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Image: Eric Greitens

Following sex scandal, GOP governor faces pressure to resign

01/17/18 10:06AM

The details of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' (R) sex scandal make it more damaging than most. The Republican governor concedes he had an extra-marital affair, which occurred the year before he launched his campaign for statewide office, but as part of the story, Greitens is also accused of trying to blackmail his former mistress to keep their relationship secret.

Indeed, though the governor denies this part of the story, there's an audio recording of the woman in question claiming Greitens took nude photographs of her, while she was blindfolded and her hands were tied, which was followed by an alleged verbal threat. (The recording has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.)

The governor's strategy, at least at first, was to respond to the scandal by keeping a low public profile, and quietly reaching out to Missouri lawmakers, hoping to salvage his career. But as an investigation into the matter gets underway -- a St. Louis prosecutor began scrutinizing the allegations last week -- Greitens' efforts are facing serious headwinds. The Kansas City Star  reported overnight:

At least five Republican lawmakers are calling for Gov. Eric Greitens to resign after allegations that he blackmailed a woman in an effort to keep her quiet about an extramarital affair. [...]

Democratic lawmakers called for the governor to resign within hours of the initial report.

I won't pretend to be an expert in Missouri politics, but as a rule, when a sitting governor faces bipartisan pressure to resign, that governor's future is not bright.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

White House: The 'American people love' Trump

01/17/18 09:20AM

At yesterday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to clarify what, exactly, Donald Trump said at last week's meeting when he reportedly referred to "shithole countries." She conceded she wasn't in the room during the infamous discussion, though Sanders nevertheless bragged about president not being "politically correct."

Sanders added, "I think that's one of the reasons the American people love him."

The American people do not, in fact, love him.

This is a record not to be coveted: Donald Trump is wrapping up a year in office with the lowest average approval rating of any elected president in his first year.

That's according to polling by Gallup, which shows that Trump has averaged just a 39 percent approval rating since his inauguration. The previous low was held by Bill Clinton, whose first-year average stood 10 points higher than Trump's, at 49 percent.

The White House press secretary apparently isn't the only one who's confused about this. The president has also apparently convinced himself that he's wildly popular, boasting at a Jan. 6 press conference, "Hard to believe, my poll numbers have gone way up." In reality, it's "hard to believe" because it's not true: going from 37% to 39% is not "way up."

And yet, Trump seems determined to keep the charade going, even suggesting a few weeks ago that his support is effectively the same as Barack Obama's at this point in the Democrat's presidency -- despite the fact that this isn't even close to being true.

This week, however, the president took this line a bit further, boasting that his approval rating among African Americans has "doubled," which he sees as proof of ... something.

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US Department of Homeland Security employees work in front of US threat level displays inside the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center as part of a guided tour in Arlington, Va. June 26, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen makes an awkward first impression

01/17/18 08:40AM

It's easy to forget just how massive the Department of Homeland Security is. The nation's newest cabinet agency, created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has nearly a quarter of a million employees, tackling a wide variety of tasks: DHS includes everything from FEMA to Customs and Border Protection to the Secret Service.

It's therefore important for Americans to have confidence, not only in the department, but in its leadership. With this in mind, yesterday was an important day for Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who's only been on the job for a month, and who was confirmed to the important post despite a controversial record stemming from her tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration.

When Nielsen testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was, for all intents and purposes, the public's first real opportunity to meet the new head of this important cabinet agency.

I don't think it went especially well. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank highlighted one of the most memorable moments from the hearing:

I knew that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, when she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would deny that Trump said what the whole world knows he said: that he wants immigrants from Norway rather than from "shithole" countries in Africa.

What I was not expecting was that Nielsen would raise a question about whether Norwegians are mostly white.

Yes, Nielsen, who was in the room during Trump's racist comments last week, faced a series of exchanges, in which she clumsily tried to defend her boss while not lying under oath. At one point, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that the president supports immigration from Norway, which has a largely white population.

