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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.4.17

10/04/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden headlined a rally in support of Senate hopeful Doug Jones, and turnout was pretty good. The special election is still two months away.

* On a related note, in the days following Roy Moore's primary victory, Jones reportedly raised $820,000 from donors in all 50 states.

* Though candidates backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have a mixed electoral track record so far this year, one pulled off a big upset yesterday: in Birmingham's mayoral race, Randall Woodfin prevailed over incumbent William Bell. Sanders personally recorded a robocall on Woodfin's behalf.

* A group called Citizens for Trump appears to be raising money in the president's name, but BuzzFeed found that it's "spending it to boost Republican candidates the president has not endorsed."

* In related news, the Daily Beast reports that a group called America First Policies, a leading pro-Trump dark money organization, is reportedly on track to spend $12 million this calendar year, which is quite a lot of spending in a non-election year.

* In the wake of Roy Moore's primary victory, the Washington Examiner reports that senior Republican strategists are warning Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) to "prepare early for a primary that could be a lot more formidable now that the activists and donors who fund conservative challengers believe that their investments might pay off."

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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Trump's ardent deficit hawk declares, 'We need new deficits'

10/04/17 11:20AM

Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump's far-right budget director, has developed a reputation over the years as an ardent deficit hawk. Six years ago, for example, during the debt-ceiling crisis he helped create, Mulvaney said he'd rather see the United States default on its debts than pass a clean debt-ceiling hike. As the South Carolina Republican put it at the time, we "desperately need ... structural change that stops Congress from continuing to spend a bunch of money we don't have."

More recently, he told Politico that he got involved in politics in part because he disapproved of the Bush/Cheney administration's big budget deficits.

And yet, as Mulvaney and his Republican brethren push massive tax cuts, he's apparently decided to abandon one of his core principles.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is signaling similar flexibility, saying on CNN Sunday that decisions about deductions remain up in the air as "the bill is not finished yet." He took it a step further on Fox News Sunday, by adding that a tax plan that doesn't add to the deficit won't spur growth.

"I've been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth," Mulvaney said. "If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you're never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3 percent economic growth."

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), summarizing the perspective of many in his party, recently said in reference to deficit reduction, "It's a great talking point when you have an administration that's Democrat-led. It's a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration."

He clearly wasn't kidding.

But as brazen as Mulvaney's 180-degree turn is on one of the core principles of his entire governing philosophy, I come not to criticize the far-right OMB director, but to thank him.

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Image: North Korea

Why the Trump admin opposed a UN resolution on killing gay people

10/04/17 10:40AM

The Trump administration has faced some intense criticism this week for voting against a U.N. resolution that condemned the death penalty for LGBT people. For many on the left, it seemed like an unusually brazen example of Donald Trump betraying the people he once vowed to protect.

So what exactly happened at the United Nations? BuzzFeed reports that this week's vote was apparently about the White House's support for the death penalty, not opposition to gay rights.

Tuesday's vote in the UN Human Rights Council was on a measure that would encourage member states to apply a moratorium to the use of the death penalty, noting in its preamble the way that it can be unfairly applied to women, to people with disabilities, along racial divides, and against people engaged in "consensual same-sex relations." That resolution passed by a vote of 27 in favor, 13 against, and 7 abstentions.

Coverage of the resolution has almost exclusively focused on it being the first on the death penalty to pass while mentioning LGBT relationships, which advocacy groups like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association have heralded as "historic."

The US was one of the 13 votes against, alongside Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The full text of the four-page U.N. resolution is online here (pdf).

A State Department spokesperson clarified yesterday that the United States "unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy."

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Image: Tillerson testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington

Trump's Sec of State reportedly called the president a 'moron'

10/04/17 10:07AM

It's easy to understand why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would feel frustrated. It wasn't long ago he was the CEO of ExxonMobil, palling around with Vladimir Putin, and answering to no one but his shareholders.

Now, however, Tillerson is the chief diplomat in an administration led by a president who routinely humiliates him in public. The Secretary of State is now seen as Donald Trump's pitiful dog -- and not in a "man's best friend" sort of way.

Watching this unfold at a distance, it's hard not to wonder why Tillerson doesn't simply resign in disgust. According to a new report from NBC News, over the summer, it very nearly came to that.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a "moron," after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump's national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

We now know, of course, that Tillerson didn't quit -- Vice President Mike Pence, among others, intervened and persuaded him to stick around -- though Trump will no doubt hear about this NBC News report, and it's easy to imagine the relationship between the two men deteriorating further.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Alabama Gerrymandering Case

Supreme Court hears gerrymandering case that may change our politics

10/04/17 09:20AM

There are quite a few factors that help explain the Republicans' current electoral dominance over the levers of federal power. The GOP benefits, for example, from the prevalence of Democratic voters clustering together in urban areas. In many states, voter-suppression techniques further give the conservative party a hand.

