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On his environmental record, Trump turns to 'greenhouse gaslighting'

07/09/19 08:43AM

After the White House announced plans for a presidential speech on the environment, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, "Donald Trump is resorting to greenhouse gaslighting the public to try and cover-up the fact that he is the worst president in history for the environment, climate and public health."

That's a good line. It also happens to be true.

Before we talk about what Trump said on the subject, part of what made yesterday interesting was the fact that the Republican delivered remarks on the subject at all. The New York Times had an interesting behind-the-scenes report:

Reviewing new polling data, consultants working for President Trump's 2020 campaign discovered an unsurprising obstacle to winning support from two key demographic groups, millennials and suburban women. And that was his record on the environment.

But they also saw an opportunity. While the numbers showed that Mr. Trump was "never going to get" the type of voter who feels passionately about tackling climate change, a senior administration official who reviewed the polling said, there were moderate voters who liked the president's economic policies and "just want to know that he's being responsible" on environmental issues.

So for nearly an hour in the East Room on Monday afternoon, Mr. Trump sought to recast his administration's record by describing what he called "America's environmental leadership" under his command.

It's easy to imagine an awkward conversation between the president and his political advisers who pressed him to give a speech on a subject he neither knows nor cares about. I can almost hear them telling Trump, "Just fake it for 46 minutes and it'll help with some key constituencies."

And so, he did.

The trouble, of course, is that it's awfully tough to pretend that the president has a laudable record on the environment. It's important that Team Trump considered this necessary -- it's emblematic of public attitudes shifting in a progressive direction -- but he failed to make a compelling pitch because Trump had so little to work with.

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A family practice provider uses a stethoscope to examine a patient in an exam room. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

ACA heads back to court, with health care for millions on the line

07/09/19 08:00AM

Health care hasn't been a front-burner issue for the political world in recent months, but today in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the fight over the Affordable Care Act returns to the national spotlight.

A panel of federal judges in New Orleans takes up the future of Obamacare on Tuesday, hearing from states that say it's unconstitutional and from Justice Department lawyers directed by President Donald Trump to oppose the entire law, too.

The Texas v. United States case is as multifaceted as it is important, so let's dig in with some Q&A.

It's been a few months since I've thought about this and I'm feeling a little rusty. What are we talking about again?

The U.S. Supreme Court already sided with the ACA -- twice -- but the Republican tax plan changed the policy landscape a bit. As regular readers may recall, when GOP policymakers approved their regressive tax plan, they simultaneously zeroed out the health care law's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.

That sounds like a rather desperate ploy. Is anyone actually buying this argument?

Yes. Shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor -- a Bush-appointed jurist in Texas -- agreed so enthusiastically with the Republican arguments that he struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. That ruling, however, didn't go into effect, and it's currently on hold as the appeals process moves forward.

I've heard for months that this case was about Republicans trying to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but it sounds like that ruling was even more sweeping.

Correct. The judge in the case could've ruled against the ACA in a narrower way, but he decided instead to take a sledgehammer to the American health care system, because he felt like it, giving Republicans even more than they expected.

Did the ruling make sense?

It did not. Even some conservative legal experts, who've been deeply critical of the ACA, have criticized the decision, with one calling it "embarrassingly bad."

So the 5th Circuit will reverse it, right?

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.8.19

07/08/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Epstein case: "An 'extraordinary volume' of photographs featuring nude or partially nude young girls was confiscated from the New York City home of Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors revealed Monday after a newly unsealed indictment accused the multimillionaire financier of exploiting a 'vast network' of underage victims for sex."

* New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this morning "signed a bill that would allow certain members of Congress to access President Donald Trump's New York state tax returns."

* The latest personnel mess: "The man set to take over as the head of the Navy declined the position over the weekend, less than one month before he was scheduled to begin the job."

* The latest trouble for Broidy: "A federal grand jury in New York is investigating top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, examining whether he used his position as vice chair of President Donald Trump's inaugural committee to drum up business deals with foreign leaders, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and people familiar with the matter."

* Of course he did: "President Donald Trump on Sunday accused the New York Times of publishing 'phony and exaggerated accounts' in its expose on the child migrant center in Clint, Texas."

* Trump's USDA back in the news: "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it's suspending tracking the plunging honeybee population because of a budget shortfall. The department will suspend data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies report, and officials did not say when -- or if -- it would be restarted."

* Good craftspeople never blame their tools: "President Donald Trump -- who used to mock predecessor Barack Obama for using the devices during speeches -- said Friday that technical problems with the teleprompter during his 'Salute to America' led to his head-scratching remarks about the Continental Army securing not-yet existent 'airports' during the Revolutionary War."

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Image: The President Of The United States And Mrs Trump Meet HM Queen

Leaked materials show UK ambassador telling awkward truths about Trump

07/08/19 12:50PM

Foreign ambassadors to the United States have a variety of responsibilities, including an obvious one: reporting back to their home countries with honest and candid assessments about American developments and personnel.

By all appearances, that's precisely what Kim Darroch did. What the British ambassador did not know was that his private reports would be made public.

The U.K.'s top diplomat in the U.S. views President Donald Trump as "inept," "insecure" and "incompetent," according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Kim Darroch, Britain's ambassador to Washington, D.C., made the highly critical comments about the president and his administration in a series of memos to London.

NBC News has confirmed the authenticity of the documents. In a statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said "a formal leak investigation will now be initiated."

The leaks provide a rare insight into how a key U.S. ally views the Trump administration behind closed doors.

"We don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept," Darroch wrote in one of the leaked documents.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, officials in the U.K. have scrambled to contain the diplomatic fallout and are working furiously to understand how and why the leak occurred.

