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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.14.19

02/14/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'll have a whole lot on this in the morning: "President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency as Congress moves to pass a government spending deal that would provide further funding for border security, the White House announced Thursday."

* He'll be officially sworn in today: "The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm William Barr as attorney general, 54-45."

* In related news: "As William Barr, President Donald Trump's attorney general nominee, awaits a Senate vote to confirm his move to the top of the Justice Department, his daughter and son-in-law, both Justice Department employees, are on their way to different jobs."

* Details from last week's physical: "President Donald Trump is in good overall health, although a 4-pound weight gain since last year puts him into the obese category, according to a memo from the White House physician on Thursday."

* A strike we've been keeping an eye on: "Denver's first teachers strike in 25 years will come to an end after a record-setting, all-night bargaining session produced a new compensation deal shortly before dawn Thursday that labor leaders say will help better retain the district's educators."

* The Tennessee Valley Authority ignored Trump's legally dubious lobbying: "An independent federal agency announced that it would close two coal plants, including one that buys its fuel from one of President Donald Trump's campaign contributors, despite public pressure from the president to keep it open."

* Hmm: "U.S. retail sales in December suffered their worst decline in nine years, according to Commerce Department data released Thursday, a potential red flag for economic growth."

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On Parkland anniversary, Trump changes 'gun violence' to 'school violence'

02/14/19 03:45PM

The White House issued a statement this morning on the anniversary of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. It was a fairly long statement issued on behalf of the president, who touted the "tremendous strides" he believes his administration has made, and who made exactly one direct reference to guns:

"Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence."

As the Washington Post noted, Donald Trump soon after published a tweet on the same subject, which was nearly identical, though it made one important change:

"Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued strength and healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where there has been the loss of life as a result of school violence."

Careful readers will note "praying for the continued healing," became "praying for the continued strength and healing," and "where lives have been lost" became "where there has been the loss of life." These were minor and inconsequential edits.

But note the last two words in each statement: Trump's original statement referred to "gun violence," which soon after became "school violence."

For some on the right, all references to massacres such as these are supposed to avoid phrases such as "mass shooting" and "gun violence," because the rhetoric, according to the right, might imply there's something wrong with guns. We're apparently supposed to examine violent acts by turning our attention to the perpetrator, rather than the mechanism used by the perpetrator.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Republican president altered his own statement in a way that satisfies conservatives' rhetorical expectations, but it's hardly a stretch to wonder if the West Wing received a "reminder" about the kind of language the president's base expects him to use.

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Roger Stone Addresses Women's Republican Club Of Miami

Roger Stone not alone in peddling silly Mueller conspiracy theory

02/14/19 12:46PM

When Republican operative and Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone was arrested by the FBI, Americans saw much of the drama unfold on camera. That's because CNN had a camera crew at Stone's home and was able to capture the arrest.

The accused felon believes federal law enforcement and the cable news network conspired in order to ... well, they just conspired. Politico reported yesterday:

Roger Stone urged a federal judge Wednesday to make special counsel Robert Mueller's office explain why it shouldn't be held in contempt for violating the seal on the longtime Donald Trump aide's indictment by allegedly leaking it to the press.

Stone has repeatedly criticized the dramatic arrest at his home in January, which was caught on film by a CNN camera crew staking out his South Florida house. Stone claims CNN was tipped off about the arrest to film the raid, violating court orders.

To bolster the allegations, Stone's attorneys presented the court with evidence that, as Rachel noted on the show last night, really didn't make any sense. That's because we already know how and why CNN was able to get the footage, and it wasn't because of a behind-the-scenes conspiracy.

But what makes this story of particular interest to me isn't Roger Stone concocting a strange narrative that presents him as some kind of victim. The operative has come up with all kinds of odd claims over the years, so this CNN yarn is par for the course.

What I find remarkable, however, is how many Republicans leaders, unable to resist the appeal of a conspiracy theory involving American journalists and the special counsel investigation they love to hate, have bought into the nonsense.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.14.19

02/14/19 12:00PM

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

* In Arizona's U.S. Senate race, Mark Kelly (D) reportedly raised $1.1 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate. That's quite impressive, and it's the sort of haul that may give pause to his possible primary rivals.

