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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.25.19

04/25/19 12:00PM

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

* Three sitting U.S. senators -- Delaware's Chris Coons, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, and Alabama's Doug Jones -- formally endorsed Joe Biden's presidential campaign this morning. As things stand, the former vice president already has more Senate endorsements than any other Democratic presidential hopeful.

* Former President Barack Obama hasn't endorsed anyone in the 2020 race, but through his spokesperson said this morning he "has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made." The spokesperson added, "The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today."

* NBC News noted this morning that Donald Trump's re-election campaign has not committed, at least not yet, to staying away from materials hacked by foreign adversaries.

* Appearing at the "She the People" forum, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) both committed to choosing a woman as a running mate if they win the Democratic presidential nomination.

* Speaking of Booker, the New Jersey Democrat late yesterday became the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to release his tax returns, disclosing materials from the last 10 years.

* South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg crossed a new threshold yesterday: he picked up his first congressional endorsement. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) announced his support for the Indiana Democrat in a formal statement issued yesterday afternoon.

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

The heart of the Dems' debate: is Trump 'an aberrant moment in time'?

04/25/19 11:22AM

In his presidential campaign kickoff video, former Vice President Joe Biden made no effort to shy away from criticizing Donald Trump. On the contrary, the Delaware Democrat effectively said he's running because he "cannot stand by and watch" the current president continue to damage the country.

But as part of his pitch, Biden added, "I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time."

I can't say with confidence whether the former vice president intended to weigh in on a major debate in Democratic circles, but he did. The New York Times' Astead Herndon summarized the issue succinctly:

"There are so many ways to divide this Democratic field based on ideology and identity but Biden presents another one: Do you think Trump is an outgrowth of systemic American problems or an outlier presidency in need of a course correction?"

For Biden, Trump's presidency is effectively a fluke. A historical accident. An "aberrant moment in time" that can be corrected with the election of a Democratic president who won't necessarily turn back the clock to 2016, but who can at least restore a sense of normalcy and maturity to the White House, bringing an abrupt end to a four-year period of madness.

But for many Democrats, each of whom would welcome Trump's departure, Biden's assessment is a misdiagnosis.

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Why Trump is so nervous about former White House counsel Don McGahn

04/25/19 10:46AM

Few figures play as an important a role in the Mueller report as former White House Counsel Don McGahn. As we discussed the other day, 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 Donald Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the 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.

It was against this backdrop that the New York Times noted this week, almost in passing, that the president is inclined to attack McGahn as a way "to protect himself from impeachment." Rachel spoke last night with William Jeffress, a former attorney on Richard Nixon's team, who explained the risks associated with Trump's political gambit.

I can't say with confidence whether the president was watching, but Trump made clear this morning on Twitter that McGahn is very much on his mind.

"As has been incorrectly reported by the Fake News Media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn't need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself."

Given the importance of the underlying allegations, it's worth taking a moment to unpack this one.

Note, for example, that the allegation about Trump directing McGahn to oust Mueller didn't just come from the press; it came from the Mueller report. In fact, according to the special counsel's findings, shaped in part by McGahn's testimony, the president not only pressed the former White House counsel to undermine the investigation while it was ongoing, Trump also urged McGahn to lie about it.

To hear the president tell it, this version of events isn't true. Why would Don McGahn lie? Trump hasn't offered a possible explanation.

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Asked about Mueller, Ernst points to Barr's 'spying' conspiracy theory

04/25/19 10:03AM

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was asked by voters this week for her reaction to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, and according to the Des Moines Register, part of the conservative senator's answer was a shift in focus.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst on Wednesday suggested the federal government misused its power to spy on President Donald Trump for political reasons as part of its investigation into Russia's efforts to influence the 2016 election.

"It begs the question, too, with the federal government spying on political opponents -- what have we come to?" Ernst said Wednesday at a meeting of the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale. "And that seemed to generate out of the Obama administration. So I think that there are some things that need to be looked at. We need to understand, when is it appropriate to misuse power so that you're using your federal assets to go after a political opponent? It sounds very much like something you find in Russia or someplace like that."

This is a very unfortunate answer, because as a sitting U.S. senator really ought to know, what Ernst described did not happen in reality. The Obama administration did not spy on the Trump campaign. Federal assets were not used to "go after" anyone's domestic political opponents.

It's likely that the Iowa Republican is echoing what Attorney General Bill Barr kinda sorta tried to say during a recent hearing, but Barr scrambled to walk back his comments -- which is all the more reason why Ernst shouldn't have parroted them when asked about Mueller's findings.

