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E.g., 10/16/2019

Trump's 'extraordinary preoccupation' with Biden isn't subtle

10/08/19 11:12AM

Donald Trump talks about Joe Biden nearly every day, but late on Friday night, the president published a tweet that was a little different than most.

Shortly before midnight, Trump highlighted an item from the Washington Examiner's Byron York showing Biden's lead in the Democratic race dwindling and questioning whether the former vice president should still be seen as the frontrunner for his party's 2020 nomination. The president found this worthy of mockery.

It was a quick peek into the president's perspective: Trump isn't just peddling bogus corruption allegations against his would-be challenger; the Republican also considers it important to let the public know about Biden's poll advantages relative to his 2020 rivals.

Two weeks ago, Politico reported on Trump's "extraordinary preoccupation" with the Delaware Democrat, which led the president to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help go after Biden. It led to a follow-up report that probably didn't receive as much attention as it probably deserved.

President Donald Trump's reelection campaign is preparing an avalanche of TV ads targeting Joe Biden in early primary states -- its most aggressive step yet to meddle in the Democratic nomination contest.

Starting this weekend, the reelection effort will air over $1 million in anti-Biden commercials in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada, according to two people familiar with the move. The spots focus on Trump's claim that the former vice president and his son engaged in corruption in Ukraine.

It matters, of course, that Team Trump's attacks are false. But taking a step back, it's the circumstances that struck me as astonishing: I'm not aware of any incumbent president who's ever made a seven-figure ad buy targeting a rival party's candidate several months before the primaries even begin.

The same day as we learned about the $1 million anti-Biden ad campaign, Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House and urged China and Ukraine to go after the Democratic candidate. A few days later, Trump encouraged Biden to quit the race.

There's no modern parallel for a sitting president appearing so publicly panicked about a possible rival, at least not this early in the election cycle.

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Trump admin blocks key ambassador from testifying to Congress

10/08/19 10:14AM

Gordon Sondland is hardly a household name, but he's a critically important figure in the scandal that's likely to lead to Donald Trump's impeachment -- and as of this morning, his significance is suddenly even more acute.

If Sondland's name sounds familiar, it's probably because of last week's story about the text messages, which showed Sondland, a Republican megadonor whom the president made the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, as directly involved in the scheme to pressure Ukraine to assist with Trump's re-election campaign.

Not surprisingly, Congress has been eager to hear from the ambassador, who was due to arrive on Capitol Hill today for a deposition. As NBC News reported this morning, the Trump administration had other ideas.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, has been directed by the State Department not to appear Tuesday for a scheduled interview with House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. [...]

"Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee's questions on an expedited basis," Robert Luskin, Sondland's attorney, said in a statement. "As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department's direction," Luskin continued, adding that Sondland "is profoundly disappointed that he will not be able to testify today."

It's worth noting for context that the ambassador is a current employee of the U.S. State Department. According to Sondland's lawyer, he wants to answer questions, but he also can't defy the agency's directive.

The fact that the Trump administration is blocking a key witness from answering questions may not seem especially surprising, but note the timing: the ambassador left Europe, traveled to D.C., and was all set to answer questions today. It wasn't until the morning of Sondland's appearance that the administration balked.

Obstructing the impeachment inquiry likely makes impeachment more likely, which naturally raises the question of what it was Team Trump figured out in the 11th hour.

For his part, Donald Trump went further than I'd expected in taking personal responsibility for today's developments.

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Mitch McConnell

Elaine Chao, Trump's Transportation Sec, faces new ethics questions

10/08/19 09:20AM

Earlier this summer, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao faced accusations that she made special arrangements to benefit projects in Kentucky -- where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is the senior senator. Politico reported in June that Chao even hired one of her husband's former campaign aides, who soon after took on a unique role in the cabinet agency: he oversaw projects that would benefit Chao's husband's home state ahead of his re-election campaign.

