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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.15.17

03/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russian espionage: "The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against two Russian spies and two hackers behind the 2014 theft of data connected to half a billion Yahoo accounts, which officials called one of the largest known data breaches in American history."

* The Federal Reserve "delivered the widely expected increase in its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday, and said the domestic economy remained on a path of slow and steady growth. The decision raises the Fed's benchmark rate to a range between 0.75 percent and 1 percent."

* Much of the world is keeping an eye on the Dutch election: "The first exit polls are coming out and voter turnout is high in the Netherlands as European populism faces its first big electoral test since last year's 'Brexit' referendum and Donald J. Trump's election."

* Syria: "The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter."

* Roger Stone raises eyebrows again: "Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says he believes his contacts with a Russian-linked hacker who took credit for breaching the Democratic National Committee may have been obtained through a special warrant that allows the government to collect the communications of people suspected of being agents of a foreign nation."

* Gorsuch: "The publicity-shy billionaire Philip F. Anschutz inherited an oil and gas firm and built it into an empire that has sprawled into telecommunications, railroads, real estate, resorts, sports teams, stadiums, movies and conservative publications.... Anschutz's influence is especially felt in his home state of Colorado, where years ago Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a Denver native, the son of a well-known Colorado Republican and now President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, was drawn into his orbit."

* Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) said today he expects the House Republican health care bill to fail in the Senate, so he hopes it doesn't come to the floor for a vote. Lance already voted for it in committee, so I think it's a little late for him to come to this realization.

* Seriously? "State safety inspectors wouldn't inspect West Virginia's coal mines anymore. They would conduct 'compliance visits and education.' Violations of health and safety standards wouldn't produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive 'compliance assistance visit notices.' And West Virginia regulators wouldn't have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only 'adopt policies ... [for] improving compliance assistance' in the state's mines."
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Ford F-150 trucks are prepared to come off the assembly line at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant on June 13, 2014 in Dearborn, Mich.

Trump declares end to non-existent 'assault' on US auto industry

03/15/17 04:15PM

One of President Obama's most important economic successes was rescuing the American auto industry from collapse. It makes remarks like these, reported by TPM, that much more ridiculous.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed that he ended "the assault on the American auto industry," though the actions of President Barack Obama's administration are widely understood to have saved the industry.

"The assault on the American auto industry, believe me, is over. It's over. Not going to have it anymore," Trump said in a speech at the American Center for Mobility near Ypsilanti, Michigan. "I kept my word." Trump said that he has "followed through on his promise, and by the way many other promises."
The Republican president assured his audience that he'd help improve auto production through a new "task force" that would look for possible regulations to eliminate. Evidently, that includes Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards, which in Trump's mind, represents an "assault."

Even by this president's standards, today's boasts in Michigan were pretty odd. For example, for all the talk about Trump "keeping his word," he didn't actually do anything today in terms of substantive changes. As the Associated Press reported, today's move, which has no immediate effect, requires the EPA "to determine no later than April 2018 whether the 2022-2025 standards established are appropriate. If the EPA determines they are not appropriate, the agency will submit a new proposal next year."

The idea that fuel-efficiency standards represent some kind of industry-crushing burden is strange enough, but even if one were to accept the premise, the Obama-era policy still exists. It's not "over."

But even more laughable is the idea that the American auto industry was suffering during Obama's presidency.
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Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

One of Trump's top allies questions validity of wiretap allegations

03/15/17 12:49PM

It's been nearly two weeks since Donald Trump claimed Barack Obama illegally tapped phone lines in Trump Tower, because as the Republican put it, his presidential predecessor is a "bad (or sick) guy." In general, the responses from GOP lawmakers to the explosive allegations fell somewhere between confusion and apathy.

There was, however, an exception. House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump's most enthusiastic supporters on Capitol Hill, said on March 5 he would take the conspiracy theory seriously and "make inquiries" into the allegations.

This morning, the California Republican updated reporters on what he's found.
"[A]bout the issue with the president talking about tapping Trump Tower, that evidence still remains the same. We don't have any evidence that that took place. In fact, I don't believe, just in the last week of time, the people we've talked to, I don't believe there was an actual tap of Trump Tower."
A few minutes later, Nunes went on to tell reporters that if you take Trump's tweets very literally, then "clearly the president was wrong." (In context, Nunes seemed to be referring to the idea that Barack Obama personally went to New York and surreptitiously entered Trump Tower for the purpose of conducting covert surveillance.)

