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An inmate firefighter examines a burning structure while battling the Loma fire near Morgan Hill, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.

CA's fire crisis not a guarantee of jobs for prisoner-firefighters

11/19/19 06:50PM

As California continues burning through another historic period of wildfires the news cycle can become jammed with evacuations, environmental fears and involuntary power shutoffs. All this because intense Santa Ana Winds have collided with extremely dry land and power lines which have set many of the fires.

As part of the state’s ongoing effort to combat fires, it’s no secret that prisoners have been working on the front lines of the fight, often as hand units, doing similar work to California’s seasonal wildland firefighters.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.19.19

11/19/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite a day: "Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams -- who both listened in on the July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy at the center of the House's impeachment inquiry -- spent more than four hours testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday."

* Maybe he was watching different impeachment proceedings: "President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was pleased with how Republicans were handling the impeachment inquiry.... 'I just got to watch,' Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.... 'And the Republicans are absolutely killing it.'"

* The shutdown deadline is Thursday: "The House has passed a short-term spending bill to keep federal agencies running for another month. The hope is that the additional time will help negotiators wrap up more than $1.4 trillion in unfinished appropriations bills." (Here's today's roll call.)

* The controversy he won't shake easily: "Right around the time Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was shedding his suit jacket and preparing to grill witnesses Tuesday at the impeachment hearing, a mobile billboard truck began circling the U.S. Capitol and calling for a congressional investigation into a sex abuse scandal that has been dogging him back home."

* How many more ways can Trump antagonize Palestinians? "The Trump administration on Monday said it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy and further undermining the Palestinians' effort to gain statehood."

* Trump's "phase one" physical: "President Donald Trump's unscheduled weekend visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center prompted days of widespread rumors about the president's health. His doctor now says it was all routine."

* Maybe Pompeo sees credibility within his own department as overrated: "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dodged multiple questions at a press conference Monday about why he has declined to offer public support to State Department employees, like former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who have been caught up in impeachment proceedings."

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White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

Trump's press secretary points to dubious notes from Obama aides

11/19/19 02:51PM

Donald Trump's press secretaries have struggled at times with notable claims that are literally unbelievable. Sean Spicer, for example, told the White House press corps, with confidence and certainty, that Trump's relatively small inaugural crowd "was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period."

Several months later, Sarah Sanders told reporters that "countless" FBI agents had contacted the White House to say they'd lost confidence in James Comey. Sanders later admitted to federal investigators that she'd made that up.

But this morning, the president's chief spokesperson -- who still hasn't held a press briefing, despite having been press secretary for nearly six months -- offered a striking claim that may very well belong in the same category as Spicer's and Sanders' whoppers.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham claimed on Tuesday that departing former aides to President Barack Obama left notes saying "you will fail" and "you aren't going to make it" for the incoming staff of Donald Trump.

Former Obama aides quickly denied Grisham's claim, reacting to a tweet from a CNN reporter that Grisham had said during an earlier radio interview, "Every office was filled with Obama books and we had notes left behind that said 'you will fail,' 'you aren't going to make it.'"

Generally speaking, between administrations, officials have been known over the years to pull assorted pranks on their successors. But what Grisham described sounded uglier: Obama administration officials leaving notes predicting Team Trump's failure.

The trouble, of course, is that Grisham's claim is extremely hard to believe. We know, for example, that a variety of prominent members of the Obama administration have already described the press secretary's assertion as a lie.

What's more, common sense should have some role in the conversation. If Obama administration left behind a series of nasty notes for Team Trump, wouldn't someone have taken a picture or two? For that matter, wouldn't they have said something sooner?

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Impeachment inquiry has nothing to do with 'policy disagreements'

11/19/19 12:49PM

As the latest round of impeachment hearings began this morning on Capitol Hill, the White House's rapid-response operation argued that congressional Democrats are launching "an unprecedented impeachment sham over policy disagreements."

The idea, apparently, is rooted in a strange assertion: Donald Trump tried to implement a legitimate and legal foreign policy toward Ukraine. Some in the administration had a problem with the president's agenda, the argument goes, which rascally Democratic lawmakers are now exploiting to manufacture an impeachment crisis where none should exist.

Oh how I wish this made sense.

In case this isn't painfully obvious, Trump didn't have a foreign policy, at least not by any coherent definition of the phrase. He had a scheme in which he intended to extort a vulnerable foreign ally into helping him cheat ahead of his re-election campaign, using congressionally approved military aid as leverage to advance his own interests over the United States'. But in this country, corruption does not a foreign policy make.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a good piece along these lines this morning, noting that Trump's gambit in no way reflected a foreign policy.

