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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.24.20

01/24/20 12:00PM

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

* Despite the recent chatter about Democratic campaigns throwing a few elbows at one another, consider this fascinating tidbit: "In a barrage of 85 different ads that have aired more than 72,000 times in the past two months on local television [in Iowa], no Democrat has even mentioned a primary rival by name, a Wall Street Journal review found."

* Speaking of television ads, the newest spot from Joe Biden is not subtle in its electability message: after recent polling data is shown on screen, the voiceover tells viewers, "This is no time to take a risk." The text ads, "Vote Biden. Beat Trump."

* Republican fundraising for the 2020 presidential campaign has been impressive of late, but don't overlook the Senate races. The Washington Post reported, "The big-money groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised $68.3 million in 2019, a record sum for a non-election year."

* The Democrats' presidential primary in New Hampshire is Feb. 11, and the Trump campaign announced yesterday that he's scheduled a rally in the Granite State for Feb. 10. Perhaps the president doesn't like it when people other than him get attention, or perhaps Trump is a little concerned about his likely margin of victory in the GOP primary.

* Nothing's official, but the New York Times reported that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is considering a Biden endorsement, which would probably boost her odds of a vice presidential nomination if Biden receives the Democratic nod.

* In Iowa, a Public Policy Polling survey this week found incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst (R) ahead in her re-election fight against Theresa Greenfield (D), though her 47%-to-41% advantage is hardly overwhelming.

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'Death Valley': Trump laments possible ratings for his trial defense

01/24/20 11:20AM

Just when it seemed Donald Trump couldn't find anything new to complain about regarding his impeachment trial, the president this morning took aim at the Senate's schedule.

President Donald Trump on Friday slammed Democratic House impeachment managers for perpetrating "lies, fraud and deception" and complained that his own legal defense team would have to start their arguments on Saturday -- what the president said is called "Death Valley in T.V."

"After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin' Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.," tweeted Trump, a former reality television star known widely for being especially cognizant of how things play on television.

I don't think I've ever heard another person who doesn't work in the television industry who's quite as preoccupied with television ratings as Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, much of his complaint was nonsensical -- his case against the House impeachment process has gone completely off the rails, for example -- though I couldn't help but notice that the president didn't blame anyone in particular for the schedule.

And that's probably because Democrats presented a plan in which Trump's lawyers wouldn't have begun their defense on a Saturday, but Republicans ignored the effort.

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Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House

Republican state AGs make a curious case against Trump's impeachment

01/24/20 10:48AM

Congress didn't solicit the advice of state attorneys general in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but 21 Republican state AGs decided to weigh in anyway, offering lawmakers some unsolicited guidance. The conservative Washington Times reported:

The Republican attorneys general of 21 states authored a scathing rebuke of the impeachment trial, urging senators to reject Democrats' charges against President Trump.

In a 13-page letter to the U.S. Senate, the attorneys general assert House Democrats' impeachment of Mr. Trump is nothing more than a political ploy that could destroy the Constitution's separation of powers provision.

The entirety of the letter is online here, and some of it's familiar. The GOP officials find the articles of impeachment unpersuasive; they believe the effort is at odds with "the Framers' design"; they're convinced Democrats are solely motivated by politics; and they believe impeachment should only be used in "exceedingly rare circumstances," which do not include Trump's illegal extortion scheme.

In a curious twist, they also somehow arrived at the idea that the president's corrupt motives mean he's being punished for "a political thought crime." That's a new one.

Adam Piper, executive director of the Republican Attorney General Association, added in a statement that Republicans "are committed to keeping America great," which is apparently why 21 of the nation's 26 GOP state AGs signed their name to the document.

After learning of the effort by way of Fox News coverage, the president seemed quite impressed with the effort, publishing a few tweets on the subject, one of which included a whole lot of all-caps words, suggesting Trump was quite worked up about the segments he saw. (Whether he read the entire multi-page, footnoted letter is unclear, though I think we can probably take an educated guess.)

Which was unfortunate, since the letter included one important flaw.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Dems pounce in court after Trump lawyers contradict Trump's DOJ

01/24/20 10:04AM

On the opening day of Donald Trump's impeachment trial this week, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's controversial personal attorneys, insisted that it should be up to the courts to mediate disputes between the executive and legislative branches. That came as something of a surprise to many listening: the Trump administration has spent months making the opposite argument.

Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for congressional Democrats and their attorneys to take advantage of the contradiction. Politico reported yesterday:

House Democrats on Thursday night flagged to a federal appeals court panel comments made earlier this week by President Donald Trump's lawyers during the Senate impeachment trial in hopes it can spur a win in a pending case that could open a spigot of new information in their bid to remove the president.

