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Monday's Mini-Report, 4.15.19

04/15/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Losing a global treasure: "The Notre Dame Cathedral has long been regarded as a spiritual beacon, architectural marvel, monument to Parisian beauty and a towering symbol of French national pride. But the flames that engulfed the centuries-old structure on Monday threatened to permanently demolish that rich cultural legacy, alarming admirers and worshipers around the world."

* Maybe the White House can lower the temperature? "Rep. Ilham Omar said death threats against her have spiked as a result of an inflammatory video that was shared by President Donald Trump on Twitter about a remark she made regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

* Quite a strike: "More than 30,000 Stop & Shop supermarket workers across three states remained on strike for a third day on Saturday, protesting what they said were unfair wages and high health insurance premiums."

* This story continues to amaze: "A federal judge on Monday denied bail to a Chinese woman who was arrested while trying to enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club with a trove of electronic devices."

* This guy's confirmation process was way too easy: "The National Archives and Records Administration gave the Interior Department until late April to address Democrats' allegations that newly confirmed Secretary David Bernhardt may have been destroying his official calendars, according to a letter POLITICO obtained Friday."

* Another diplomatic step backwards: "The Trump administration will not nominate anyone to serve on a United Nations committee on racism, the latest sign of a U.S. retreat from international bodies and traditional human rights priorities."

* Reproductive rights abroad: "South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down the country's laws prohibiting abortion, a landmark decision challenging the 66-year-old ban that had become increasingly unpopular in recent years."

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Image: Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington

How Stephen Miller is using the power Trump gave him

04/15/19 02:42PM

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Donald Trump, eager to implement a variety of right-wing measures on immigration, recently told Stephen Miller, "You're in charge" of the administration's immigration agenda.

At face value, that may help explain the president's newly aggressive posture on everything from closing the border to "getting rid of" judges to cutting off aid to Central America, but behind the scenes, conditions may be even more unsettling. The New York Times reported today:

Mr. Trump insisted in a tweet on Saturday that he was "not frustrated" by the situation at the border, where for months he has said there is a crisis that threatens the nation's security. But unable to deliver on his central promise of the 2016 campaign, he has targeted his administration's highest-ranking immigration officials.

And behind that purge is Mr. Miller, the 33-year-old White House senior adviser. While immigration is the issue that has dominated Mr. Trump's time in office, the president has little interest or understanding about how to turn his gut instincts into reality. So it is Mr. Miller, a fierce ideologue who was a congressional spokesman before joining the Trump campaign, who has shaped policy, infuriated civil liberties groups and provoked a bitter struggle within the administration.

The problem is not just that the White House's entire immigration agenda is being shaped by a controversial young ideologue. Indeed, what's especially striking about the latest reporting is how Stephen Miller is shaping policy in the West Wing.

The New York Times highlighted a series of incidents in which Miller, ostensibly speaking on behalf of the president, demanded administration officials do more to deny welfare benefits to legal immigrants, work around court-ordered protections for migrant children, and make the review process more difficult for those seeking asylum.

Trump political appointees -- not career officials -- have pushed back against policies they considered "legally questionable, impractical, unethical or unreasonable," and that in turn has "further infuriated a White House set on making quick, sweeping changes to decades-old laws."

The article added that there was a meeting in which officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were on the receiving end of a Miller tirade and believed "it was almost as if Mr. Miller wanted asylum officers to ignore the law."

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

As the release of the Mueller report nears, Trump lashes out

04/15/19 12:56PM

If you've been waiting for the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, your waiting isn't over. The good news is, you don't have to wonder anymore when the wait will end.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on the Russia investigation and President Donald Trump is expected to be made public Thursday morning, the Justice Department said Monday.

Washington has been waiting for the release of the report, which has put Attorney General William Barr at loggerheads with congressional Democrats who have demanded the entire, unredacted document since Mueller recently concluded his nearly two-year investigation.

As things stand, the findings that we'll see on Thursday morning will be a redacted version of the final document, not the full and unedited Mueller report. Congressional efforts to obtain everything -- including the unredacted findings and the supporting materials -- will continue.

But chances are good that on Thursday morning, our understanding of the special counsel's report will at least be better than it is now. We'll have to deal with Bill Barr's redactions, but we won't have to rely exclusively on Barr's characterizations -- and non-summary summary -- of Team Mueller's work.

In the meantime, ABC News' Jonathan Karl reported yesterday that White House officials "have been briefed" on the yet-to-be-released report and there is "significant concern on the president's team," especially with regards to what former White House Counsel Don McGahn told Mueller and his investigators.

It's important to emphasize that MSNBC and NBC News haven't independently confirmed that reporting, but if Karl's correct and the White House has been briefed on Mueller's findings, it casts Donald Trump's latest tweets in an interesting light.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.15.19

04/15/19 12:00PM

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

* As the Democratic presidential nominating process continues to get underway in earnest, Donald Trump's re-election campaign continues to look like a financial juggernaut: it took in $30 million in the first quarter and now has more than $40 million cash on hand. That doesn't include the tens of millions of dollars the RNC has raised, which will further benefit the president.