But stepping back, all of this is emblematic of a larger truth: Joni Ernst is on record endorsing some awfully strange conspiracy theories.

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Following the Mueller report, why are Dems the only ones 'wrestling'?

04/25/19 09:21AM

The headline on the front page of the New York Times yesterday read, "Divided on Impeachment, Democrats Wrestle with Duty and Politics." The article that followed highlighted a contentious and pressing issue that the House majority is struggling with.

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi urges caution on impeachment, rank-and-file House Democrats are agonizing over the prospect of trying to oust President Trump, caught between their sense of historic responsibilities and political considerations in the wake of the special counsel's damning portrait of abuses.

The Democrats -- including more than 50 freshmen -- are mindful that impeachment poses political risks that could endanger the seats of moderates and their majority, as well as strengthen Mr. Trump's hand. They ran on kitchen-table issues dear to their constituents and do not want to be consumed in a partisan morass that might unite Republican voters in opposition. But some prominent members of the 55-member strong Congressional Black Caucus and a newly empowered progressive caucus are pressing for action -- three Democrats have filed articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump and dozens of others have signaled a willingness to consider that path.

My concern is not that this report was wrong. It was perfectly accurate and it highlighted a real issue. Donald Trump's possible impeachment is a real challenge for the House Democratic majority, and its members haven't settled on a strategy -- despite the fact that they'll soon need one.

But reading the Times' piece nevertheless got me thinking about the reports we haven't seen since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. The newspaper is right that Democrats are "wrestling with duty and politics," but that only raises a question that's gone largely overlooked:

Why aren't Republicans "wrestling with duty and politics," too?

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Image: Baby Trump Blimp protest in parliament square in London

British official calls Trump conspiracy theory 'utterly ridiculous'

04/25/19 08:40AM

Two years ago, relying on a Fox News report, Donald Trump's White House falsely accused the Obama administration and GCHQ, the British surveillance agency, of spying on the Republican's 2016 campaign. British officials were understandably unhappy: the Fox News report was based on absurdities peddled by a fringe conspiracy theorist.

The network walked back its report, and according to two reports in the British press, the White House apologized to our allies in the UK.

Nevertheless, the American president peddled the exact same conspiracy theory yesterday, based on another report in the conservative media from the exact same conspiracy theorist. As Reuters reported, our friends across the pond were once again displeased.

Britain's main eavesdropping agency on Wednesday said allegations that it had been asked by the Obama administration to spy on Donald Trump after the 2016 presidential election were utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that a former CIA analyst, Larry Johnson, had accused Britain of spying on the Trump campaign. Trump said: "It is now just a question of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it will be a beauty!"

When asked about the tweet, a GCHQ spokesman said: "The allegations that GCHQ was asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

As we discussed yesterday, all of this unfolded just one day after Buckingham Palace announced that the UK would welcome Trump in June with the formality of a state visit.

The American president expressed his gratitude by falsely accusing our allies of participating in a spying scheme against him, based on absurd claims he saw some random conspiracy theorist make on an obscure far-right outlet.

But I mention all of this anew because of one phrase in the British statement: "should be ignored."

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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

Joe Biden launches 'battle for the soul of this nation'

04/25/19 08:00AM

The largest field of presidential contenders in history just got a little bigger, though the latest addition is arguably more notable than most. After months of speculation, former Vice President Joe Biden kicked off his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination this morning, insisting that, when it comes to taking on Donald Trump, "we are in a battle for the soul of this nation."

In the opening of his announcement video, Biden highlighted the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where during a large gathering of white nationalists and counter-protesters, a white supremacist rammed his car into an opposition group, killing one person.

Biden noted that President Donald Trump said there were some "very fine people on both sides" in Charlottesville, where the white nationalist protest was aimed against the city taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.

"In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I'd seen in my lifetime," Biden said, adding that he believes "history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. Who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen."

There was some speculation in recent weeks about the Delaware Democrat launching his candidacy with some possible gimmicks, including a vow to only serve one term if elected and/or an early introduction to his running mate.

At least for now, neither of these of things has happened.

This is Biden's third presidential candidacy, and to put it mildly, the first two did not go well. In the 1988 race, the then-senator -- who was just 45 years old at the time -- was seen as a credible contender, but his campaign was derailed by a plagiarism controversy. Twenty years later, Biden tried again, only to garner 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. In the wake of his fifth-place finish, he exited the stage.