The two-page letter from the House's top lawyer brings to the attention of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remarks made by Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow on the Senate floor questioning why Democrats hadn't tried to secure testimony in court from a key former White House aide -- rather than push ahead with impeachment.

The underlying case involves Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who was, for all intents and purposes, one of the star witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the former special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Naturally, lawmakers were eager to hear more, so they subpoenaed McGahn. The White House, true to form, directed McGahn to ignore that subpoena.

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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Team Trump balked at cooperating with watchdog probe of Ukraine scheme

01/24/20 09:20AM

After the public learned about Donald Trump's scheme to withhold approved military aid to a vulnerable ally, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked the Government Accountability Office -- a non-partisan watchdog agency that conducts audits and investigations for Congress -- to determine whether the administration had broken the law. Last week, the GAO determined that president's scheme was, in fact, illegal.

And while that's important for any number of reasons -- not the least of which is the damage this has done to Republican talking points -- we're still learning more about the investigation itself. CNN had this report early this morning:

The White House refused to provide documents to a non-partisan congressional watchdog investigating President Donald Trump's decision to withhold US security aid to Ukraine, according to documents released by Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland on Thursday.

Included in the release is a December 20 letter from the White House responding to an inquiry from the Government Accountability Office by citing a previous legal memo from the Office of Management and Budget defending the military aid freeze.

When the GAO investigators sought "factual information and legal views" about why the White House withheld the Ukraine aid, presidential aide Brian Miller said there would be no such cooperation.

"The White House does not plan to respond separately to your letters," he wrote.

On Twitter, Van Hollen characterized this as further evidence of a "cover-up," adding, "As seen in these documents, OMB provided incomplete responses and the White House flat out refused."

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Why Republicans are taking aim at a war hero to defend Trump

01/24/20 08:41AM

Fox News' Tucker Carlson and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) went after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on the air last night, with the conservative host questioning his loyalties and the Republican congressman pushing for his ouster from the White House, where Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.

As the Washington Post noted, they weren't alone.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who along with every other senator serves as a juror in the impeachment trial, took to Twitter and impugned the patriotism of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Blackburn referred to an allegation that Vindman had badmouthed the United States in a conversation with Russians while serving overseas. "Adam Schiff is hailing Alexander Vindman as an American patriot," Blackburn said. "How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America's greatest enemy?"

First, there's very little evidence that Vindman ever badmouthed the United States, and there are plenty of reasons to believe the accusation is made-up. Second, if the far-right Tennessee senator is concerned about officials who have badmouthed the United States in reality, I'd love to introduce Marsha Blackburn to Donald Trump -- who's criticized our country in ways few American leaders ever have.

I'm also struck by Blackburn's style of needlessly toxic politics, once again questioning the patriotism of a decorated U.S. Army combat veteran who earned a Purple Heart. If she doesn't want to thank him for his honorable service, that's her business, but these ugly attempts at smearing him are unbecoming of those in positions of authority.

But as offensive as these GOP antics were, let's not lose sight of why, exactly, some Republicans seem so eager to tarnish the reputation of an American war hero who's done nothing wrong.

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Image: President Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Haspel

Trump scrambles after accidentally sharing Social Security plan

01/24/20 08:00AM

After years in which Donald Trump assured the public that he'd never cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, the president adopted a different posture this week. Asked by CNBC's Joe Kernen whether "entitlements" would ever end up on his plate, Trump replied, "At some point they will be.... And at the right time, we will take a look at that."

When Kernen followed up, asking about Trump's willingness to "do some of the things that you said you wouldn't do in the past," the Republican added, "We're going to look."

It was the election-year message Democrats were eager to hear. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who's been relentlessly on-message this week, shifted his focus a bit yesterday, telling reporters at the start of a Capitol Hill press conference, "Even as the impeachment trial is underway, Trump is still talking about cutting your Social Security."

This did not go unnoticed at the White House.

On Thursday, the president tried to clean up his own mess.

"Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security," Mr. Trump tweeted shortly before leaving the White House for a campaign-related event in Florida. "I have totally left it alone, as promised, and will save it!"

It's worth unpacking this, because the issue is likely to be one of the dominant focal points of the presidential election.

First, the idea that Democrats -- who created Social Security and have spent the better part of a century championing it -- are "going to destroy" the social-insurance program is plainly ridiculous.

Second, the president may want people to believe he's "totally left it alone," but to the degree that reality matters, his White House budget plans have proposed tens of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security. Those proposals were ignored by lawmakers, but there's an obvious discrepancy between trying to slash a program and leaving it alone.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.23.20

01/23/20 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Opening arguments continue: "House impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), began the second day of their opening arguments against President Trump by focusing on alleged abuse of power, one of the two articles of impeachment approved last month by the House."

* WHO sees an emergency, but not a global health emergency: "Spread of the new coronavirus that originated in China has not yet reached a level that would deem it a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization said on Thursday. The virus has sickened more than 600 people, and 17 have died."

