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E.g., 9/20/2018
Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting, Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Iowa Republican faces investigation over ethics mess

09/11/18 09:20AM

Last week, Roll Call published its list of the most vulnerable U.S. House members in this year's midterm elections. Listed at #1 -- the incumbent lawmaker most likely to lose in November -- was Republican Rep. Rob Blum of Iowa.

Reports like this one from the Des Moines Register probably won't help the congressman's chances.

A U.S. House ethics committee on Tuesday announced it's investigating U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, the incumbent Republican in Iowa's first congressional district, following news reports earlier this year that he failed to disclose his private business on a required form.

The Committee on Ethics for the U.S. House of Representatives said that its top leaders had decided to "extend" a "matter" about Blum.

It's worth emphasizing that the Ethics Committee didn't go into any detail about which "matter" it's investigating, but Blum himself issued a statement on the developments, explaining that the scrutiny is over a "clerical error" about a company he failed to disclose his role in.

At first blush, that may sound like a fairly dull controversy. The truth is far more interesting.

Part of what makes the controversy amazing is the nature of the company in question and its work. The Associated Press reported back in February that Blum was one of two directors who led the Tin Moon Corp., incorporated in May 2016, more than a year into the Iowa Republican's first term in Congress.

As the AP reported, Tin Moon Corp. offered to "help companies cited for federal food and drug safety violations bury their Food and Drug Administration warning letters below positive internet search results."

That's not a great business model for anyone, least of all a sitting member of Congress. But in this case, it gets a little worse.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump visits Bethlehem

Middle East talks prove to be more difficult than Trump realized

09/11/18 08:41AM

Just four months into his presidency, Donald Trump seemed quite confident about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In fact, as regular readers may recall, the Republican boasted there's a "very, very good chance" his administration would help strike a deal for Middle East peace.

"It's something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," the president added.

Fifteen months later, I half-expect Trump to declare, "Nobody knew talks between Israelis and Palestinians could be so complicated." Take yesterday, for example.

The Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington on Monday and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel, or other allies. The moves are likely to harden Palestinian resistance to the U.S. role as a peace broker.

The administration cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office, although the U.S. has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them.

The Trump administration also announced the withdrawal of $25 million it had committed to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. As NBC News reported, this followed last month's announcement that the Trump administration is cutting more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians. It also comes on the heels of the Trump administration announcing the end of funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees.

Of course, it also follows the American president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- a highly contentious point in negotiations, which Trump gave up in exchange for nothing, and which had the predictable effect of pushing Palestinians further away.

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Independent poll asks Americans whether Trump is 'mentally stable'

09/11/18 08:00AM

At a White House event last week, Donald Trump boasted, "The poll numbers are through the roof. Our poll numbers are great."

Perhaps the president should've picked something else to brag about.

The latest national CNN poll, released yesterday, showed Trump's approval rating down to a woeful 36%, the lowest it's been in CNN polling in several months. Among self-identified independent voters, the president's support is down to just 31% -- an all-time low for Trump.

What's more, it's not the only new poll showing Trump below the 40% threshold: a national Quinnipiac poll, also released yesterday, found the president's support down to 38%, The same results showed Trump struggling in a variety of key areas: 60% believe the Republican is not honest, 65% believe he is not level-headed, and 55% believe he not "fit to be president."

But this was the result from the Quinnipiac report that jumped out at me:

Do you think that President Trump is mentally stable, or not?

Yes, he's stable: 48%
No, he's not: 42%

The fact that a plurality of Americans said yes may seem like fairly good news for the president, but that's a rather generous way of looking at the results. For one thing, Trump couldn't quite crack the 50% mark on this question, which is hardly reassuring.

For another, we've reached the point in American history at which a major independent pollster feels justified asking the public about a sitting president's mental stability.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.10.18

09/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a storm: "As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the Southeast as a Category 4 storm, South Carolina's governor has ordered evacuations along the state's entire coastline -- which could affect up to a million people."

* North Korea: "As President Donald Trump issues a steady stream of praise for Kim Jong Un in interviews and on Twitter, a steady stream of evidence that North Korea is still making nuclear weapons has pushed his administration to take a much more aggressive stance toward Pyongyang."

* Another deliberate diplomatic setback: "The Trump administration says it is closing the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, D.C., effectively shuttering the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the U.S."

* Afghanistan: "U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in the Afghan capital on Friday in an unannounced visit, amid upheaval in the senior ranks of American and Afghan officials waging the 17-year war against the Taliban and other Islamist militants."