After fumbling a bit, the DHS secretary -- whose name, again, is Kirstjen Nielsen -- replied, "I actually do not know that, sir."

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Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.

Republicans get a 'wake-up call' in pro-Trump Wisconsin district

01/17/18 08:00AM

Democrats fared quite well in special elections in 2017, and as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  reported overnight, the party appears to be starting 2018 on the right foot, too.

Democrats snagged a GOP-leaning state Senate seat in western Wisconsin on Tuesday, buoying progressive hopes that they could ride a wave of victory this fall.

Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner for St. Croix County, will take the seat that had been held for 17 years by former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Harsdorf stepped down in November to take a job as GOP Gov. Scott Walker's agriculture secretary.

As a legislative matter, the Democratic candidate's surprise win has a limited impact: Republicans still control all of the levers of power in the Badger State, including an 18-14 advantage in the state Senate.

But that doesn't make yesterday's upset any less dramatic. This is a gerrymandered district, where voters backed Donald Trump by 17 points -- Mitt Romney won here by six points -- featuring a GOP candidate who received quite a bit of financial support from the right, including Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin.

In other words, this is a race Republicans should have won without breaking a sweat -- and yet the Dem won easily. Gov. Scott Walker (R) called it a "wake-up call" for his party ahead of the 2018 elections, when he'll be seeking a third term.

And while that's true, it's the broader pattern that reverberates beyond Wisconsin. Since Trump's election, Democrats have now flipped 34 state legislative districts, according to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.16.18

01/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This guy has been having an odd year: "Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter."

* Kirstjen Nielsen's testimony was, at times, difficult to believe: "The secretary of the Homeland Security Department testified under oath Tuesday that she 'did not hear' President Donald Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries. But she says she doesn't 'dispute the president was using tough language.'"

* Now we know: "President Donald Trump is in good physical and cognitive health following his first medical examination as president, Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, told reporters Tuesday, noting that the president earned perfect marks on a cognitive test that he himself requested."

* DACA: "The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will rush to the U.S. Supreme Court within a few days by skipping over a federal appeals court, hoping for quick action in the legal battle over shutting down the DACA program."

* FBI: "The Justice Department's decision to give congressional Republicans access to documents about FBI investigations risks exposing sensitive sources or material and poses a critical early test for bureau Director Christopher Wray, current and former U.S. law enforcement officials say."

* Keep an eye on the DETER Act: "U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have a message for Moscow: Any interference in future U.S. elections will be met with swift punishment if Congress acts."

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Image: U.S. Attorney General Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

In the Trump administration's terror report, read the fine print

01/16/18 12:52PM

The title of the new Trump administration report isn't subtle. The document, released this morning by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, says its focus is "protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States."

At The Hill, the administration appeared to get the kind of write-up officials were hoping for.

Three out of four individuals convicted on international terrorism charges in the U.S. were foreign born, according to a new report released by the Trump administration amid a contentious debate on national security and immigration.

Between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2016, 549 individuals were convicted on international terrorism charges, of whom 254 were foreign citizens, 148 were naturalized U.S. citizens and 147 were natural born U.S. citizens, according to Department of Justice numbers.

An unnamed senior administration official told reporters the report is intended to "illuminate basic statistics that should be at the hands of the American people to inform public discourse on the issue."

And while that may seem like a worthwhile goal, it's worth considering the fine print in the report when evaluating the "basic statistics."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.16.18

01/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Faced with allegations that he threatened a former mistress with blackmail, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has scrapped a plan to campaign statewide in support of his new tax plan.

* The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Ohio shrunk a little more yesterday when Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley ended her candidacy and endorsed former state Attorney General Richard Cordray, the apparent frontrunner. This comes a week after former Rep. Betty Sutton (D), who was also running, became Cordray's running mate.

* There are state legislative special elections today in Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), rumored to be eyeing a 2020 presidential bid, launched a new podcast yesterday. His first guest: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

* In response to a federal court striking down North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts, the state Republican Party complained in a written statement that "a 'gerrymander' is by definition and common understanding, a strange looking 'monster' drawing."

