun, a newspaper owned by Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch. Weighing in on a series of British issues, Trump insisted that the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, could have "built up a big advantage" for the U.K. during Brexit negotiations if only she had heeded his advice, and he described Meghan Markle, an American actress who became the Duchess of Sussex upon marrying Prince Harry last May, as "nasty" for once referring to him as misogynistic.

Trump later insisted he "never" called Meghan Markle "nasty," despite video evidence suggesting otherwise.

Also with The Sun, the Republican proceeded to weigh in on the race to replace May as prime minister -- a wildly inappropriate move -- before adding, "Now I think I am really, I hope, I am really loved in the U.K."

He is not "really loved" in the U.K.

Last night, the American president made matters just a little worse, telling reporters at the White House that he wouldn't meet with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and doesn't "think much of" him.

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Senator John McCain speaks during a hearing in Washington

White House dramatically changes its story about Trump, USS McCain

06/03/19 08:00AM

It was just a few days ago when we learned about emails the White House sent to the U.S. Navy, directing military officials to move the USS John McCain "out of sight" ahead of Donald Trump's visit to Japan. In the days that followed, the reaction from the president and his team has followed a circuitous path.

The initial response from the Trump administration was surprise and incredulity. For his part, the president told reporters on Thursday, "I would never have done that," while insisting he wasn't directly involved. By the end of the day, Trump turned to Twitter to say, in response to the reporting, "Looks like the story was an exaggeration, or even Fake News."

Two days later, the Navy confirmed that the story wasn't "fake" at all.

The U.S. Navy has acknowledged that a request was made to hide the USS John S. McCain during President Donald Trump's recent state visit to Japan.

"A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President's visit," Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, chief of information, said in a statement to NBC News.

The passive-voice phrasing -- a "request was made" -- downplayed the fact that the directive came from the White House.

All of which led to yesterday, when acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney decided to embrace the central tenet of the report that his boss had denounced a few days earlier. This was the exchange yesterday morning between Mulvaney and NBC News' Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press":

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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.31.19

05/31/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I have a hunch Rachel will have some Flynn coverage on tonight's show: "Prosecutors have released a full transcript of a voicemail from a former Trump lawyer that former national security adviser Michael Flynn said was an attempt to influence his cooperation in the Russia probe."

* The appropriate response: "Several Republicans in Congress and major business groups on Friday slammed President Donald Trump's threat to impose a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods starting next month, warning that the move would hurt both the U.S. economy and the chances of Congress approving a major trade deal with Mexico and Canada."

* On a related note: "Stock prices slid on Friday, continuing a month-long retreat, with the S&P 500 down more than 6 percent this month and the bond market flashing worrying signs of a global recession."

* And speaking of Trump's tariffs: "President Donald Trump's surprise plan to levy tariffs on all goods imported to the U.S. from Mexico would strike a hammer blow to Texas, threatening the state's economy and all but guaranteeing financial pain for the state's businesses and consumers. Mexico is Texas's top trading partner -- by far."

* Missouri: "A judge on Friday temporarily blocked Missouri from taking action that would have made the state the first in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade to not have a single abortion clinic."

* Korean peninsula: "A South Korean newspaper reported Friday that North Korea executed a senior envoy involved in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. as well as four other high-level officials. But as ever with North Korea, a country that closely guards its secrets, there are reasons to be cautious about the purported purge."

* Good idea: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff demanded on Friday that the nation's intelligence community report to Congress any effort by Attorney General William Barr to declassify national security secrets over its objections."

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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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