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The question Pence can't answer: how can Americans trust Trump?

01/08/19 10:12AM

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last week, raising public objections to Donald Trump's integrity and character. The senator made clear his objections weren't substantive -- Romney agrees with the president on most issues --but rather, were personal: Romney disapproves of how Trump conducts himself in office.

A couple of days later, the Post published a response piece from Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), complaining about Romney's attempts at "character assassination." The conservative Georgian said Romney should prioritize "conservative Republican governance" over other considerations.

What Perdue did not do, however, was actually defend Trump's character. The argument wasn't that the president is an honorable man, but rather, to advance partisan goals, questions about Trump's integrity simply shouldn't be asked, at least not by Republicans..

All of this came to mind this morning, watching ABC News' Jonathan Karl interview Vice President Mike Pence ahead of Trump's speech tonight on his demands for a border wall.

KARL: How can [the president's] work be trusted on this, when he has said so many things that are just not true about this crisis? He said Barack Obama has a 10-foot wall built around his house here in Washington; you know that's not true. He said some of his predecessors told him that they wanted to build a wall, but all four living presidents have now put out statements saying that they never had any such conversation with the president. You saw that Sarah Sanders said that nearly 4,000 terrorists come into the country every year and you know that that's not true, either.

How can the American people trust the president when he says this is crisis when he says things over and over again that aren't true?

PENCE: Well, look, the American people aren't as concerned about the political debate as they are concerned about what's really happening at the border.

When Perdue was confronted with questions about Trump's character, he made no real effort to defend the president's integrity. When Pence was confronted with questions about Trump's dishonesty, he similarly made no effort to argue that the president is honest and believable.

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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Trump struggles to find someone to serve as his new Defense secretary

01/08/19 09:20AM

The original plan was for James Mattis to serve as the secretary of Defense through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, and creating the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

Indeed, soon after Mattis announced his resignation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "Let's not forget, he is not just walking out the door. This will be orderly process and continue to be a good relationship over the next couple of months."

That didn't last. Donald Trump eventually learned via television what the retired four-star general wrote in his resignation letter -- which the president could've read but didn't -- at which point the Republican asked someone to direct Mattis to leave his post on Dec. 31, without a successor in mind.

Soon after, during his trip to Iraq two weeks ago, Trump went on and on about all of the great people who are eager to lead the Pentagon.

"I will say that I've got everybody -- everybody and his uncle wants that position. And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt -- just so I won't be criticized for that last statement.

"Everybody wants that position. Everybody. Everybody -- so many people want to be -- who wouldn't want to be secretary of Defense? ... So we have a lot of people. We have a lot of great people who want to be secretary of Defense."

That was the first big hint that all was not well with the search for the cabinet position. When the president repeats a dubious claim like that, Shakespeare coined the "doth protest too much" phrase for a reason.

But we're not just dealing with hints. Politico reported that Trump is "having a tough time" finding someone to fill the position, and former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and retired Gen. Jack Keane have both waved off the White House's overtures.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

White House's claims about terrorists at border start to look even worse

01/08/19 08:40AM

The White House has a goal: build a giant border wall. It also has something resembling a plan to reach that goal: scare Americans into believing that the medieval vanity project will keep them safe.

To that end, Donald Trump declared on Friday, "[Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] has gone over the numbers, and the numbers are alarming. You know, one of the numbers that jumps out is last year, in 2017, actually. Over 3,700 known or suspected terrorists tried to enter into this country.... We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through."

The same afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders echoed her boss' assertion, arguing that Customs and Border Protection picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year "that came across our southern border." Even a Fox News host found it difficult to tolerate such brazen dishonesty.

But if the administration's talking points are obvious lies, what's the actual number? NBC News had an important report yesterday afternoon:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News. [...]

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

Let's take stock of where things stand in light of the latest revelations. First, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders said officials picked up nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year "that came across our southern border," she was off by nearly 4,000.

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President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Latest Trump lie discredited by several former US presidents

01/08/19 08:00AM

On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump hosted a meandering White House press conference, largely focused on his proposed border wall, in which the president unveiled a new talking point: his presidential predecessors privately agree with him about the medieval vanity project.

"This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me and they all know it," the Republican declared. "Some of them have told me that we should have done it."

At a certain level, the argument has some appeal: Trump probably recognizes the skepticism surrounding his unpopular idea, but if he can convince people that other presidents agree with him, it may help broaden the support.