* As Trump alienates much of Latin America, the region moves toward a rival suitor: "The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China. The move comes as American officials have expressed growing unease over China's rising influence in the region."

* The Elliott Broidy saga: "A major Republican fundraiser allegedly demanded that his Playboy playmate mistress have an abortion. That's according to accusations leveled by the mistress, Shera Bechard, and revealed in a document unsealed in court on Friday."

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Trump's economic illiteracy keeps getting in the way

09/10/18 02:35PM

It stands to reason that Donald Trump would want to focus on the strength of the economy, since it's the only thing keeping the president's approval rating from collapsing to new depths. There's room for a spirited debate over just how much credit Trump deserves for current conditions -- the current expansion started long before the Republican took office -- but at its root, there's an obvious logic to the president highlighting good news.

But if Trump is going to keep talking about the economy, he really ought to get up to speed on the basics. Let's take his tweets from today, one at a time:

"The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!"

This is wrong for a wide variety of reasons. First, it's a mistake to compare a percentage shift to a more static level. Second, it's a mistake to equate quarterly growth with annual growth. Third, even if we pretend quarterly growth is annual growth, Trump's boast is false. And finally, if we treat quarterly growth as quarterly growth, Trump's boast is even further from the truth.

Next up:

"If the Democrats had won the Election in 2016, GDP, which was about 1% and going down, would have been minus 4% instead of up 4.2%. I opened up our beautiful economic engine with Regulation and Tax Cuts. Our system was choking and would have been made worse. Still plenty to do!"

Trump appears to be simply making up numbers that pop into his head, which makes it tough to fact-check, but what he said about the GDP growth he inherited is plainly and demonstrably wrong.

Moving on:

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Image: Rep. Chris Collins

Chris Collins addresses his indictment (with pro-Trump swag in the background)

09/10/18 12:44PM

It's been about a month since Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was indicted for alleged insider trading. The criminal charges against the congressman were serious enough to force him to drop his re-election bid: Collins "suspended" his campaign less than a week after he surrendered to the FBI.

Though the New York Republican originally said he'd have nothing to say about the scandal outside of the courtroom, Collins has apparently decided to start talking publicly about his defense, starting with an interview with WIVB in Buffalo.

As TPM noted, Collins seemed to suggest the federal officials who showed up at his door didn't treat him fairly -- "It turns out, they don't read you your rights, they don't tell you you can have an attorney," he explained -- but just as interesting as what the congressman said is what viewers saw behind him:

Collins, notably, had several quintessential Trumpian decor items on full display throughout the interview: At least three Make America Great Again hats and a coffee mug emblazoned with a CNN logo that said "FNN" instead. A quick google search reveals "FNN" stands for Fake News Network, a wisecrack Trump is bound to enjoy.

Collins was the first House Republican to endorse Trump during the 2016 election and many have speculated he may be gunning for a presidential pardon if he's convicted.

Ideally, we wouldn't have to think this way. It'd be far better if we could simply question Chris Collins' choice of décor as a matter of style and taste, not a possible scheme.

But the politics of pardons in the Trump era has its own set of rules.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.10.18

09/10/18 12:00PM

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

* There are only a handful of primaries remaining, and they're all scheduled for this week. First up are contests in New Hampshire tomorrow, followed Rhode Island on Wednesday, and New York on Thursday.

* On a related note, arguably this week's most high-profile contest is New York's Democratic gubernatorial primary. If a new Siena poll is correct, it won't be close: the survey shows incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo leading Cynthia Nixon by 41 points, 63% to 22%.

* CNBC reports that the conservative Koch political network is launching a new super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action, just in time for this year's midterm elections. CNBC added that the entity will serve as "a sister organization" to the Koch-backed non-profit Americans for Prosperity.

* Six years after Sen. Joe Manchin's (D) successful campaign in West Virginia featured him literally shooting a cap-and-trade bill, the incumbent senator has a new ad in which he shoots the Republicans' anti-health-care lawsuit. "Patrick Morrisey's lawsuit would take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions," Manchin says in the spot, referring to his GOP challenger. "That's just dead wrong, and that ain't gonna happen."

* In the closely watched U.S. House race in Kentucky's 6th congressional district, the latest poll from the New York Times and Siena College shows incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R) with the narrowest of leads over Amy McGrath (D), 47% to 46%.

* Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) concluded on Friday that the legislative redistricting process "has reached an impasse," with the parties unable to reach an agreement. The Richmond Times-Dispatch  reported, "The governor and House Democratic leaders said it is now time to let the three judges who ruled that 11 House districts were unconstitutional redraw the boundaries in time for the 2019 elections."

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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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