Yesterday, Politico advanced the story in ways that don't do the cabinet secretary any favors.

In her first 14 months as Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao met with officials from Kentucky, which her husband, Mitch McConnell, represents in the Senate, vastly more often than those from any other state.

In all, 25 percent of Chao's scheduled meetings with local officials from any state from January 2017 to March 2018 were with Kentuckians, who make up about only 1.3 percent of the U.S. population. The next closest were Indiana and Georgia, with 6 percent of meetings each, according to Chao's calendar records, the only ones that have been made public.

At least five of Chao's 18 meetings with Kentuckians were requested in emails from McConnell staffers, who alerted Chao's staffers which of the officials were "friends" or "loyal supporters," according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

While the secretary's office denies any wrongdoing, I'm trying to think of an innocent explanation for why officials from her husband's state have received special access that officials from other states have not. Nothing is coming to mind.

Of course, these questions are unrelated to separate reporting alleging that the Republican cabinet secretary held onto stock in a transportation company after Chao was supposed to have divested.

And that matter is unrelated to the House Oversight Committee investigation into Chao's curious habit of taking steps that appear designed to assist her father's family shipping business.

How that's swamp-draining effort working out?

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A military aide holds a medal during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House on Nov. 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Trump's latest curious choice for a Presidential Medal of Freedom

10/08/19 08:44AM

It was nearly a year ago when Donald Trump decided to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to the wife of Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson. A Washington Post analysis noted at the time that Miriam Adelson's medal reflected "a growing pattern: one of Trump awarding a large majority of such medals and even pardons to supporters, to Republicans, and to recipients who fit his political agenda."

The argument was bolstered in June when the president bestowed the same honor upon Republican economist Art Laffer, despite his discredited ideas and record.

Yesterday, the White House announced the newest recipient of the Medal of Freedom: Ed Meese. From the official statement:

Edwin Meese III has long been a thought leader and strong conservative voice on matters of law and policy. As Counselor to President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Meese helped to craft a foreign policy strong enough to end the Cold War and played a pivotal role in securing historic tax cuts.

As Attorney General, he promoted Federalism and the original public understanding of our Constitution. Since leaving public service, Edwin Meese has continued to champion our Nation's founding principles through his extensive work at The Heritage Foundation.

Reading this, one might get the impression that the president is giving the medal to Meese because he's a notable conservative -- which isn't generally the sort of thing that warrants the nation's highest civilian honor.

But for those familiar with Meese's background, there's a bit more to his c.v. that's worth appreciating.

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Why Trump's ridiculous claims about his public support matter

10/08/19 08:00AM

At an event with Japanese officials at the White House yesterday. Donald Trump took a few moments to reflect on his public standing -- which the president believes is amazing.

"[The impeachment process] is a scam. And the people are wise to it. And that's why my polls went up, I think they said, 17 points in the last two or three days. I've never had that one. I've never had that one."

Trump's approach to polling has long been bizarre. It tends to involve the president picking a number he likes out of thin air, pretending it's real, and insisting that everyone accept the made-up number as accurate.

But this latest boast is uniquely ridiculous. A 17-point jump over the course of a few days is practically unheard of -- the spike in George W. Bush's support in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was a rare exception -- and in Trump's case, it plainly does not exist in reality. Trump's support has actually fallen as his latest scandal has intensified.

Yes, it's theoretically possible that the White House has some internal polling that's telling the president what he wants to hear, but if a significant chunk of the American electorate were suddenly shifting in Trump's favor, there'd be some indication of it in independent, public polling. No such evidence exists because the Republican made it up.

Making matters worse, real polls show public support for Trump's impeachment climbing, including a newly released Washington Post-Schar School survey, which found a 58% majority endorsing the impeachment inquiry against the president, while a 49% plurality support removing Trump from office. This is slightly worse than other recent data on the issue and suggests conditions for the president are getting worse, not better.

CNN's Harry Enten explained late last week that support for Trump's impeachment is so high at this early stage that it's "historically unprecedented."