* Water pollution: "The Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and groundwater, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens."

* Visa restrictions: "The Trump administration is coming out with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting 'birth tourism,' in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport."

* Carter Page surveillance: "The Justice Department secretly acknowledged last month that it had 'insufficient predication' to continue monitoring a former Trump campaign adviser during the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to records made public Thursday -- a notable admission likely to fuel continued criticism over how the bureau handled the high-profile case."

* Keep expectations low: "Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would travel to the White House next week along with his chief election rival and opposition leader, Benny Gantz, to discuss the 'prospect' of peace in the Middle East."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump's complaints about the impeachment process go off the rails

01/23/20 12:48PM

Donald Trump, unable to present much of a defense of his actions, continues to whine incessantly about the impeachment process, which wouldn't be especially notable were it not for a nagging detail: his complaints are getting a little weird.

Take this morning's tweet, for example.

"The Democrat House would not give us lawyers, or not one witness, but now demand that the Republican Senate produce the witnesses that the House never sought, or even asked for? They had their chance, but pretended to rush. Most unfair & corrupt hearing in Congressional history!"

Let's take each of the claims one at a time.

* "The Democrat House would not give us lawyers." Actually, the House Democratic majority specifically extended multiple invitations to White House attorneys to participate in the impeachment process. Trump's lawyers turned down those invitations and refused to play a role in the House proceedings.

There are some subjective questions in the president's scandal, but this isn't one them. It's not even an obscure detail: the headline in the Washington Post last month read, "White House rejects House Democrats' invitation to participate in impeachment process as Trump focuses on friendly Senate." It really wasn't that long ago; Trump has no excuse for not knowing this.

* "Not one witness." Actually, not only did witnesses requested by Republicans testify, but the Democratic majority also invited White House attorneys to ask questions of witnesses.

* Democrats want the Senate to "produce the witnesses that the House never sought, or even asked for." Actually, at issue are witnesses Democrats did ask for, but the White House blocked their testimony.

* "Most unfair." To date, Trump has not pointed to any specific aspect of the House impeachment proceedings that, in reality, was unfair.

* "Corrupt hearing." To date, Trump has not pointed to any specific aspect of the House impeachment proceedings that, in reality, was corrupt.

Or put another way, Trump's tweet this morning included five claims, each of which are the opposite of the truth.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.23.20

01/23/20 12:00PM

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

* In New Hampshire, a new WBUR poll found Bernie Sanders with a big lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with 29% support. He's followed in the poll by Pete Buttigieg with 17%, Joe Biden with 14%, and Elizabeth Warren with 13%.

* With Russia again targeting our elections, I found this WSJ report interesting: "Nearly a dozen technology companies said they will provide free or reduced-cost cybersecurity services to presidential campaigns, which experts and intelligence officials have warned are ripe targets for intrusion and disinformation."

* We haven't seen too many examples of former Democratic presidential candidates endorsing current contenders, but self-help guru Marianne Williamson has thrown her support behind Andrew Yang.

* Our Revolution, a nonprofit organization created from Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign operation, is facing an FEC complaint from Common Cause, following allegations of accepting improper contributions.

* Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign has picked up a couple of new endorsements, including support from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D).

* Gallup found a 79-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on Donald Trump's approval rating. That's the largest ever measured for any sitting president in an election year.

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

Overcoming the challenge of up-is-down, day-is-night politics

01/23/20 11:28AM

There's a video making the rounds online this morning of Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) fielding a question from a reporter about Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal. This was the most notable part of the exchange:

REPORTER: So you're saying that it's okay for a President to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and withhold foreign aid to coerce him into doing so?

BRAUN: No, I'm not saying that's okay. I'm not saying that's appropriate. I'm saying that it DIDN'T HAPPEN.

For those familiar with the basic elements of the controversy, this seems like a deeply embarrassing incident for the freshman Republican senator. But part of the reason the video is making the rounds is that Braun himself is promoting it. The GOP Hoosier is proud of what he said and how he said it.

And that's unfortunate because Braun's assertions have no basis in reality. We know the president asked foreign leaders to investigate a domestic rival because he did so, on camera, while standing on the south lawn of the White House. We also know Trump withheld foreign aid in order to coerce a foreign leader because there's a mountain of documentary evidence -- not to mention a recent GAO report and a confession from the White House chief of staff -- that definitely proves that it happened.

But there was Mike Braun, a sitting U.S. senator, arguing otherwise. He could try to make the case that Trump's actions do not warrant his removal from office, but the GOP lawmaker prefers gaslighting, pretending that the president did not do what we already know he did.

My point is not to pick on the junior senator from Indiana, since he's hardly alone in his embrace of up-is-down, day-is-night politics.

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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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