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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.19.19

03/19/19 12:00PM

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

* Emphasizing an issue of growing political significance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading Democratic presidential hopeful, yesterday called for the end of the electoral college.

* On a related note, the Massachusetts Democrat was also asked during a town-hall forum about the prospect of reparations. "I love the idea of this congressional commission," she replied. "I believe it's time to start the national, full-blown conversation about reparations."

* Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) has generally been reluctant to throw his support behind Medicare-for-All proposals, though yesterday the former congressman endorsed the Medicare-for-America plan outlined last by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

* At this stage in the 2020 cycle, Donald Trump's re-election campaign is reportedly spending "nearly twice as much as the entire Democratic field combined on Facebook and Google ads."

* The president also tweeted over the weekend that Democrats tried to "steal" the 2016 election. Ordinarily, such an accusation might be considered provocative news, but in the Trump era, this was largely ignored as random background nonsense.

* In the wake of allegations that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) improperly used her state's voter registration system to access information about her rivals, the state legislature has passed a bill to "strip [Grimes] of her authority over the State Board of Elections."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-DEPARTS

Trump's boasts about Air Force One start to look even worse

03/19/19 10:59AM

During his presidential transition process in 2016, Donald Trump published a tweet complaining about Boeing and the cost of a new Air Force One. The Republican, for reasons that have never been clear, insisted that "costs are out of control." With the price tag for the project likely to top $4 billion, Trump said via Twitter, "Cancel order!"

The order, of course, was not actually canceled. Two months later, before his presidency had even reached the one-month mark, Trump returned to the subject, bragging about cutting the cost of the new Air Force One, though his boasts weren't at all true.

Nevertheless, in July 2018, the president announced that he'd successfully negotiated "a good deal" on the project, saving taxpayers over a billion dollars on the new planes, which he said would now cost $3.9 billion.

Defense One reported yesterday that the figure Trump and the White House have touted for months isn't the same figure that appears in the Department of Defense's budget.

The cost of buying, equipping, and preparing to operate the two Boeing 747s that will become the next Air Force One presidential transport aircraft is now pegged at $5.3 billion, nearly one-third more than the figure routinely touted by the White House, according to Air Force officials and Pentagon budget documents.

The projected price tag -- included in the Pentagon's fiscal 2020 budget proposal -- marks the first time the Defense Department has provided a total cost estimate for the project. It includes not only the cost of the planes themselves, but also work to build a new hangar complex at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and other administrative, engineering, and development work.

"The total VC-25B acquisition cost ... is $5.3B and encompasses all costs associated with fielding the system," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek wrote in an email Monday, referring to the new Air Force One by its military designation.

The article added that Air Force officials, at least in private, have long conceded that the White House's figures were wrong. The difference is, the actual numbers are now in writing.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the W.L. Zorn Arena Nov. 1, 2016 in Eau Claire, Wis. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Wisconsin focus group suggests Trump's dishonesty is a problem

03/19/19 10:06AM

Democrats suffered a series of bitter disappointments in the last presidential election cycle, but Donald Trump's narrow victory in Wisconsin was among the most severe. The Badger State had supported the Democratic ticket in each of the last seven presidential elections -- Barack Obama carried Wisconsin with relative ease in both of his national races -- but the state nevertheless backed Trump by about 0.7% of the statewide vote.

It's against this backdrop that Axios reported yesterday on a focus group conducted in Appleton, Wis., featuring a group of swing voters, most of whom voted for Obama in 2012, before switching to Trump in 2016. There were a variety of interesting takeaways, but one of the things that stood out for me was a common thread among some of the voters who backed the Republican, but who aren't sure about voting for him again.

"I think he's a dirty crook that lies, cheats, and steals when he can," said George Engelmann, a 49-year-old Obama/Trump voter. [...]

Adam K., a 47-year-old Obama/Trump voter, said he wishes Trump would own the things he's lied about. "He's been caught in a lot of lies. ... You know, just admit that you made a mistake and say 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.'"

Amanda S., a 39-year-old Obama/Trump voter, said: "He's getting stuff done, but he lies. I don't think he's a very good person, but he's getting stuff done, so it's hard."

Obviously, the idea that Trump is "getting stuff done" is highly dubious, but let's not miss the forest for the trees: many of the swing voters who participated in this focus group have a problem with the president's incessant lying.