* South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally kicked off his Democratic presidential campaign yesterday, and he'll be on the show with Rachel tonight. (According to the mayor's campaign, the candidate wrote his own announcement speech.)

* More than two months after launching his presidential campaign, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also held a formal kick-off event in his hometown of Newark over the weekend.

* And in case that weren't quite enough, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who announced his candidacy last week, held a formal launch event of his own yesterday in his hometown of Dublin, Calif.

* Late last week, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) announced he'll retire at the end of his term, creating a pick-up opportunity for Republicans: Iowa's 2nd congressional district switched from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to supporting Donald Trump in 2016.

* As part of her presidential campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) released 15 years' worth of tax returns over the weekend.

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

On Tax Day, the GOP's regressive plan remains a political failure

04/15/19 11:20AM

In late 2017, as the Republicans' regressive tax plan was poised to clear Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was optimistic about the politics of his party's gambit. "If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work," the GOP leader said at the time.

That was probably the wrong thing to say. The tax breaks that Republicans were supposed to exploit for electoral gain proved to be wildly unpopular, and GOP candidates -- incumbents and challengers alike -- generally tried to avoid the topic in the 2018 midterms, right before the party gave up control of the U.S. House and lost the largest number of seats since the Watergate era.

If Republicans hoped their tax plan would gradually grow in popularity, they have reason to be disappointed. As Politico noted this morning, most Americans "really don't like" Donald Trump's "beloved tax cut bill."

Multiple polls show a majority of Americans don't think they got a tax cut at all — even though independent analyses show they did. And only around a third of the country approves of the legislation itself, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress at the end of 2017.

So as Trump moves closer to full-time reelection mode later this year, he will have to battle a stark reality: While his personal rating on the economy remains high, his signature legislative achievement is widely viewed as a political dud, one that has drawn special anger in places with high state and local taxes and pricey housing markets where deductions were limited to reduce the overall cost of the tax plan.

John Harwood recently highlighted the results of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which found only 17% of Americans believe they've received a tax cut. Even Republican voters haven't bought into their own president's rhetoric about the scope and scale of the GOP plan.

Harwood's report added, "In reality, 8 in 10 Americans stood to receive tax cuts in 2018 under the law, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Yet the cuts for most taxpayers are so small that many didn't notice."

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Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

Trump wastes little time trying to exploit Barr's reckless 'spy' talk

04/15/19 10:43AM

It was just five days ago when Attorney General William Barr decided to extend his imprimatur to one of Donald Trump's favorite conspiracy theories, telling senators about his concerns about U.S. officials "spying" on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. The Republican A.G. went on to specifically tell senators, "I think spying did occur."

Barr was already struggling with questions about his credibility and political independence from the White House, but he nevertheless needlessly endorsed highly provocative rhetoric -- which was not and is not rooted in fact -- undermining his standing further.

The attorney general has since tried to walk back his comments, though the damage is already done.

Indeed, the president who handpicked Barr for his post is now making matters worse by exploiting the attorney general's endorsement of the presidential conspiracy theory. Trump has been talking and tweeting about being the victim of "spying," and it wasn't long before his political operation tried to monetize the manufactured outrage.

The Trump campaign on Friday sent a fundraising email and several text messages to supporters misquoting Attorney General William Barr, claiming that he had confirmed the existence of "unlawful" spying on President Trump's campaign during the 2016 election.

In the email sent Friday afternoon, the Trump campaign claimed falsely that "Attorney General William Barr said what the president has thought all along: He believes "'unlawful spying did occur' against Donald J. Trump's presidential campaign."

Part of the problem is that, in reality, there's no evidence of "unlawful spying." The other part of the problem that Team Trump is adding insult to injury by dealing irresponsibly with Barr's irresponsible rhetoric.

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

White House: Trump 'was making a joke' about WikiLeaks in 2016

04/15/19 10:07AM

Just hours after Julian Assange's arrest, Donald Trump fielded a question from reporters about the developments. "I know nothing about WikiLeaks," the president replied. "It's not my thing."

Even by Trump standards, this was ridiculously untrue, and the lie led to ample coverage of the Republican's enthusiastic embrace of WikiLeaks -- which was very much his "thing" -- when it was disseminating materials stolen by Russia in order to help Trump gain power.

Vice President Mike Pence tried to defend Trump's nonsensical stance, arguing that the president simply "welcomed information" from WikiLeaks, but never endorsed it. Not surprisingly, this defense didn't exactly prove persuasive.

And so the president's press secretary rolled out a new defense yesterday.

President Donald Trump was just joking when commented during his campaign that he "loved" WikiLeaks, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday.

"Look, clearly the president was making a joke during the 2016 campaign," Sanders told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace about Trump's past praise for WikiLeaks. "Certainly we take this serious."

According to the transcript, the White House press secretary added, "The president was making a joke during the campaign and was talking about the specifics of the case at that moment."