What Biden didn't know at the time, of course, was that later in the year he'd join Barack Obama's national ticket, and he'd soon after become a popular and respected vice president.

All of which leads us to a dilemma of sorts: there are, in effect, two Joe Bidens.

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Rep. Hill: Where do we draw the line?

Rep. Hill: Where do we draw the line?

04/24/19 11:09PM

Rep. Katie Hill, Vice-chair of the Oversight Committee, talks to Rachel Maddow about Trump’s willingness to defy subpoenas and why she believes it is embarrassing and dangerous to our national security for him to continue to try and obstruct oversight at every turn. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.24.19

04/24/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* So much for transparency: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday excoriated Democrats for probing his finances and his administration and declared, 'We're fighting all the subpoenas.'"

* Maybe he didn't understand his legal briefing on the case: "President Donald Trump wrote online Wednesday that 'the American people deserve to know who is in this country,' breaking with the Justice Department in its defense of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' efforts to place a citizenship question on next year's census questionnaire."

* Title X: "U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane late Tuesday said he'll grant a preliminary injunction against new federal restrictions that bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring patients to abortion providers, calling the rule a 'ham-fisted approach to public health policy.'''

* She's the one who wrote the "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email: "Bridget Anne Kelly, who continues to fight her conviction in the Bridgegate scandal before the U.S. Supreme Court, was re-sentenced Wednesday to 13 months in federal prison for her role in the ill-fated scheme of political retribution."

* Public health: "New cases of measles reported in New York, New Jersey and California bring the total number of infections in the U.S. to 671 so far in 2019, the most for a year since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000."

* Some encouraging economic news: "Purchases of new homes in the U.S. increased in March, driven by sales gains in most parts of the nation."

* The White House isn't helping: "A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Trump administration to drop a proposal under which federal job applicants would have to disclose whether they went through a criminal diversion program, a requirement that critics say would make it harder for those once charged to find work."

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Trump thinks the Supreme Court can save him from impeachment (it can't)

04/24/19 12:45PM

Now that he's placed two far-right jurists on the Supreme Court, Donald Trump seems convinced that the nation's highest bench will effectively serve as a rubber stamp, clearing the way for everything he wants.

The White House agenda on DACA? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Birthright citizenship? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Redirecting funds through an emergency declaration? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way. Tearing down his own country's health care system? The president expects the Supreme Court to rule his way.

Two senior administration officials told NBC News in November that "with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the Supreme Court," the White House "expects to win."

With this mind, consider Trump's latest mini-tantrum on Twitter.

"The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn't lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Not only are there no 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors,' there are no Crimes by me at all. All of the Crimes were committed by Crooked Hillary, the Dems, the DNC and Dirty Cops - and we caught them in the act! We waited for Mueller and WON, so now the Dems look to Congress as last hope!"

Much of this is gibberish, including the assertions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings uncovered no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Reality tells a different story, especially as it relates to obstruction of justice.

It's also bizarre that the erratic president believes his opponents have been "caught in the act" of committing crimes -- misdeeds that exist only in Trump's mind.

But what may matter most is Trump's intention to "head to the U.S. Supreme Court" if congressional Dems launch an impeachment effort.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.24.19

04/24/19 12:00PM

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

* Though I suppose it's possible the plans may yet change, former Vice President Joe Biden will reportedly launch his 2020 presidential bid tomorrow.

* Among Biden's challenges will be an uphill financial climb: the New York Times noted yesterday that the Delaware Democrat has empty campaign coffers, and "it would take his raising more than $100,000 every day until Christmas just to match what [Bernie Sanders] had banked at the start of April."

* Today's "She the People" conference will offer an important opportunity to several Democratic presidential hopefuls.

* Need to Impeach, an organization financed by Tom Steyer, has launched a new $325,000 ad campaign in support of a commercial that argues the Mueller report "lays out a road map for impeachment proceedings against this president."

* Voters in Tampa yesterday easily elected Democrat Jane Castor, the former Tampa police chief, as the city's new mayor. Castor, a former Republican, is the first lesbian to lead a large southeastern city.

* In South Carolina yesterday, Republican Stewart Jones won a state House special election. This did not come as a surprise: Donald Trump won this district by 37 points in 2016.

* Similarly, Bill Powers (R) won a Tennessee state senate special election yesterday, though real estate agent and Army veteran Juanita Charles (D) kept it relatively close, losing by only seven points in a district Trump won by 22 points.

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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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