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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.21.17

08/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* "The latest from Spain: "Spanish authorities said Monday that Catalan police fatally shot the man suspected of killing 13 people in a van attack on Barcelona's La Rambla."

* Ohio shooting: "An Ohio judge was shot in an apparent ambush-style attack on his way into a local courthouse on Monday morning, according to Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and NBC News affiliate WTOV."

* The USS McCain: "A widespread search operation was underway Monday for 10 American sailors missing after their guided-missile destroyer collided with a larger oil tanker off Singapore. The USS John S. McCain is the second Navy ship in three months involved in a collision with a merchant ship from another country."

* On a related note: "The Navy's top admiral ordered the entire fleet Monday to take a one-day 'operational pause' to make sure they are running their ships safely a day after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker off Singapore."

* The 15-member Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment is no more: "The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government's climate analysis into long-term planning."

* This guy's ties to the Russian government are deeper than had been previously known: "Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant who met last summer with senior Trump campaign officials, has often struck colleagues as a classic Washington mercenary -- loyal to his wife, his daughter and his bank account. He avoided work that would antagonize Moscow, they suggested, only because he profited from his reputation as a man with valuable connections there."

* On a related note: "President Vladimir Putin has appointed a former deputy defense minister as Russia's new ambassador to the United States. The Kremlin said on Monday Putin has replaced Sergei Kislyak, whose tenure ended in July, with Anatoly Antonov, a deputy foreign minister and former deputy defense minister seen as a hardliner regarding the U.S."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

On Afghanistan, Trump poised to abandon pre-election positions

08/21/17 12:40PM

For quite a while, Donald Trump was consistent about his views on U.S. policy in Syria. He insisted, over and over again, that he saw military intervention in Syria as a terrible mistake. "We should stay the hell out of Syria," he declared at one point. "I would not go into Syria," Trump later added.

A few months after taking office, however, the Republican president did pretty much the opposite, launching a missile strike against a Syrian airbase controlled by the Assad regime.

Similarly, Trump has been consistent in criticizing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, which sets the stage for the president's speech tonight in Virginia, where he'll "provide an update on the path forward for America's engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia," which seems likely to include increased deployments -- the result of a months-long White House review.

The review, which was led by National Security Adviser Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, looked at whether several thousand more troops should be deployed to the country, U.S. defense officials told NBC News last month.

The troops would be assigned to counter-terrorism and NATO training missions, the officials said, and would expand the American military's current footprint of roughly 8,400 troops.

We'll have to wait for additional details before assessing the White House's new "path forward" in Afghanistan, but if the reporting today is accurate, and the president intends to increase troop levels, it will be pretty much the opposite of what voters were led to believe was Trump's position.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.21.17

08/21/17 12:00PM

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

* A new NBC News/Marist poll gauged public attitudes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- three traditionally "blue" states that narrowly backed Donald Trump in 2016. The poll found the president's approval rating in these three states varied between 34% and 36%.

* On a related note, the same poll found approval of the Republican Party between 30% and 33% in these states, with Democrats enjoying an advantage on the generic congressional ballot of eight points in Wisconsin, 10 points in Pennsylvania, and 13 points in Michigan. (Note: there are also gubernatorial races in each of these states in 2018.)

* Also in the NBC News/Marist poll, former President Barack Obama's favorability rating tops 60% in each of the three states. Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) favorability rating tops 50% in each.

* In fundraising news, despite the Republicans' troubles, the RNC crushed the DNC in July, $10.6 million to $3.8 million. For the year thus far, the RNC has taken in $75 million to the DNC's $42 million.

* And while those tallies look good for Republicans, the numbers look better for Democrats in campaign committee fundraising. The DCCC easily outraised its Republican counterpart in July, $6.2 million to $3.8 million. Despite the GOP majority in the House, the DCCC's year-to-date tally tops the NRCC's total, $66 million to $64 million.

* Though there's plenty of speculation about whether Trump will be his party's nominee in 2020, Politico reports that he's already building his re-election "machine," which includes "mapping out a fall fundraising tour" and tracking "dozens of potential Democratic rivals."