If there's one thing we know about Donald J. Trump, it's that his comedic stylings are unrivaled, right?

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Image: Donald Trump

Perhaps Trump should try working with Congress on policymaking

04/15/19 09:20AM

Donald Trump, concerned about conditions at the U.S./Mexico border, this morning published a familiar refrain on Twitter.

"Congress should come back to D.C. now and FIX THE IMMIGRATION LAWS!"

I'm not entirely sure why he's insisting that lawmakers "come back to D.C. now" since Congress is already scheduled to be in session today, and House and Senate members will be on Capitol Hill.

But it's the larger point that struck me as notable: the president believes the nation's immigration laws are in need of reform, and he wants lawmakers to take up the issue. At face value, that's not an unreasonable position. Indeed, Trump's two most recent predecessors -- one Democrat, one Republican -- also pushed Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform. Both efforts failed in the face of intractable GOP opposition.

But both the Bush administration and the Obama administration championed specific legislative proposals, which the respective White House teams helped write, shape, and lobby on behalf of. Both presidents were actively and personally involved in engaging Congress in the hopes of advancing legislation, the details of which they helped negotiate.

When Donald Trump, however, presses lawmakers to "fix the immigration laws," he's not referring to a legislative package -- because there is no legislative package. This president prefers profound passivity, barking orders from the Oval Office, and hoping Congress will simply figure something out.

And while it's obviously true that it's up to the legislative branch to debate and pass bills, in the American policymaking process, there's generally an expectation that a sitting president will help take the lead, especially on issues of great importance to the White House, to help turn an administration's goal into reality.

Therein lies one of the core problems with the Trump presidency: America's first amateur president doesn't know how to engage Congress to get what he what he wants, and he's surprisingly incurious about learning.

As things stand, the president wants an immigration reform bill. Has he presented a plan? No. Has he hosted White House talks? No. Has he opened negotiations with congressional leaders? No.

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Image: Donald Trump

Does Trump realize his 'sanctuary cities' plan would make matters worse?

04/15/19 08:40AM

It started with reporting from the Washington Post and NBC News that seemed hard to believe: Donald Trump's White House has engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to pressure U.S. immigration authorities to "release detainees onto the streets of 'sanctuary cities' to retaliate against President Trump's political adversaries."

As we discussed on Friday, according to the purported plan, the White House envisioned a system in which officials would detain immigrants and then transport them to targeted "Democratic strongholds," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco.

Within hours, the story turned farcical. The White House said the plan was discarded and dead; Trump said the opposite. Administration officials said the plan was illegal and impractical; Trump said the opposite. The president even proceeded to lie publicly about official responses to his childish gambit.

The New York Times reported this morning, meanwhile, that Trump only started pushing this absurdity "in part, people close to him said, to distract from" the release of the redacted Mueller report.

And while that should effectively end this bizarre conversation, such as it is, there was one other related point that's worth acknowledging before we collectively move on. I've seen a handful of people make the observation, but Mother Jones' Kevin Drum summarized it nicely:

Trump would be loudly proclaiming that if you come to the United States to seek asylum, we will put you into a comfy American bus and send you to a city where you will be given food and shelter. Everyone there will try to help you find work and provide lawyers to help with your asylum request.

Exactly. On the one hand, the president wants fewer people trying to enter the United States through the southern border. On the other, he's now aggressively and publicly talking up a policy in which his administration would transport new arrivals -- for free -- to diverse and welcoming American cities, with large immigrant communities.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

Sanders: Congress not 'smart enough' to understand Trump's tax returns

04/15/19 08:00AM

To date, neither Donald Trump nor anyone on his team has ever come up with a coherent explanation for why his tax returns must be kept hidden from the public. After facing the question repeatedly for years, it's tempting to think they'd have come up with something compelling by now, but so far, we've heard little but unpersuasive evasiveness.

More recently, the president and his team have also failed to explain why the administration must also be allowed to ignore federal law in this area.

Yesterday, the White House's chief spokesperson decided to rationalize Trump's insistence on secrecy by questioning the intellect of lawmakers seeking the documents.

Speaking with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said she wouldn't "trust" members of Congress to fully grasp the contents of the president's returns.

"And frankly, Chris, I don't think Congress, particularly this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume President Trump's taxes will be," Sanders said. "My guess is most of them don't do their own taxes, and I certainly don't trust them to look through the decades of success the president's had and determine anything."

Putting aside how unfortunate it is to hear this president and his team question anyone's intellectual prowess, it's worth pausing to appreciate the evolution of the argument. After all, Trump's original position was that he'd be happy to share his tax returns. In time, for reasons that have never fully been explained, this posture was abandoned and replaced with a series of odd claims about audits, public attitudes, and the administration's perceived limits of congressional authority.

Team Trump has now been reduced to arguing that lawmakers aren't smart enough to understand the president's tax returns, which might very well be the most foolish defense yet, since (a) Congress can always consult with experts; (b) more than a few accountants have already been elected; and (c) Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) is already in Congress.

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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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