[The] big lie is the idea that Trump's actions in this scandal were rooted in some sort of conception of foreign policy shaped around the national interest, when in fact they were entirely about furthering his own profoundly corrupt personal and political ends.

Quite right. In fact, as much as we've learned in recent weeks and months about how Trump's scheme unfolded, a basic truth has been obvious from the outset. As the New York Times reported two months ago, Trump and Rudy Giuliani "ran what amounted to a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.19.19

11/19/19 12:00PM

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

* In South Carolina, the latest Quinnipiac poll found Joe Biden with a comfortable advantage in the state's Democratic presidential primary, leading Elizabeth Warren, 33% to 13%. Bernie Sanders is third with 11%. Pete Buttigieg was fourth in the poll, though it found him with 0% support among African-American voters.

* Speaking of 2020 polling, Gallup's latest report found, "Six in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer to see the party nominate the candidate with the best chance of beating President Trump, even if that person does not share their views on key issues."

* Bernie Sanders' campaign continues to impress on the fundraising front: the Vermont senator's operation has reportedly now reached the 4-million-donors mark. No other contender for the Democratic nomination can make such a claim.

* NBC News reported on an analysis from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which found that Russian propagandists are criticizing Biden, while taking a generally positive posture toward Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

* In Arizona, the Green Party's voter-registration figures have dropped to a point that it is losing its status as a recognized party in the state. Recent history suggests this represents a setback for the Republican Party, which hopes to divide the left, especially in competitive states.

* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's (D) presidential campaign has a new ad featuring "lock him up" chants targeted at Donald Trump during the World Series. The Democratic candidate vows in the spot to empower prosecutors to "follow the evidence" and pursue the Republican president.

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Sen. Ron Johnson speaks during a hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Jan 24, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Targeting Vindman ahead of hearing, Ron Johnson aims low (again)

11/19/19 10:44AM

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) raised a few eyebrows over the weekend, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, and presenting a defense of Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal we hadn't yet heard.

"This would have been far better off if we would have just taken care of this behind the scenes," Johnson told Chuck Todd. Pointing to the revelations from the intelligence community's whistleblower, the Wisconsin Republican said the whistleblower was responsible for a "leak" that "exposed things that didn't need to be exposed."

In other words, the scandal here isn't Trump's abuses, but rather, the fact that the president's apparent misdeeds came to public light. Or as Catherine Rampell joked, "The crime here isn't the arson; it's that snitching smoke alarm."

Yesterday, the GOP senator -- who serves as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee -- went quite a bit further, responding in writing to questions from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who asked Johnson for his insights. As Politico reported, the senator responded by trying to undermine a key witness the day before his testimony.

Johnson (R-Wis.), in a letter sent Monday to House Republicans, questioned the credibility of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, a Ukraine specialist with the National Security Council who listened in on President Donald Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president, in which Trump pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate his political rivals.

"A significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their 'turf'," Johnson wrote. "They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."

Of course, in context, "entirely possible" is an unfortunate way of Johnson saying he has no proof to substantiate his irresponsible rhetoric.

It prompted Rep Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) to offer the far-right senator some sensible advice: "Here's a pro-tip: if you find yourself lying about a war hero, you should probably question your choices in life. My advice to Ron Johnson is to walk around the block and think about it."

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The Internal Revenue Service building, Washington DC.  
(Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

The other whistleblower controversy is far from over

11/19/19 10:01AM

For much of the political world, the word "whistleblower" immediately calls to mind the official from the U.S. intelligence community who helped shine a light on Donald Trump's Ukraine scandal. There is, however, another whistleblower whose story remains very much alive.

The Washington Post reported yesterday afternoon:

Two senators are looking into a whistleblower's allegations that at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department may have tried to interfere with an audit of President Trump or Vice President Pence, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, a sign that lawmakers are moving to investigate the complaint lodged by a senior staffer at the Internal Revenue Service.

Staff members for Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, met with the IRS whistleblower earlier this month, those people said. Follow-up interviews are expected to further explore the whistleblower's allegations.

This isn't a story that's generated a lot of attention, at least not yet, but as we recently discussed, it has quite a bit of potential.

The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for conducting an annual audit of the president's tax returns – a post-Watergate reform that's applied to every modern president – which ordinarily wouldn't be especially notable.

But as Rachel has explained on the show, according to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), an anonymous whistleblower over the summer offered credible allegations of "evidence of possible misconduct," specifically "inappropriate efforts to influence" the audit of Trump's materials.

And it now appears the top two members of the Senate Finance Committee -- one Democrat, one Republican -- have taken an interest in the matter, including arranging a meeting between the senators' aides and the whistleblower in private.