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A secret service agent keeps a watch in Vista, Calif. on May 22, 2016. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

The Secret Service confronts unique challenges in the Trump era

08/21/17 11:22AM

A couple of years ago, the U.S. Secret Service struggled with a series of damaging controversies, including some important security breakdowns, prompting a congressional investigation and a bipartisan report about an "agency in crisis." Among other things, lawmakers identified budget cuts as one of the "primary causes" of the agency's difficulties.

And while the Secret Service has tried to turn things around since the release of that report, the agency is now facing another daunting challenge: Donald Trump's presidency.

The relationship between the Secret Service and the Republican president's team has already faced some difficulties. A leading Trump attorney, for example, tried to blame the agency for last year's infamous meeting in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked attorney, prompting the Secret Service to make a rare entry into a political debate in order to defend the agents' actions. That was soon followed by a leasing dispute between the agency and the New York building the president still owns.

But USA Today goes a step further this morning, highlighting a different kind of problem.

The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective mission -- in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast.

Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex'' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year.

The agency has faced a crushing workload since the height of the contentious election season, and it has not relented in the first seven months of the administration. Agents must protect Trump -- who has traveled almost every weekend to his properties in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia -- and his adult children whose business trips and vacations have taken them across the country and overseas.

There are currently 42 protectees -- up from 31 in the Obama era -- including 18 members of the Trump family.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

As Trump controversies intensify, Mar-a-Lago faces cancellations

08/21/17 10:40AM

In D.C., Donald Trump's response to Charlottesville became so politically toxic, there was a sudden exodus from several White House advisory panels, with private-sector members deciding they no longer wanted to be associated with this president.

But about 1,000 miles to the south, Trump World faced a slightly different kind of problem stemming from the same controversy. The New York Times reported:

With its ornate 20,000-square-foot ballroom and manicured lawns, President Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., is often the site of elaborate fund-raisers, drawing big charities -- and big dollars.

But several organizations are having a change of heart since Mr. Trump blamed "both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., after a white nationalist rally and an attack by a driver that left a woman dead. There were "very fine people on both sides," Mr. Trump said.

Over the weekend, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society became the latest nonprofit groups to cancel galas at Mar-a-Lago.

Exact tallies vary, but I believe that was the 10th cancellation of the 16 big-ticket events scheduled at Mar-a-Lago for the upcoming "social season." [Update: The latest Washington Post tally says Mar-a-Lago Club "has been deserted by 14 charities" over the last several days, but the new, overall total is 15 cancellations.)

Though none of the groups that are moving their events condemned the president directly, each made clear they were choosing a different venue in order to avoid being associated with Trump-related controversies.

Take the American Red Cross, for example.

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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 aide: 'You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill'

08/21/17 10:00AM

One of the more compelling parlor games in the political world right now is speculating about why Donald Trump's aides don't quit. It's taken as a given that staffers throughout the White House recognize the president's most alarming flaws, but it's less clear why they don't flee their erratic boss before he permanently tarnishes their reputations.

My argument last week is that White House officials stick around because they're not actually surprised. They chose to work for the guy who spent two years touting a racist conspiracy theory -- and that was before he launched a ridiculous presidential campaign that exposed some of Trump's most depraved qualities. They don't quit, I posited, because they knew what they were signing up for.

But there are some members of Team Trump who like to tell reporters that they resist the urge to resign because they're performing a valuable public service. Axios had a piece along these lines over the weekend:

We talked to a half dozen senior administration officials, who range from dismayed but certain to stay, to disgusted and likely soon to leave. They all work closely with Trump and his senior team so, of course, wouldn't talk on the record. Instead, they agreed to let us distill their thinking/rationale:

"You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill": The most common response centers on the urgent importance of having smart, sane people around Trump to fight his worst impulses. If they weren't there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall.

I suppose the obvious response to this is that the White House is already responsible for all kinds of "crazy stuff," which suggests these officials aren't exactly succeeding in their efforts, but I'll concede it's possible that some in Trump World are intervening before their impulse-challenged boss acts on the worst ideas that pop into his mind.