The trouble, of course, was that Trump was brazenly lying, once again describing private conversations that only occurred in his imagination. Politico reported over the weekend:

Asked if Clinton told Trump that he should have built a border wall, Clinton spokesman Angel Urena said, "He did not. In fact, they've not talked since the inauguration."

Bush spokesman Freddy Ford also said the two men had not discussed the matter. And Obama, for his part, has not spoken with Trump since his inauguration, except for a brief exchange at George H.W. Bush's funeral in Washington, D.C.

Obama has consistently blasted Trump's pledge to build a border wall.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for Obama explicitly rejected Trump's claim, and soon after, former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement, "I have not discussed the border wall with President Trump, and do not support him on the issue."

At this point, some of you are probably thinking, "Shocker. Trump was caught lying? It must be a day that ends in 'y'." In this case, however, I think there's a little more to it.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.7.19

01/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* When optics matter: "Federal agencies have been told to suspend pay raises for top Trump administration officials after an uproar from critics who said it was unseemly to reward top political appointees while hundreds of thousands of workers are going without pay during the partial government shutdown."

* The right thing to do: "Gov. Bill Haslam (R) ordered an early release for Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman and alleged sex trafficking victim serving a life sentence in prison for killing a man when she was 16."

* That's unexpected: "Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, announced Monday he is resigning at the end of January."

* The latest Pentagon departure: "Rear Adm. Kevin M. Sweeney has resigned his post as chief of staff to the United States secretary of defense, the Defense Department said Saturday."

* This seems sensible: "Several lawmakers have declared they will decline their paycheck or will donate it to charity in solidarity with civilian workers furloughed or working without pay."

* The Supreme Court this morning "cleared the way for the attorney general of Massachusetts to obtain records from Exxon Mobil Corp. to probe whether the oil company for decades concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play in climate change."

* And speaking of the high court: "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not at the Supreme Court on Monday, missing a courtroom argument for the first time since she became a justice 25 years ago."

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The Great 2018 Sunday Show Race

01/07/19 04:27PM

In 2013, 2014, 2015, a Republican won the Great Sunday Show Race with relative ease. In 2016 and 2017, an independent came out on top. But in 2018, Republican guests may have dominated once again, but it was a Democrat who was the big winner.

For the sixth straight year, I tallied up the guests for "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "This Week," "State of the Union," and "Fox News Sunday," and in 2017, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was the most frequent guest with 26 appearances.

That said, broadly speaking, Republican voices easily outnumbered their Democratic counterparts last year, just as they did in the previous years. The above chart shows every political figure who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances in 2017 -- based on Nexis transcripts and the shows' archives -- with red columns representing Republicans, blue columns representing Democrats, and purple columns representing independents*.

I should note that for the purpose of this study, I excluded hosts, out-of-office network contributors, and journalists, and focused exclusively on current officials, former officials, candidates for public office, domestic or foreign policymakers, or anyone who could be fairly characterized as actively involved in the political arena. (Karl Rove's inclusion here is admittedly debatable, but given his role in the Crossroads operation, it seemed only fair to characterize him as someone who's "in the arena.")

As longtime readers may recall, there's a school of thought that says tallies like these are unimportant. Obviously, I disagree. For me, the five major Sunday shows represent a political institution of sorts, highlighting the kinds of voices and ideas the Beltway media considers important. The discussions held on these programs help reflect -- and in many cases, shape -- the conventional wisdom for the political establishment in D.C.

And as is usually the case, Democrats have largely found themselves on the outside looking in: of the 18 people who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances in 2017, 12 were Republicans.

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Rejecting 'shutdown' label, Trump tells lawmakers he prefers 'strike'

01/07/19 12:49PM

During the first 12 days of the government shutdown, Donald Trump made no meaningful efforts to resolve the problem. The president held no meetings with lawmakers, extended no offers or proposals, he didn't urge his party's leaders to call Congress back into session, and he didn't even pick up the phone to discuss the problem with the incoming House speaker.

It might be tempting to hope that the Republican used all of that "executive time" to brush up on the policy details and formulate a specific game plan, so that when lawmakers returned after the holidays, the White House would be able to hit the ground running when negotiations began in earnest.

Evidently, that didn't happen. Here's the Wall Street Journal's report on the bipartisan talks held on Friday.