And then, of course, there's gerrymandering. After the 2010 midterms, Republican advantages in state legislatures led policymakers to draw ridiculous congressional districts in a variety of states, creating undemocratic conditions: Democrats could earn a majority of the votes, while Republicans received a majority of the power.

Gerrymandering alone does not explain the GOP's congressional majority, but it's an important  piece of the puzzle. But is it legal? Slate's Mark Joseph Stern took a closer look at Gill v. Whitford, one of the year's most important Supreme Court cases, which justices considered yesterday.

Partisan gerrymandering distorts democracy in a particularly pernicious way: When legislators draw maps that strongly favor their party, they create a majority that is both entrenched and endurable. Gill is a challenge to Wisconsin's map, and the state provides an excellent example of this phenomenon. While drawing maps in 2010, Wisconsin Republicans engaged in "packing and cracking" -- sticking most Democrats in a few safe Democratic districts and distributing the rest through safe Republican districts.

This gerrymander has given Republican legislators a massive unearned advantage. In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote -- and 60 out of 99 seats in the Wisconsin state assembly. In 2014, they received 52 percent of the vote and won 63 seats. In 2016, they received the same percentage of the statewide vote, and their majority crept up to 64 seats.

Under this map, Democrats have no real hope of regaining a legislative majority in Wisconsin. A huge number of state elections aren't even contested anymore; everybody knows the outcome in advance.

It's already illegal to draw gerrymandered districts along racial lines, but there's ambiguity about districts drawn along excessively partisan lines. The high court is poised to resolve those questions.

So, how'd oral arguments go?

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Image: Ryan Speaks on Trump's Leaking of Classified Information to Russians, James Comey

The problem with Paul Ryan's focus on mental health and guns

10/04/17 08:40AM

Following every high-profile mass shooting, much of the public naturally turns to policymakers to ask what, if anything, they're prepared to do to help save lives. Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had an answer in mind.

In the wake of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, which happened in Las Vegas Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked what Congress could do to prevent these tragedies in the future. Ryan answered with what Congress has already done.

"One of the things we have learned from these things, we have learned from these shootings, is often a diagnosis of mental illness," Ryan told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.

The Wisconsin congressman went on to talk about various mental-health reforms lawmakers have pursued in recent years, which he's supported.

And at first blush, this may have sounded like a sensible response to the question. If we assume at the outset that Ryan will never consider measures to limit access to firearms, focusing on helping those with mental illness at least appears to be a constructive approach to the situation.

The trouble, however, comes when we look a little closer at the details. We could start, for example, by noting that the House Speaker has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits, which includes mental-health treatments. We could also note that Ryan has pushed aggressively for deep cuts to Medicaid, which provides mental health treatments to many low-income Americans. If the Republican leader is serious about this piece of the puzzle, he should probably reconsider some of his budget priorities.

But let's put that aside and focus on the bill Ryan helped pass in February that expanded gun access to the mentally impaired.

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Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., take a photo of the 21st Century Cures Act prior to a signing ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016.

Anti-abortion rep reportedly asked mistress to get an abortion

10/04/17 08:00AM

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has long been a far-right culture warrior, especially on matters related to reproductive rights, but he's also been kind of odd about it. Evidently, it's worse than we realized.

About a month ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette prevailed in a court motion to unseal a divorce action and uncovered evidence that the Pennsylvania Republican had an extramarital affair with a personal friend. Confronted with the proof, Murphy admitted that he'd cheated on his wife.

Yesterday, the Post-Gazette published a related report, noting that after Murphy published an anti-abortion statement to his Facebook account, his former mistress sent him a text message calling him out for hypocrisy.

"And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options," Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist in Pittsburgh with whom the congressman admitted last month to having a relationship, wrote to Mr. Murphy on Jan. 25, in the midst of an unfounded pregnancy scare.

A text from Mr. Murphy's cell phone number that same day in response says, "I get what you say about my March for life messages. I've never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don't write any more. I will."

The congressman has been lauded by the Family Research Council, for his stance on abortion, as well as for family values, generally. He also has been endorsed by LifePAC, which opposes abortion rights, and is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, an affiliation that is often cited by his office.

The Washington Post added that just days after he talked to his then-mistress about having an abortion, Murphy issued multiple public statement condemning abortion.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.3.17

10/03/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* So many questions need answers: "Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock wired $100,000 to an account in his live-in girlfriend's home country of the Philippines in the week before he unleashed the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials."

* Really? "The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans."

* On a related note: "Millions more people were affected by Equifax's data breach than the credit bureau initially estimated, Equifax said on Monday. The company increased its estimate on the number of Americans whose personal information was potentially exposed to 145.5 million, some 2.5 million more than it had previously disclosed."