* Believe it or not, we're only about four months away from the first debate for the Democratic presidential candidates, and with a field that's likely to be enormous, the DNC is going to have to establish a qualifying threshold. DNC Chairman Tom Perez will reportedly unveil the standards today or tomorrow.

* On a related note, the Democrats' 2020 field is not yet historic in its size, but it is without precedent in its timing: we've never seen quite so many candidates announce this early in the year before the election.

* Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) reportedly met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about possibly taking on incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) next year. According to Politico, O'Rourke, who's considering a presidential campaign, hasn't ruled out a possible Senate bid.

* Despite the recent controversy over her ancestral claims, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a surprise appearance this week at the National Indian Women's "Supporting Each Other" lunch. The Democratic presidential hopeful was welcomed with a standing ovation.

* In Georgia this week, there was a state House special election to replace a former Republican lawmaker. The seat will remain in GOP hands: two Republicans advanced to a runoff election.

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Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally, Oct 22, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Pence joins Iran offensive, urges allies to abandon nuclear deal

02/14/19 11:22AM

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats recently told the U.S. Senate that Iran is not "currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activity" needed to make a bomb. In fact, American intelligence agencies have concluded that Iran is actually abiding by the terms of the international nuclear agreement reached in 2015.

But to hear the White House tell it, it's irrelevant whether or not the policy is working. Indeed, as the Washington Post  reported this morning, Vice President Mike Pence wants our allies who helped negotiate the agreement to withdraw from the deal, irrespective of its efficacy.

Vice President Pence on Thursday launched a combative broadside against some of America's closest allies, calling on European countries to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and accusing them of attempting to break U.S. sanctions against "that vile regime" in Tehran.

Officials from Britain, France and Germany -- all countries that negotiated and signed the 2015 landmark agreement that President Trump withdrew from last year -- were in the audience as Pence accused them of essentially joining sides with America's enemy.

It's an extraordinary foreign policy dynamic. After Donald Trump withdraw from the JCPOA for reasons the White House has never fully explained -- "Because Obama helped negotiate a historic and effective agreement" is not a compelling reason -- U.S. allies took steps to ensure the policy continued to work. In fact, the efforts from British, French, and German officials are ongoing.

In response, the Republican administration is criticizing our allies and pressuring them to abandon the international agreement that -- according to U.S. intelligence chiefs -- our former partners are still honoring.

It came against a backdrop in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly said this morning, "You can't achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran."

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Image: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe

Former FBI deputy director details 25th Amendment discussion

02/14/19 10:46AM

It's been nearly a year since former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired, but he's now firing back at his Trump administration adversaries with a book called, "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

McCabe spoke to CBS News' Scott Pelley, who reflected on the interview this morning.

"The most illuminating and surprising thing in the interview to me were these eight days in May when all of these things were happening behind the scenes that the American people really didn't know about," Pelley said on the show.

"There were meetings at the Justice Department at which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment," Pelley said. "These were the eight days from [former FBI Director James] Comey's firing to the point that Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. And the highest levels of American law enforcement were trying to figure out what do with the president."

Asked if the conversation about the 25th Amendment was in jest, Pelley, apparently relying on McCabe's version of events, said it was not.

If the subject matter rings a bell, it's because we learned last fall about alleged conversations, led in part by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, about whether administration officials should invoke the 25th Amendment to remove an unfit president from office.

The alleged discussions unfolded around the time Trump leaked classified intelligence to Russians in an Oval Office meeting, which was also around the time Comey alleged that the president spoke with him about going easy on former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was the target of a federal investigation at the time.

There were competing accounts as to whether the conversation discussing the 25th Amendment took place, and as best as I can tell, McCabe's comments to CBS, if accurate, would be the first confirmation by a participating official that the discussions actually occurred.

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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)

Behind closed doors, Kevin McCarthy explains the GOP's 2018 defeats

02/14/19 10:02AM

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has an interesting habit of making provocative comments when he thinks only friends are listening. In June 2016, for example, the California Republican told his fellow GOP leaders that he thought Donald Trump was on Russian President Vladimir Putin's payroll.