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Losing the debate, Trump, Rubio run with manipulated Pelosi quote

11/19/19 09:20AM

A little after midnight, Donald Trump apparently saw something on Fox News that inspired him to publish a tweet: "Nancy Pelosi just stated that 'it is dangerous to let the voters decide Trump's fate.' ... In other words, she thinks I'm going to win and doesn't want to take a chance on letting the voters decide."

The president added, "Wow, she's CRAZY!"

This morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who really ought to know better, picked up on Trump's line, publishing a similarly misguided missive: "Speaker of the U.S. House of [sic] says its 'dangerous' to 'let the election decide' if [the president] should remain in office. Translation? 'We can't trust backwards, uneducated, everyday people to decide the Presidency, this must be decided by the enlightened people in Washington D.C.'"

Since this is apparently poised to be the Republican Party's new toy, it's worth pausing to shine a light on reality. Yesterday afternoon, around 2 p.m. (ET), Speaker Pelosi sent a letter to House members on the congressional impeachment inquiry. It read in part:

"The facts are uncontested: that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit, at the expense of our national security interests.

"The weak response to these hearings has been, 'Let the election decide.' That dangerous position only adds to the urgency of our action, because the President is jeopardizing the integrity of the 2020 elections."

Even those with modest reading-comprehension skills can see Pelosi did not write what Trump and Rubio claimed.

On the contrary, the Speaker raised an important point that Trump, Rubio, and other Republicans have struggled to address.

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In this April 23, 2014, file photo, a man smokes an e-cigarette at Vape store in Chicago. (Photo by Nam Y. Huh/AP)

What Trump's shift on vaping says about his instincts, convictions

11/19/19 08:40AM

It was just two months ago when Donald Trump and his team suggested it was quite serious about banning the sale of non-tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes. The president told reporters that vaping is "causing a lot of problems, and we're going to have to do something about it." Pointing to vaping-related deaths, the Republican added that he would impose "very strong rules and regulations."

At the time, Trump acknowledged that vaping "has become a very big business," but he said public welfare had to take precedence over corporate bottom lines. "[W]e can't allow people to get sick, and we can't have our youth be so affected," he said, adding, "People are dying with vaping."

A month later, Trump's re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, reportedly started warning the president that his position on vaping was a political loser that the White House should abandon. And now, a month after that, it appears the president is no longer interested in the commitments he made two months ago. The Washington Post reported:

Everything seemed ready to go: President Trump's ban on most flavored e-cigarettes had been cleared by federal regulators. Officials were poised to announce they would order candy, fruit and mint flavors off the market within 30 days — a step the president had promised almost two months earlier to quell a youth vaping epidemic that had ensnared 5 million teenagers.

One last thing was needed: Trump's sign-off. But on Nov. 4, the night before a planned morning news conference, the president balked.

The New York Times added that Trump is now resisting "moving forward with any action on vaping," and "even a watered-down ban on flavored e-cigarettes that exempted menthol, which was widely expected, appears to have been set aside," at least for now.

The official line, apparently, is that the president is principally concerned with possible job losses in the industry. Or put another way, Trump is prioritizing corporate concerns, which is the one thing he said two months ago he would not do.

And while public-health advocates will no doubt find the White House shift appalling, for good reason, I'm also struck by the familiarity of the circumstances.

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Hell hath no fury like a former Secretary of State scorned

11/19/19 08:00AM

About a year ago, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke at an event in Houston and shared some uncomplimentary thoughts about Donald Trump. According to the nation's former chief diplomat, the president is "pretty undisciplined," "doesn't like to read," and "often" urged Tillerson to pursue policies that were inconsistent with American laws.

Trump wasn't pleased, responding on Twitter that Tillerson was "dumb as a rock," "lazy as hell," and lacking in "mental capacity."

Several months later, Tillerson testified on Capitol Hill about U.S. foreign policy and the degree to which Trump was at a disadvantage when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany in 2017 -- because Putin was prepared, and Trump was not. The American president again turned to Twitter to lash out, again describing Tillerson as "dumb as a rock."

If the recent pattern holds, we should expect another angry tweet from Trump any minute now.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday told the PBS NewsHour that asking for personal favors and using United States assets as collateral is "wrong."

Tillerson spoke with NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff at a luncheon hosted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Antonio. Tillerson discussed reports that President Donald Trump pushed to withhold from Ukraine nearly $400 million in military aid until the country's president agreed to open investigations into political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Tillerson specifically told PBS, "If you're seeking some kind of personal gain and you're using -- whether it's American foreign aid or American weapons or American influence -- that's wrong."

Obviously, this in no way resembles the official White House line on Trump's Ukraine scandal.

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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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