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Image: Brett Kavanaugh

The problem with the Republican line on FBI and Kavanaugh

09/19/18 08:00AM

Earlier this week, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to re-open the confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, delaying a vote that had been scheduled for tomorrow. Instead, the panel agreed to hear testimony on Monday from the nominee and the woman who accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers.

As of last night, that plan is very much in doubt. The New York Times  reported:

The woman who has accused President Trump's Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault all but ruled out appearing at an extraordinary Senate hearing scheduled for next week to hear her allegations, insisting on Tuesday that the F.B.I. investigate first.

Speaking through lawyers, Christine Blasey Ford said she would cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee and left open the possibility of testifying later about her allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh. But echoing Senate Democrats, she said an investigation should be "the first step" before she is put "on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident."

The idea, as NBC News reported, is for the FBI to conduct a background investigation of the incident -- before any hearing -- in order to give members a basis for their questioning and possibly a corroboration of her account.

Republicans are clearly not on board with this course of action. Donald Trump told reporters yesterday, "I don't think the FBI really should be involved because they don't want to be involved.... As you know, they say this is not really their thing."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who said this week Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if the allegations are true, added, "The FBI does not do investigations like this."

Perhaps Republicans are confused about the nature of the discussion. No one's talking about the FBI conducting a criminal investigation of an attempted rape at a high school party in the 1980s. Rather, the issue now is whether the FBI can examine the allegations as part of a standard background check -- which the bureau does for all Supreme Court nominees.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.18.18

09/18/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Scrambling in response to a bad idea: "U.S. intelligence officials, blindsided by President Donald Trump's order that they make public highly sensitive files in the Russia investigation, are hoping the White House will allow them to conduct a formal declassification review and damage assessment before they are forced to release the documents, current and former officials tell NBC News."

* North Carolina: "Rain-swollen rivers won't stop rising in North Carolina. Several of them teetered at record levels Tuesday as officials warned of relentless flooding and hazards in areas already swamped by historic rainfall produced by former Hurricane Florence."

* Trump's trade war: "President Donald Trump announced a new round of tariffs late on Monday, slapping a 10 percent tax on a $200 billion list of Chinese imports ranging from consumer goods to manufacturing materials. The new tariffs, effective September 24, will rise to 25 percent by January 1."

* And the retaliatory response: "China will impose retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion of American-made goods.... The Chinese Finance Ministry announced Tuesday it would go ahead with plans announced in August to tax 5,207 types of U.S. imports, ranging from coffee to farm machinery."

* That's quite a mistake: "Syrian forces accidentally shot down a Russian military plane after an Israeli airstrike on Syrian territory, Kremlin officials said Tuesday, the worst case of friendly fire for Russia in the Syria war."

* Refugees: "The Trump administration will admit no more than 30,000 refugees to the U.S. in the coming year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, down from the current cap of 45,000."

* Lock him up? "Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to set a late November sentencing date for President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, according to a court document filed Monday by federal prosecutors."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

In Trump's mind, no one was willing to talk to Obama

09/18/18 04:43PM

Donald Trump made a series of odd claims during a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, but this excerpt seemed especially odd.

"The European Union wouldn't talk to us. They wouldn't talk to President Obama. Wouldn't even talk to him."

In context, the American president seemed to be referring to trade, but if so, Trump is badly confused. As the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale explained, the EU engaged in full-scale trade negotiations for several years with Obama.

And while "Trump lies about his predecessor" isn't exactly an unfamiliar story, this is a very specific kind of lie, which Trump seems to turn to with unsettling frequency.

Last week, for example, talking to reporters on Air Force One, the Republican said, "Don't forget -- Japan would not deal with Obama. He wouldn't deal with President Obama. They wouldn't deal. They said, 'No, we're not going to talk trade.' Me? They're calling up."

Again, this isn't even close to being true. The Trans-Pacific Partnership included a variety of countries, but Japanese officials and the Obama administration were at the heart of the talks that led to the agreement (which Trump rejected despite not understanding it).

Also last week, Trump said, in reference to diplomacy with North Korean officials, "Obama couldn't meet, they wouldn't see him."

Reality points in the exact opposite direction: North Korea was eager, if not desperate, to meet with every recent American president, including Obama, but each U.S. leader had the good sense not to reward Pyongyang in exchange for nothing. Only Trump was willing to give up major diplomatic concessions without meaningful concessions from the rogue dictatorship.