Time will tell what the investigation uncovers, though it's likely the leak had less to do with Trump, per se, and more to do with a power struggle among British contingents dealing with Brexit. (If Darroch is forced to return to the U.K. in the wake of the leak, he can be replaced with a more conservative successor.)

But as important as those elements are to the broader story, and as easy as it is to feel sympathy for the British ambassador, what strikes me as most notable about the controversy is the degree to which Darroch's cables are unsurprising.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.8.19

07/08/19 12:00PM

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

* Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) campaigned in South Carolina yesterday, where he walked back earlier comments about working with segregationists in the 1970s. "I regret it and I am sorry for any of the pain or misconception that may have caused anybody," the presidential hopeful said.

* On a related note, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who hit Biden pretty hard over his record at a recent debate, said the other day that she believes busing should be considered by local school districts, but shouldn't be a federally mandated policy. This appeared to be a shift from what the senator said two weeks ago.

* At the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Saturday, Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled proposals intended to address racial disparities.

* In recent days, we've also seen Mayor Pete Buttigieg's (D) national-service plan, Sen. Cory Booker's (D) plan on immigrant detention, and Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) education plan.

* In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, most of the leading Democratic contenders tied Donald Trump in hypothetical general-election match-ups, but Biden had a sizable advantage over the incumbent president.

* Former Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) presidential campaign appears to be in very rough shape. A day after the Coloradan released weak fundraising totals from the second quarter, Politico reported that Hickenlooper's senior team "urged him last month to withdraw from the presidential race gracefully."

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APTOPIX Mideast Iran Election

As Iran raises the stakes, Trump struggles to find a coherent policy

07/08/19 11:00AM

After Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, it was only a matter of time before Iran followed the White House's lead and started walking away from its commitments. It's become painfully obvious in recent days that the time is now.

A week ago, the Associated Press reported that Iran had "broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium ... marking its first major departure from the unraveling agreement a year after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the accord." Overnight, the New York Times added this report:

Iran said on Sunday that within hours it would breach the limits on uranium enrichment set four years ago in an accord with the United States and other international powers that was designed to keep Tehran from producing a nuclear weapon.

The latest move inches Iran closer to where it was before the accord: on the path to being able to produce an atomic bomb.

It's breathtaking just how spectacular Trump's failure is. He took an international agreement that was working exactly as intended, ignored the pleas of our coalition partners, blew up the policy for no reason, and created a national security threat that was otherwise contained.

We're left with the world's most easily avoidable mess. All Trump had to do was nothing. A comprehensive solution was already in place, having the desired effect. But in a rather literal sense, he couldn't leave well enough alone.

Looking ahead, the American president doesn't seem to have any policy at all, and as Politico noted in a good piece yesterday, the White House "has few options when it comes to curbing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon."

The same article quoted an administration official saying, "Fundamentally, we want them to stay in the deal."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump's census scheme descends deeper into chaos

07/08/19 10:15AM

About a week ago, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) published a tweet suggesting Donald Trump should move forward with the White House's census scheme -- including the citizenship question -- despite the Supreme Court's recent ruling. The congressman's recommendation seemed bizarre for a reason: as a rule, federal lawmakers don't publicly encourage presidents to circumvent the law.

The broader problem that emerged soon after was the possibility that Trump was looking for ways to follow Roy's advice.

As of early last week, the administration had thrown in the towel. In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling, federal officials, facing an inflexible deadline, announced that the White House's census scheme was dead and census forms would be printed without the controversial and legally impermissible citizenship question. The gambit, it appeared, had run its course.

And then Trump started tweeting, creating uncertainty about the administration's intentions. The Wall Street Journal spoke to one insider who said, when asked what Team Trump would do, "Nobody has any f—ing idea."

Conditions grew quite a bit messier yesterday:

[T]he Department of Justice announced Sunday that it was shifting its census effort to a new team of lawyers and indicated there would be more court filings Monday.

"As will be reflected in filings tomorrow in the census-related cases, the Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward," said DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She did not say why the change was being made.

There are a variety of possible explanations for the change, but there's an especially notable one: career attorneys at the Justice Department may believe that the latest argument suffers from legal and/or ethical concerns, and they simply weren't prepared to take that case to a judge, Trump's wishes notwithstanding.

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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)

Epstein, politically connected billionaire, faces sex trafficking charges

07/08/19 09:20AM

Jeffrey Epstein, a politically connected billionaire, was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls in the early 2000s. A federal criminal investigation into his alleged activities raised the prospect of Epstein spending the rest of his life behind bars, but his high-profile legal team -- which featured Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr -- was able to strike a plea deal.

As regular readers know, the agreement was indefensibly generous. Epstein pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting sex from a minor in 2008, which led to an 18-month sentence. He was ultimately released after 13 months -- during which time he had been permitted to leave the prison and go to work during much of the day -- and then went back to living the high life.

As recently as a week ago, the Justice Department insisted in a court filing that there's no reason to invalidate Epstein's non-prosecution agreement -- which was engineered at the time by Alex Acosta, who now serves as Donald Trump's Labor secretary. At that point, Epstein was probably feeling pretty good about his future.

That changed over the weekend, when Epstein was arrested in connection with federal sex trafficking allegations as part of a joint NYPD and FBI investigation.

The arrest stems from incidents spanning from 2002 to 2005, three law enforcement officials said.... [A] senior law enforcement official briefed on the case says that Epstein is expected to face two federal charges for "dozens" of victims.

The official says, Epstein allegedly paid minors cash for massages and then sex acts. He would then allegedly pay those alleged victims even more money to bring him their friends/others who he would also allegedly pay for acts.

The official says that some victims are as young as 14 years old. These acts allegedly occurred at his Upper East Side and Palm Beach, Florida homes.

By all accounts, Epstein was taken into custody in New Jersey and will be arraigned in a federal court in New York later today.

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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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