The curious thing is, we've heard this quote before.

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Image: Donald Trump

One member of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board has seen enough

08/21/17 09:20AM

With its members no longer wanting to be associated with Donald Trump, the White House's American Manufacturing Council is no more. The White House Strategy and Policy Forum was disbanded for the same reason. The president's Advisory Council on Infrastructure has been scrapped; the administration's Digital Economy Board of Advisors met the same fate; and members of Trump's Committee on the Arts and Humanities also walked away on Friday.

The fallout from the president's racially inflammatory remarks last week has been considerable, but Trump still has the White House's Evangelical Advisory Board. The Associated Press reported the other day on its members' "steadfast support" for the president, no matter how far Trump goes.

Trump's evangelical council members have strongly condemned the bigotry behind the Charlottesville march by white nationalists and neo-Nazis over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. But regarding Trump, they have offered either praise for his response or gentle critiques couched within complaints about how he has been treated by his critics and the media.

Late last week, however, a crack appeared in the dam: one member of the panel decided he'd simply seen enough. The Washington Post reported:

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Image: Donald Trump

GOP base comfortable with Trump's racially inflammatory posture

08/21/17 08:40AM

More than a few political observers, hopeful that American politics was still driven by decency and principle, saw last week as a deal-breaker of sorts for Donald Trump. The amateur president could spend months testing the limits of the fabric that holds the country together, the argument went, but he couldn't expect to get away with offering a tacit defense of white supremacists.

And yet, here we are. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

A GOP strategist working campaigns in red and purple states said that while support for Trump generally declined slightly since Charlottesville, support rose among his base, after a decline last month because of the failure on health care and revelations about the Russia investigation. This strategist said many Trump supporters applaud the president's continuing desire to shake up Washington, favor his economic priorities and admire his willingness to speak his mind.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative pundit who hosts an MSNBC weekend show, added on Twitter the other day that he spoke to a group of influential California Republicans, and he came away convinced that Trump's support "has increased" within the party in the wake of the president's racially inflammatory comments.

I wish this were more surprising, but it's important that the political world start adjusting its expectations for what constitutes "the Republican mainstream" in 2017. This radicalized GOP is Donald Trump's party, and with that comes a degree of comfort and acceptance with presidential antics many other Americans consider contemptible.

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Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Va., on Sept. 14, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

As others flee, Trump's top evangelical ally comes to his defense

08/21/17 08:00AM

After Donald Trump publicly defended racist activists, to the delight of prominent white supremacists, the White House hoped the president's Republican allies would rally to his defense. That clearly didn't happen.

Last week, bookers and producers for a variety of news programs -- including colleagues of mine at MSNBC -- reached out to dozens of GOP officials about appearing on camera to defend Trump's comments, and Republicans simply weren't interested. That continued yesterday: in an exceedingly rare sight, there were no elected GOP officials on any of the Sunday shows.

In an interesting twist, when ABC News' "This Week" asked the White House for a spokesperson willing to appear as a guest, officials directed the show's producers to, of all people, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a member of the White House's Evangelical Advisory Board. Falwell was one of the few people to defend Trump last week, and he did so again yesterday with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: [Trump] said, there were "very fine people" on both sides. Do you believe there were very fine people on both sides?

FALLWELL: He has inside information that I don't have. I don't know if there were historical purists there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don't know. But he had information I didn't have. And I believe that he spoke what was...

RADDATZ: What made you think he knew that...

FALLWELL: I think he saw videos of who was there. I think he was talking about what he had seen, information that he had that I don't have.

This is a curious line of defense. On Friday, Aug. 11, tiki-torch-wielding activists were filmed chanting, "Jews will not replace us." Other participants at that Charlottesville rally were photographed making a Nazi salute. Trump said of these activists, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

Were we supposed to "believe" him because, as Falwell put it, Trump has unique "information" about these activists' motivations? From Falwell's perspective, does the president have some kind of special insights into what the torch-wielding racists were thinking?

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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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