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U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Debbie Stabenow speak during a news conference about the Excellence in Mental Health Act, February 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

After standing on principle, GOP senator faces rebuke in his home state

03/19/19 09:20AM

After Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration, granting himself the powers to redirect funds in defiance of Congress' wishes, Republicans faced a choice: stand up for constitutional principles or side with the White House out of a sense of partisan loyalty. In both the House and Senate, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers prioritized the latter over the former.

But not all of them. In the Senate last week, 12 Republicans broke ranks and voted for a resolution to block the president's policy. One of them was Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, and the only member of the GOP leadership to stand on principle on this vote.

Any chance his local allies would side with Blunt, a giant in Missouri Republican politics? Evidently not. The Kansas City Star reported yesterday that the senator has been disinvited from an upcoming GOP gathering in his home state, in response to last week's vote.

"I am so disappointed in you now that I can hardly speak," wrote Wanda Martens, a member of the Christian County Republican Central Committee, in an email to Blunt's office. "Why could you not support my president in the emergency declaration? President Trump tried every available means to work the Senate to resolve the border issue and build the much needed wall. He is well within his presidential powers to do this."

Martens serves as the local party committee's events chair. She told the senator in her email, which was obtained by The Kansas City Star, that she did not want to see him when the local party holds its Lincoln/Trump Day Dinner on April 6 in Ozark, Missouri, one of the most conservative areas in the state.

State and local Republican groups traditionally hold annual Lincoln Day events, but the event in Ozark includes Trump in the name and places a drawing of the president's face alongside Lincoln's on the invitation.

It's that last part that stood out most for me.

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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)

Steve King does himself no favors with civil war speculation

03/19/19 08:40AM

As 2019 got underway, Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) approach to race finally started catching up with him. The far-right Iowan made some highly unfortunate comments about white nationalism and white supremacy, and soon, Republican leaders agreed to strip King of his committee assignments.

If the GOP congressman hopes to find his way back into party leaders' good graces, he'll need to avoid incidents like these.

Rep. Steve King posted a meme Saturday about a hypothetical civil war between "blue states" fighting over which bathroom to use and "red states" with trillions of bullets.

The post is an image of two figures composed of traditionally Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states in fighting postures with text superimposed over top. The caption reads: "Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn't know which bathroom to use."

"Wonder who would win?" the Iowa Republican wrote on Facebook.

Once the content started generating public attention, King removed it from his social-media pages -- though the damage was already done.

On the surface, it's a problem, to put it mildly, when a sitting federal lawmaker publicly speculates about a violent confrontation pitting half the United States against the other. Adding insult to injury was the transphobic message in King's ridiculous argument.

But just below the surface, there was a more striking problem.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Why Devin Nunes' lawsuit against Twitter is such a bad idea

03/19/19 08:00AM

For at least a generation or two, one of the Republican Party's core policy goals was putting an end to frivolous lawsuits. GOP officials and candidates, for as long as I can remember, have used the phrase "trial lawyers" as a nasty epithet -- always repeated with disgust -- and blamed excessive litigation for many of society's ills.

In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has tried to help lead the way on the issue, co-sponsoring legislation in the last Congress called the "Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act."

Evidently, the California Republican's perspective on the issue has changed.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California is suing Twitter and several of its users for more than $250 million, accusing them of defamation and negligence.

The defendants include two anonymous parody accounts, "Devin Nunes' Mom" and "Devin Nunes' Cow."

As Nunes sees it, Twitter has not only hurt the congressman's feelings, the social-media platform has also censored "viewpoints with which it disagrees." And as a consequence, the GOP lawmaker believes he's entitled to a quarter of a billion dollars.

Donald Trump appears to think the litigation, filed by one of his most loyal congressional allies, is a great idea.

It's really not.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.18.19

03/18/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Netherlands: "The man suspected of killing three people on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday was arrested hours after the shooting, officials said."

* Flooding: "More than 10 million people in the Midwest and Great Plains remain under flood warnings following what the National Weather Service called 'major and historical river flooding' along parts of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins that left at least three people dead."

* Bad idea: "The man who allegedly killed 50 people last week at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, described President Donald Trump as 'a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.' But White House counselor Kellyanne Conway wants people to study the shooter's manifesto for themselves before drawing conclusions -- even if that means exposing themselves to white supremacist ideology."