The fact that a member of Congress is skeptical of Trump's controversial claims may seem routine, but Nunes' comments are notable because of his strong support for this White House, including serving on Trump's executive transition committee. Practically every time there are new revelations surrounding the administration's many controversies, it's the House Intelligence Committee chairman who rushes to defend Team Trump, even going so far as to call reporters to wave them off of scandals Nunes is supposed to be examining.

So when even he publicly distances himself from a high-profile Trump allegation, it suggests the White House is isolated on one of the president's more important conspiracy theories.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.15.17

03/15/17 12:00PM

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

* The progressive "Save My Care" campaign, intended to preserve the Affordable Care Act and defeat the Republican alternative, is launching television ads targeting five GOP senators: Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Arizona's Jeff Flake, Nevada's Dean Heller, and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito. The ad buy in support of this commercial is reportedly six figures.

* On a related note, the "Save My Care" campaign commissioned a Public Policy Polling survey for voters in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, and Nevada, which found broad disapproval of the Republican health care plan.

* In a bit of a surprise, NARAL's state affiliate endorsed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in Virginia's gubernatorial race. Northam's primary rival, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D) was considered a less reliable ally of abortion rights during his tenure in Congress.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee set a record for February fundraising, taking in $9.8 million last month. This roughly keeps pace with its Republican counterpart, which raised $10.5 million over the same period.

* Republican Rep. Joe Barton, representing a reliably "red" district in Texas, faced some angry constituents at a town-hall event this weekend, and the usually mild-mannered congressman lost his cool a bit. "You," Barton said, pointing to a man in the audience. "You, sir, shut up."

* After Rosie O'Donnell expressed support for Kathryn Allen, Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R) Democratic challenger, the Utah Republican launched a new fundraising campaign, urging supporters to help him push back against the entertainer.
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Iraqi forces deploy on Oct. 17, 2016 in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State group. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)

Military progress in Mosul leaves Trump in an awkward position

03/15/17 11:22AM

Two years ago, when ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, it was a major development, reinforcing perceptions surrounding the terrorist group's potency. Last year, however, ISIS was pushed backwards, leaving Mosul as its last major territory in Iraq.

Though the conflict isn't over, USA Today reports that there's been real progress in forcing ISIS from Mosul.
Islamic State fighters are in disarray and struggling to fend off a rapid offensive by Iraqi forces to recapture Mosul and expel the militants from their last major stronghold in the country, a top U.S. military official said.

"They're lacking purpose motivation and direction," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin said in a phone interview from Baghdad, referring to the Islamic State. "I've never seen them so disorganized."

The pace of the battle reflects dramatic improvements in Iraq's military and its ability to coordinate operations with a U.S.-led air campaign, which is pounding the militants at a record pace.

"You're watching ISIS be annihilated," Martin said of the militant group.
While that sounds encouraging, I'm curious to hear more from the White House about the president's reaction to these developments -- because other than ISIS members themselves, no one in the Western world was as publicly critical of the mission in Mosul as Donald Trump.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Ryan is eager to share credit (and blame) for GOP health care bill

03/15/17 10:50AM

You've probably heard the expression, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." The point, obviously, is that when something goes right, many want to take credit, and when something goes wrong, many try to avoid blame. But what if failure can have many fathers, too?

The Republican health care plan is obviously struggling -- opposition from within the GOP is, by every available metric, growing -- and the discussion about who's responsible for this fiasco is getting louder. With that in mind, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who unveiled the American Health Care Act just last week, talked to Fox Business this morning, where the Republican leader seemed eager to share credit/blame for his bill.
"Obviously, the major components [of the existing legislation] are staying intact, because this is something we wrote with President Trump. This is something we wrote with the Senate committees. So just so you know, Maria, this is the plan we ran on all of last year. This is the plan we've been working -- House, Senate, White House -- together on."
In context, the Speaker was trying to argue against overhauling the legislation, emphasizing that the current bill is already the result of a joint effort between Republicans and other Republicans.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Ryan is acutely aware of the fact that if/when this bill fails, the fingers will be pointed directly at him. It's why the Wisconsin congressman is preemptively trying to spread the blame around -- as if this weren't the bill he and his team wrote in secret.
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Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe talks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol February 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.

On Team Trump, influence of the 'Inhofe brigade' matters

03/15/17 10:09AM

There are distinct spheres of influence inside Donald Trump's political operation. There's the Breitbart Wing, made up on several White House aides who worked for the right-wing website; the Goldman Sachs Wing, made up of a growing number of folks who joined the administration after stints at the Wall Street giant; and the Jeff Sessions Wing, which includes both the U.S. Attorney General and some of his former Senate aides who now hold key posts in the Trump administration.