It's against this backdrop that the president believes "they" have said his public support has climbed 17 points "in the last two or three days."

To be sure, Trump has persuaded himself into believing all sorts of nonsense, but there may be a larger significance to this one.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 10.7.19

10/07/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New subpoenas: "House Democrats on Monday issued a pair of subpoenas to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought demanding documents and communications regarding President Donald Trump's decision to suspend U.S. aid to Ukraine."

* Yesterday's mass shooting: "Four people were killed and five others wounded after two suspects entered a bar and opened fire in Kansas City, Kansas, early Sunday, police said."

* The fact that the two sides can't agree on this basic point is emblematic of the larger diplomatic failure: "North Korea claims that its negotiations with the United States over its nuclear weapons program broke down on Saturday, although the U.S. sees it differently."

* GM strike: "With contract talks in Detroit in a critical stretch, bargainers at General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers union clashed over competing proposals during the weekend, as they struggled to resolve the longest nationwide strike at the company in decades."

* Hmm: "President Donald Trump has ordered a substantial reduction in the staff of the National Security Council, according to five people familiar with the plans, as the White House confronts an impeachment inquiry touched off by a whistle-blower complaint related to the agency's work."

* The Scotland story isn't over: "A senior Scottish Government minister was warned of allegations that Glasgow Prestwick Airport is using taxpayers' funds to 'financially subsidize' US military aircraft at the struggling hub."

* Trump got this wrong again this afternoon: "Goldman Sachs said the cost of tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump last year against Chinese goods has fallen 'entirely' on American businesses and households, with a greater impact on consumer prices than previously expected."

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

GOP leader struggles with reality (again) trying to defend Trump

10/07/19 03:15PM

It's been four days since Donald Trump publicly called on China and Ukraine to go after Joe Biden, and the president's Republican allies still aren't sure what to say about it. Some argue he was kidding -- an absurd claim, under the circumstances -- while a few in the GOP have been willing to make their dissatisfaction known. Most in the party have been content to hide and say nothing.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blazed his own trail, making an argument no one else has been willing to make. TPM reported:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made a befuddling claim on "Fox and Friends" Monday morning, arguing that President Trump actually didn't tell China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden on live-television. [...]

During an interview on "Fox and Friends" McCarthy was asked about the emerging talking point among Republicans — that Trump was clearly just joking or trolling China when he asked the country to probe his political opponent. McCarthy not only didn't respond to whether the move was just a joke, he argued that Trump's "not saying China should investigate."

"You watch what the President said, he's not saying China should investigate," McCarthy said.

There are some elements of any political scandal that involve judgment calls and matters of subjectivity, but this isn't one of them. Four days ago, Donald Trump stood on the White House South Lawn, appeared in front of a significant group of journalists, and said, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

I suppose it's possible some very creative person in the House GOP leadership might make the case that there's an ever-so-subtle difference between "China should investigate" and "China should start an investigation," but I'm comfortable concluding that no fair-minded observer would ever take such an argument seriously.

What we're left with is an example of Kevin McCarthy, desperate to shield Trump from accountability, failing to familiarize himself with the most basic elements of a scandal -- for the second time in eight days.

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Trump's erratic foreign policy reduced to 'a shambles'

10/07/19 01:02PM

At an event last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell reflected on the international landscape and concluded, "[O]ur foreign policy is a shambles right now ... and I see things happening that are hard to understand."

It was hardly an unreasonable assessment. The U.S. State Department is "deeply shaken" and "reeling," thanks in part to Donald Trump's political appointees who are politicizing the department "in ways that undermine U.S. ties to other countries." Attorney General Bill Barr, meanwhile, is endangering our relationships abroad, prompting backlashes among American allies, in pursuit of assorted conspiracy theories.

Much of the administration's foreign policy initiatives have completely unraveled, including the failed nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump, who's come up with a new policy in Syria.