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Image: North Korea

Nikki Haley: Russian election interference 'didn't work'

09/18/18 12:46PM

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley adopted a rather aggressive posture toward Russia yesterday, accusing the adversary of destabilizing efforts in a variety of areas. It Haley to declare:

"Deny, distract, and lie. We have heard this same song many times before. Whether it was aiding the Assad regime with chemical weapons, whether it was the attempted murder of the Skripals with the dangerous nerve agent in the United Kingdom, whether it was election meddling in the United States -- which didn't work, by the way."

If you watch the clip, it appears the ambassador was referencing pre-written notes, right up until those last six words, which Haley appeared to ad-lib.

And while it's always welcome when the Trump administration acknowledges Russian interference in American elections -- something the president has repeatedly failed to do -- Haley's assertion about Russia's failure struck a curious note.

Moscow's election interference "didn't work"?

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.18.18

09/18/18 12:00PM

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

* If Democrats are going to have any chance of a Senate majority, they'll almost certainly have to succeed in Arizona, where the latest CNN poll shows Kyrsten Sinema (D) leading Martha McSally (R), 50% to 43%.

* On a related note, Dems will be in even better shape if the Senate race in Tennessee goes their way, and CNN's poll found Phil Bredesen (D) ahead of Marsha Blackburn (R), 50% to 45%.

* Though Arizona's gubernatorial race isn't usually seen as among this year's most competitive contests, the CNN poll found incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey (R) leading David Garcia (D) by just three points, 49% to 46%.

* The news for Republicans was better in Tennessee, where CNN's poll found Bill Lee (R) with a larger advantage over Karl Dean (D) in the state's gubernatorial race, 52% to 43%.

* It took a little longer than expected, but the Democratic primary in Massachusetts' 3rd congressional district wrapped up yesterday, with Dan Koh conceding to Lori Trahan. The district is currently represented by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), who is retiring.

* Though the decision will ultimately be made by state officials, Beto O'Rourke (D), a competitive U.S. Senate candidate this year, endorsed Medicaid expansion in the Lone Star State yesterday.

* In California's 39th congressional district, a new Monmouth University poll found Young Kim (R) with a modest lead over Gil Cisneros (D), 46% to 42%. The seat is currently held by Rep. Ed Royce (R), who's retiring, creating a key pick-up opportunity for Dems.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Internal RNC polling report tells Republicans what they don't want to hear

09/18/18 11:20AM

After months in which Donald Trump has told Republican voters that they need not fear a "blue wave" in the 2018 midterms, his party is confronting an important problem: many GOP voters have accepted the president's claims at face value, leaving them complacent about the results of this year's elections.

As we discussed yesterday, a series of focus groups from America First Action, a political committee aligned with Trump, and a polling report from the Republican National Committee both came to the same conclusion: Republican leaders are far more concerned about the midterms than their party's voters, in part because they've received dubious assurances from the president.

But that's not all the RNC polling memo found. Bloomberg News reports today:

The study says GOP fortunes will hinge on the party's ability to activate "soft" supporters: "Those voters who 'somewhat approve' of Trump and those who support the President's policies but not his leadership style are the ones posing a challenge to the party."

Motivating these voters could be tricky. One hurdle is Trump's chaotic style, which shows no sign of changing. Another is that the issues soft Republicans care about most are ones involving government spending and are typically associated with Democrats. The survey found that increasing funding for veterans' mental health services, strengthening and preserving Medicare and Social Security, and reforming the student loan system all scored higher than Trump's favored subjects of tax cuts, border security, and preserving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The RNC's report added, "Special attention should be paid to the messaging regarding Social Security and Medicare.... [T]he challenge for GOP candidates is that most voters believe that the GOP wants to cut back on these programs in order to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy."

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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long delivers update on federal actions to support Hurricane Irma response in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

Trump's FEMA chief reportedly facing possible criminal probe

09/18/18 10:42AM

We've known for about a week that FEMA chief Brock Long isn't just dealing with the effects of Hurricane Florence; he's also found himself facing an ethics investigation. The Wall Street Journal  reported overnight that the matter appears to be increasingly serious.

An investigation targeting President Trump's top emergency-management official has been referred to federal prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and two other federal employees may have broken as many as six laws as they commuted frequently between Washington and Mr. Long's home in Hickory, N.C., at taxpayers' expense, said one of the people briefed on the investigation.

The Washington Post had a related report, noting that an internal investigation within the Department of Homeland Security has been "referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution."

Making matters slightly worse for the FEMA director, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) wrote to Long yesterday, "requesting documentation and other information related to his use of government vehicles and about the agency personnel who may have accompanied him on the trips."

For those just joining us, the Trump administration has already been burdened by a series of controversies over top officials misusing public funds for personal travel, though Brock Long appears to offer a rather extreme example of the problem.

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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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