* Last week, an Ohio-based telemarketing company called InfoCision settled a Federal Trade Commission complaint over allegedly "false and misleading" tactics. Among its former clients are Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign and a pro-Trump political action committee.

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Foreigners reportedly 'curry favor' with spending at Trump properties

01/16/18 11:24AM

Donald Trump's first legal problem as president began literally on his first day. As regular readers may recall, the "Emoluments Clause" of the Constitution prevents U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments, but Trump, who refused to divest from his private-sector enterprises, never stopped profiting from his businesses, some of which receive payments from foreign governments.

Before the president's inauguration, Trump World vowed that his business would monitor receipts and make sure the president didn't profit from foreign governments, though last summer, NBC News reported that the Trump Organization decided not to keep that promise, determining that it'd be too difficult.

NBC News had a related report this morning:

Four foreign governments, 16 special interest groups and 35 Republican congressional campaign committees spent money at Trump properties in 2017, according to data compiled by the government watchdog group Public Citizen. [...]

[I]n a report called "Presidency for Sale," Public Citizen found that Trump properties in Washington, Florida and elsewhere seem to have benefited from Trump's election as groups with something to gain from U.S. policy have paid to stay or dine there more than 60 times.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, added in reference to the findings, "There is no way to escape the conclusion that these events are being held at the Trump properties as a way to curry favor with the president."

I imagine some of you are wondering right now about whether a federal court would consider all of this kosher. As it happens, we recently received an answer to that question.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House feared Trump would be 'tricked' into backing immigration deal

01/16/18 10:56AM

There was every reason to hope last week that policymakers would work out a deal on immigration and prevent a government shutdown. Donald Trump urged lawmakers to work out a bipartisan agreement, which he vowed to support, explicitly telling them that he didn't care what was in it.

And so, on Thursday, the president talked to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the phone, and the Illinois Democrat explained that a bipartisan deal was in place. Trump asked if Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was on board, and Durbin said he was. The president then invited Durbin and Graham to the White House for a meeting to discuss the deal.

Graham and Durbin thought the discussion would be with Trump. Instead, they arrived to discover that far-right opponents of the bipartisan deal -- including Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) -- would also be part of the meeting.

The Washington Post  reported overnight that the president, after signaling support for the Senate agreement, quickly switched gears, telling the meeting's participants "he wasn't interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together." It was at this same meeting that Trump dismissed immigrants from "shithole countries."

So, what happened? This happened.

[S]ome White House officials, including conservative adviser Stephen Miller, feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him and would hurt him with his political base. As word trickled out Thursday morning on Capitol Hill that Durbin and Graham were heading over to the White House, legislative affairs director Marc Short began to make calls to lawmakers and shared many of Miller's concerns.

Soon, Goodlatte, one of the more conservative House members on immigration, was headed to the White House. Trump also called House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and asked him to come, McCarthy said. Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Cotton were also invited to rush over.

And this, in a nutshell, is why negotiations with the White House are effectively impossible.

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

Millions of Americans added to the ranks of the uninsured

01/16/18 10:06AM

One of the core goals of the Affordable Care Act was to bring health care coverage to uninsured Americans, and on this metric, "Obamacare" has been successful: according to Gallup data, the uninsured rate went from 18% before the ACA was fully implemented to below 11%.

That progress has now stopped and the trend is starting to move in the opposite direction. Axios reported this morning on the newest data from Gallup and Sharecare.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance ticked up 1.3 percentage points in 2017, ending the year at 12.2%, according to the latest data from Gallup. That's still a lot lower than it was before the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion took effect, but this is the biggest single-year increase since 2008, well before the ACA.

To be sure, that probably seems like a minor increase. That said, as Gallup's report made clear, "That 1.3 point increase represents an estimated 3.2 million Americans who entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017."

If you or people close to you are part of that 3.2 million, the uptick in the uninsured rate probably doesn't look that small.

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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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