The U.S. military has moved its forces away from the Turkish border with northern Syria, after the White House said Sunday night that Turkey would soon begin an operation in a part of northeastern Syria where it wants to resettle Syrian refugees -- and that U.S. forces wouldn't be there to help or stop them.

The U.S. has not received orders to commence a large-scale withdrawal from the region, remaining in a "wait and see" position, according to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation.

In a statement issued late Sunday, the White House said Turkey would "soon be moving forward" with its "long-planned operation" in northern Syria and that the United States wouldn't be involved.

If it sounds like Trump is abandoning the Kurds just a few days after the Trump administration said the opposite, it's because that's precisely what's happening.

The president's new policy, if anyone can call it that, goes against "the recommendations of top officials in the Pentagon and the State Department," whose judgment the president tends to disregard.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.7.19

10/07/19 12:03PM

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

* Late Friday afternoon, Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign said the Vermonter was hospitalized following a heart attack in Las Vegas last week. There is no reason to believe this will derail the 78-year-old senator's presidential campaign, though he is now at home recuperating.

* The latest Fox News poll in South Carolina shows Joe Biden with a sizable lead over his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination. The results showed the former vice president with 41%, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 12% and Bernie Sanders at 10%.

* Fox News yesterday also released its latest poll out of Wisconsin, where Biden leads Warren by a much narrower margin, 28% to 22%, with Sanders not far behind with 18%. The same survey showed each of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination leading Donald Trump in Wisconsin in hypothetical match-ups, with Biden enjoying the largest advantage (nine points) and Warren enjoying the smallest lead over the president (four points).

* The Warren presidential campaign announced late last week that it has fired its national organizing director, Rich McDaniel, after an investigation into "multiple complaints regarding inappropriate behavior."

* As of this morning, it appears that Sen. Cory Booker and Tom Steyer have qualified to participate in the Democratic presidential primary debate in November, bringing the new total of participants to seven. In contrast, 12 candidates are slated to appear in next week's debate.

* Biden wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, responding to Trump's offensive against him, and it concluded, "[T]o Trump and those who facilitate his abuses of power, and all the special interests funding his attacks against me: Please know that I'm not going anywhere. You won't destroy me, and you won't destroy my family. And come November 2020, I intend to beat you like a drum."

* Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told reporters on Friday that if Warren is elected president, Power isn't ruling out the possibility of running for her seat.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

On Trump impeachment trial, McConnell suggests the fix is in

10/07/19 11:20AM

If the U.S. House impeaches Donald Trump, as now appears likely, it would effectively serve as an indictment, which would be sent to the U.S. Senate for a trial. If "convicted" in the upper chamber by a two-thirds majority, the president would be removed from office.

There was some question in recent weeks as to whether the Republican-led Senate would even bother to consider the charges, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged last week the process isn't altogether optional. "I would have no choice but to take it up," the Republican leader said. "How long you are on it is a different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up based on a Senate rule on impeachment."

Those were not, however, McConnell's final thoughts on the matter. The Courier Journal in Louisville reported over the weekend on the Kentucky Republican's latest message, published to Facebook, which suggests, as far as a presidential trial is concerned, McConnell wants his supporters to know the fix is in.

"Nancy Pelosi's in the clutches of a left wing mob. They finally convinced her to impeach the president," McConnell says directly to the camera in a 17-second video. "All of you know your Constitution. The way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as majority leader.

"But I need your help," he adds, standing in front of a picture of an elephant. "Please contribute before the deadline."

Two weeks ago, as the impeachment inquiry in the House was getting underway, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she wanted to be cautious about taking firm stances on the presidential scandal because she was likely to be "a juror" deciding his political fate. The Maine Republican added that she didn't want to say anything that would suggest she's "prejudging" the accused.

McConnell -- by some measures, the "jury foreman" in the upcoming process -- has decided to be far less vigilant when it comes to maintaining the integrity of the process.

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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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