Mr. Trump opened Friday's meeting with lawmakers with a 15-minute profanity-laced rant about impeachment, according to people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Trump also told lawmakers he didn't like the word shutdown and preferred the word "strike," one of the people said.

While the talks occurred behind closed doors, and there's no publicly available transcript of the discussion, several other news organizations published similar accounts, including the "strike" anecdote.

After the meeting, Trump spoke to reporters, and though he didn't specifically use the word "strike," the president did say, in response to a question from NBC News' Hallie Jackson. "I'm very proud of doing what I'm doing. I don't call it a shutdown."

That's a shame, because it's actually a shutdown -- a word Trump has previously used dozens of times.

Part of the problem here is that the president may be confused about what "strike" means. As a Daily Beast report noted, "Many of the federal employees affected by the weeks-long shutdown have been working without pay. That is essentially the opposite of a strike."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.7.19

01/07/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) first swing through Iowa as a presidential candidate appears to have gone quite well, which I suspect will force other likely Democratic contenders to move up their timetables a bit.

* On a related note, former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly in "the final stages" of making a 2020 decision. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Delaware Democrat "has indicated that he is leaning toward running and will most likely make a decision within the next two weeks."

* Donald Trump again yesterday highlighted his victory in the electoral college, boasting to reporters, "I was voted 306 to 223 — or something like that — by a lot." (It actually turned out to be 304 to 227.) In case anyone's curious, Election Day 2016 was 790 days ago.

* Late last week in Maine, state Rep. Don Marean abandoned his affiliation with the Republican Party and became an independent. The GOP was already in the minority in the Maine House of Representatives, and now that minority is just a little smaller.

* The editorial board for the Barre Montpelier Times Argus, Vermont's third largest daily newspaper, published a surprisingly critical piece yesterday urging Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) not to run for president in 2020.

* As Scott Walker (R) exits Wisconsin's gubernatorial office after two terms -- and the Republican leaves public office for the first time in decades -- he's already told the Associated Press he "certainly wouldn't" rule out another electoral campaign.

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A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

Federal workers can't pay their rent with Trump's meager praise

01/07/19 11:20AM

Last spring, Donald Trump conceded that his trade tariffs were likely to cause "pain" for some Americans, most notably American farmers, but he was confident they were willing to take one for the team. "I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots," the president said in April. "They understand that they're doing this for the country."

The trouble is, when Trump uses the word "patriots," he's often describing Americans hurt by his own policies, whom he assumes won't mind. In 2018, it was farmers. In 2019, it's federal workers.

Here was the president yesterday, asked about the plight of those workers who are shouldering a financial burden during the Republicans' government shutdown.

"Those people are great Americans. They're great patriots. They want to make sure we have a strong border. Very important."

It's an extraordinary perspective. It's not just that Trump is comfortable hurting these federal workers in pursuit of a medieval vanity project, it's also that he assumes they want the same thing, and are willing to sacrifice their own well being in pursuit of his satisfaction.

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Image: FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

White House tries to downplay Trump echoing Russian propaganda

01/07/19 10:40AM

Donald Trump took the rather extraordinary step last week of endorsing the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a move that coincides with efforts in Moscow to approve a resolution defending the conflict. The American president's comments were not well received.

In fact, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, one of the most Republican-friendly pieces of media real estate in all of major American print media, noted in response to Trump's remarks, "We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American president."

Yesterday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney addressed the controversy publicly for the first time, in response to a line of questioning from CNN's Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: As you know, the Soviet Union did not invade Afghanistan because terrorists from Afghanistan were attacking the Soviet Union, and it is not necessarily considered by Americans or even the Soviets, now Russians, certainly not the Afghans, a good thing that they did so. Where did he get that idea from?

MULVANEY: I think that idea is born out of frustration. The president has been -- this ties into the comments and the discussions I think you and I have had about Syria as well, which is that the president promised that he would have a different Middle Eastern foreign policy. He's just very frustrated with the slow progress in Afghanistan. And I think that was probably just a comment born in frustration. [...]

TAPPER: But you know that it's not true that the Soviet Union didn't invade Afghanistan because of terrorist attacks on the Soviet Union, and they -- it was not a good thing that they went in there, right?

MULVANEY: I mean, again, I think those are comments the president made born out of frustration from where we are. And I'm not too concerned about the details.

That's not much of an answer. Indeed, Mulvaney may not be "too concerned about the details," but there's a case to be made that the rest of us should be.

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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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