Republican officials initially insisted that McCarthy never made such a comment. Told that the Washington Post had a recording, the party switched gears and said McCarthy was kidding.

This week, it happened again, except this time the Washington Post obtained a recording of McCarthy telling donors what went wrong for his party in the 2018 midterms.

Speaking privately to his donors, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy squarely blamed Republican losses in last year's midterm elections on the GOP push to roll back health insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions -- and in turn blamed his party's right flank.

McCarthy's comments, made in a Feb. 6 conference call from which The Washington Post obtained partial recordings, represent a vindication of Democratic efforts to elevate health care as an issue in last year's campaign. And in singling out the House Freedom Caucus, the remarks threaten to rekindle internal resentments inside the House Republican Conference.

"When we couldn't pass the repeal of Obamacare the first way through, an amendment came because the Freedom Caucus wouldn't vote for" the original House bill, McCarthy said. "That amendment put [the] pre-existing condition campaign against us, and so even people who are running for the very first time got attacked on that. And that was the defining issue and the most important issue in the race."

At face value, this looks like a simmering conflict between the top House GOP leader and his right-wing flank. Indeed, the Post spoke to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, who described McCarthy's behind-the-scenes comments as "very troublesome."

But just below the surface, there's a whole lot more going on here.

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Image: Matt Whitaker

Did Whitaker give sworn testimony 'contradicted by other evidence'?

02/14/19 09:22AM

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last week, and by any sensible measure, he did not do well. Former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace after the hearing, "I am not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who were more cooperative and respectful than Matt Whitaker was today. I say that with sadness."

It's possible, of course, that the controversial Republican didn't much care what the Judiciary Committee's members thought of his responses. The Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand wrote a good piece the other day making the case that Whitaker's principal concern may have been what Donald Trump thought of his testimony: the acting A.G. will soon need a job, so he may have treated the hearing as an audition.

If so, that may have been unwise. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Whitaker yesterday, encouraging him to "clarify" his testimony. From the correspondence:

"Although the Committee appreciates your decision to appear, Members on both sides of the aisle found many of your answers to be unsatisfactory, incomplete, or contradicted by other evidence. You repeatedly refused to offer clear responses regarding your communications with the White House, and you were inconsistent in your application of the Department's policy related to the discussion of ongoing investigations."

As Rachel noted on the show last night, it was Nadler's "contradicted by other evidence" phrase that stood out. "The implication here is that Matt Whitaker may have made false statements to the committee while he was testifying under oath," Rachel explained.

What's more, the Judiciary Committee chairman's letter went in a specific direction.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

True to form, Trump finds a way to stiff contractors (again)

02/14/19 08:40AM

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on a spending package that would prevent another government shutdown. There was little time to waste: the funding deadline is tomorrow night.

The compromise, however, was a fairly broad outline, which led to another round of behind-the-scenes talks over the details. The final package was unveiled overnight and will likely receive a vote in at least one chamber later today. The White House has signaled Donald Trump's willingness to approve the spending deal, which would end the shutdown threat. (Then again, he's changed his mind before.)

The Associated Press published a good overview, highlighting a variety of elements in the final package, but the Washington Post flagged a point of particular interest.

Lawmakers grappled with a series of last-minute disputes Wednesday as they sought to finalize the deal, including an ultimately unsuccessful push by Democrats to include back pay for thousands of federal contractors who were caught up in the last shutdown, and -- unlike the 800,000 affected federal workers -- have not been able to recoup their lost wages.

Alas, this isn't too surprising. Democrats, led by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), pushed a provision to include back pay for federal contractors as part of the spending deal, but when reporters asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) yesterday whether it would be included, the senator replied, "I've been told the president won't sign that."

The issue could, in theory, be addressed through a separate bill, but its prospects are unclear at this point.

It's worth noting who'll be hurt by this. Some may hear "government contractor" and think of a giant defense contractor that already has considerable resources.

But in this case, we're actually talking about a very different kind of workforce. As Vox recently explained, in reference to those adversely affected by the shutdown, "Up to 580,000 contractors, including cafeteria workers, security guards, developers, and IT consultants, could be missing out on back pay because of the impasse, according to NYU public service professor Paul Light."

Federal officials could approve their back pay. The president doesn't want to.

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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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