But let's not forget that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's highest profile climate deniers, seems to have a contingent of his own. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
At least half a dozen former aides to Inhofe -- and counting -- have been hired into top positions at the EPA and the White House. The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a fellow Oklahoman and longtime friend of Inhofe, spent years working for the senator. Pruitt's senior advisers on air, climate and legal issues are Inhofe alumni. In addition, two former Inhofe aides have become top domestic and international energy and environmental advisers to President Trump. [...]

Ryan Jackson, Inhofe's former chief of staff, helps account for part of why so many of the senator's aides are now helping guide the administration's policymaking. Jackson, who helped shepherd Pruitt's nomination, then became the administrator's chief of staff and started tapping his former colleagues for top agency posts.
Stephen Brown, vice president for government affairs at Tesoro, a major oil refiner, told the Post, "The Inhofe brigade has landed, secured the beach and is moving inland with precision as well as speed."

For those who agree with Oklahoma Republican, this metaphor may sound quite appealing: a militarized group of Inhofe aides are exerting influence in the executive branch, to the delight of their corporate allies in the oil and gas industry.

For those concerned about the environment, the news is less encouraging.
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

'Mortally wounded' Republican health plan starts moving backwards

03/15/17 09:20AM

The Republican health care bill isn't just struggling; in the wake of a brutal Congressional Budget Office report, "Trumpcare" is actually losing ground when its proponents expected to be making progress.
As White House officials attempt to discredit the conclusions of a Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP-backed health care plan, Republican lawmakers already skeptical of the bill are using the report to further bolster their concerns and, in some cases, opposition.

A number of influential Republican lawmakers on Tuesday pointed to the CBO's projected spike in Americans without health coverage and an initial rise in premiums as evidence the plan is untenable, further complicating the chances the measure will get a vote in Congress.
The CBO score was released last Monday afternoon, and yesterday, three House Republicans announced their position on their party's bill: they're now all opposed. The trio included Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an influential moderate from Miami.

The picture in the Senate, where it only takes three GOP senators to vote with Democrats to kill important legislation, is almost certainly worse for the party's leaders. Vox counted 12 Republicans senators who've publicly denounced and/or expressed serious concerns about the House bill, and that total doesn't include Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who also criticized it yesterday. (Even South Dakota's John Thune, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, suggested he'd like to see key changes to his party's existing proposal.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who isn't yet included in the group of intra-party skeptics, told NBC News' Matt Lauer this morning that the existing House plan is "mortally wounded."
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Despite campaign promises, Trump adds another Goldman Sachs vet

03/15/17 08:40AM

The pipeline between Goldman Sachs and the Trump administration continues to flow unabated. The New York Times reported overnight:
James Donovan, a longtime Goldman banking and investment management executive, has been named to be the deputy to the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Mr. Donovan, 50, would be responsible for helping Mr. Mnuchin, also a Goldman alumnus, in running a government agency that handles a wide range of economic matters, from producing physical currency to enforcing economic sanctions against nations.
Donovan has worked at the Wall Street giant for nearly a quarter of a century. As of today, he's the seventh Goldman Sachs vet to join Donald Trump's team.

Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury Secretary, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economics advisor, is the former president of Goldman Sachs. Jay Clayton, Trump's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a Goldman Sachs attorney.

Dina Powell, who recently joined the administration's economic team, was a Goldman Sachs partner, while Anthony Scaramucci, also Goldman Sachs, was announced as a White House "confidant" to the president, though Scaramucci later withdrew from the post.

As we discussed in January, none of this would be especially noteworthy were it not for the way in which Trump used the finance giant as a combination wedge/punching bag.
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Obtained tax documents shed new light on Donald Trump's finances

03/15/17 08:01AM

Up until last night, no one from the public or the media had ever seen any details from any of Donald Trump's federal tax returns. As you may have noticed, that's no longer the case.

If you missed last night's show, I thought it'd be helpful to have all of the information in one place.

Here's Rachel report contextualizing the significance of tax returns and the president's secrecy.

Here's the segment highlighting the newly available details from Trump's 2005 returns.

Here's Rachel's discussion with DCReport's David Cay Johnston and MSNBC's Chris Hayes on what we've learned from the obtained documents.

Here's the pdf of Trump's 2005 1040 tax form.

Here's David Cay Johnston story on DCReport.

Here's Rachel's conversation with presidential historian Michael Beschloss about the disclosure.

And here's Rachel talking to Hallie Jackson, NBC News' White House correspondent, about Trump's record on the issue.
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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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