* Just when it seemed Brexit couldn't get messier: "The speaker of Britain's House of Commons, famous for his erudite put-downs and booming calls for 'Order!' in Parliament, threw Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to attempt to pass her Brexit deal again -- on a third try, probably this week -- into doubt Monday."

* Elliott Broidy: "Federal authorities raided the office of Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy last summer, seeking records related to his dealings with foreign officials and Trump administration associates, according to a sealed search warrant obtained by ProPublica."

* Nice work if you can get it: "Ben Carson's daily schedule from 2017 shows a HUD secretary who held senior staff meetings once a week, lunched with the author of 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' and the founder of My Pillow, and left work before 2 p.m. on some Fridays to fly to his Florida mansion."

* Kentucky: "A federal judge on Friday temporarily blocked a Kentucky law that prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically happens around six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant."

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New Zealand eyes gun reforms in the wake of massacre

03/18/19 12:48PM

The day after a massacre in two mosques left dozens dead and dozens more injured, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern understandably turned her attention to gun laws.

Ardern said at a news conference that she was advised that the gunman had five firearms -- two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm -- and that he had acquired a gun license in November 2017.

"While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now: Our gun laws will change," Ardern said.

She noted that there have been attempts to change the nation's gun laws in the past, most recently in 2017, but said "now is the time for change." She suggested she was looking at the issues around ownership of semi-automatic weapons.

The New York Times reported this morning that the prime minister and her cabinet had agreed "in principle" to an overhaul of the country's gun laws, though there are some details to iron out.

"Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms that I believe will have made our community safer," Ardern said.

The "within 10 days" phrase stood out for me: in the wake of a brutal crime, officials are wasting no time exploring new ways to keep their citizens safe from gun violence. The authorities in New Zealand, where there is nothing comparable to the Second Amendment that exists in the United States, are acting as if new gun laws are simply a common-sense reaction to a tragic mass shooting.

"New Zealand has to have this debate," said Alexander Gillespie, a law professor at the University of Waikato, told the Times. "This is a place where your car has to be registered, your dog has to be registered. But your gun doesn't."

It all sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.18.19

03/18/19 12:00PM

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

* In his first 24 hours as a presidential candidate, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D) raised $6.1 million, which is the best opening fundraising day for any Democratic presidential candidate this cycle, even topping the $5.9 million Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently raised.

* Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't yet launched his Democratic presidential bid, but he accidentally described himself as a candidate at an event on Saturday, before quickly walking it back.

* Though Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been running for president since January, she officially kicked off her national campaign at a New York event over the weekend.

* On a related note, Gillibrand also picked up her first congressional endorsement over the weekend when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) threw her support behind the senator.

* The filing deadline in North Carolina's 9th congressional district was last week, and it appears there are 10 Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in the do-over election.

* In an NPR interview on Friday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) endorsed a federal moratorium on the death penalty, despite having defended the policy during her tenure as California's attorney general.

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Why some foreign leaders ignore diplomats and talk directly to Trump

03/18/19 11:00AM

In the modern era, it hasn't been especially easy for foreign officials to get an American president on the phone. A diplomatic process is supposed to be in place to add layers of security and official accountability to these interactions.

As the Wall Street Journal reported the other day, Donald Trump isn't overly fond of that process.

World leaders have found a new route to get a read on official U.S. thinking: straight to the top.

Increasingly, savvy leaders are bypassing the standard protocols and government processes of American diplomacy to go directly to President Trump himself, according to current and former officials, allies and foreign-policy experts.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin are among the heads of state who have cut out the middle layers of aides and agency officials to talk to Mr. Trump.

It's an amazing foreign policy dynamic -- which the American president has reportedly "encouraged" -- with no modern precedent. It's also a recipe for trouble.

Part of the problem, not surprisingly, is that U.S. officials who work in international affairs sometimes have no idea what their boss has discussed with foreign heads of state. Did Trump, who likes to give his foreign counterparts his personal cell-phone number, endorse proposals his administration opposes? Did he agree to terms that advance our rivals' interests? Did he agree to diplomatic negotiations? Did he make any promises?

When the people responsible for executing American foreign policy are out of the loop, they can't do their jobs.

As the WSJ added, "Some aides fret that the personal talks can sow confusion within the administration. At times, senior officials have been left in the dark or had to backtrack on some of Mr. Trump's remarks."

But I'm especially interested in why some foreign leaders prefer this approach.

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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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