* Cuba: "The Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the embassy in Washington in an escalating response to mysterious illnesses afflicting American embassy personnel in Havana."

* A story to watch: "A Democratic group led by the former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. has accused the State of Georgia of flouting the Voting Rights Act, claiming that Georgia Republicans reshaped two state legislative districts to minimize the electoral influence of African-American voters."

* This seemed like a pretty bad idea, even at the time: "The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Tuesday reprimanded United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for violating the Hatch Act by retweeting President Donald Trump's endorsement of a Republican candidate for Congress."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Away from his teleprompter, Trump causes more trouble for himself

10/03/17 12:53PM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump addressed the nation on the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and managed to stick to the carefully written script on his teleprompter. There were no asides, no tangents, no tantrums, and none of the staples of this president's approach to communicating with the public.

Many observers exhaled deeply when it was over, relieved that Trump didn't use mass murder to say something offensive. Some in the media were a bit too effusive in their praise of the remarks, probably because they were pleasantly surprised the president resisted his usual impulses.

The trouble, of course, was that Trump's speech didn't sound anything like Trump. The Atlantic's David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, explained, "Speeches are watched as well as heard, and the viewer saw a president who wished he were somewhere else because he had been compelled to pretend something so radically false to his own nature."

This morning Trump briefly spoke to reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Puerto Rico, and without the benefit of his teleprompter, the president was free to say what he was thinking. Reflecting on the Las Vegas slayings and the first-responders at the scene, Trump said today, "Look, we have a tragedy. What happened is, in many ways, a miracle."

He then turned his attention to Puerto Rico's crisis, and the "great job" he believes he and his team have done. The Washington Post reported:

Trump's mixed reviews, however, did not stop him from lavishing praise on himself and his administration. On Tuesday, as the president, clad in a black windbreaker and khakis, departed the White House, he said [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz] has "come back a long way," before returning to one his favorite topics -- himself and his own performance.

"I think it's now acknowledged what a great job we've done, and people are looking at that," he said. "And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I'll tell you what, I think we've done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it's actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks."

According to a variety of media accounts, Trump went on to say that Puerto Ricans "have to give us more help."

Wait, it gets worse.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.3.17

10/03/17 12:00PM

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

* The NRA's Political Victory Fund was poised to begin an ad campaign yesterday in Virginia's gubernatorial campaign on Ed Gillespie's (R) behalf. Following the news out of Las Vegas, the group reportedly postponed the investment by a week.

* Over the weekend, Donald Trump's political operation sent out two rather provocative fundraising appeals to donors: one on football players who protest and another that referenced disaster relief.

* Now that former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) has been released from a federal penitentiary, he's officially launched another congressional campaign, hoping to reclaim his old seat.

* On a related note, Michael Caputo, a longtime Donald Trump ally, has agreed to join Grimm's campaign team.

* Over the weekend, the president said the media should give him credit for boosting Luther Strange's failed Senate bid in Alabama. Strange lost to Roy Moore by nearly 10 points, and Trump's endorsement appears to have had no meaningful effect on the race.

* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), with an eye toward 2020, told CNN's Jake Tapper over the weekend, "If the party can't be fixed, Jake, then I'm not going to be able to support the party. Period. That's the end of it."

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Polls point to a competitive Senate race in Alabama

10/03/17 11:20AM

Roy Moore, the Republican Party's U.S. Senate nominee in Alabama, has argued that pre-school is a Nazi-like institution for brainwashing children into being liberal. Hearing that, one might be tempted to think such a person would struggle to win a Senate campaign in this country.

And with that in mind, consider the latest polling from the Yellowhammer State. BuzzFeed noted late last week:

The Senate race in deep-red Alabama might be within reach for Democrats, after the Republican nomination of Roy Moore.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Savvy and commissioned by Decision Desk HQ, finds that Moore leads Democratic opponent Doug Jones 50.2% to 44.5%. While still not a close-close race, that's definitely closer than a normal Senate race in Alabama for an off year.

These results are roughly in line with a new statewide poll, released this morning, that found Moore up by eight, 48% to 40%.

To be sure, when we look at Senate polls and see a candidate up by six to eight points, we generally assume he or she is fairly well positioned to prevail. And given everything we know about Alabama, Moore should be seen as the favorite.

But context matters. A Democrat hasn't seriously competed in a Senate race in Alabama in decades, and Moore is quite possibly the most radical major-party nominee in any statewide race Americans have seen in a generation.

Karl Rove recently warned that Moore is such an extremist, many Alabama voters would consider Doug Jones (D), a former federal prosecutor, as a plausible alternative. Donald Trump himself echoed this point, arguing two weeks ago that if Moore is nominated, the general election would be "a very tough race."

What if they're right?

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

White House gets selective about its post-violence standards

10/03/17 10:42AM

During her press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders twice used the word "premature" in very specific contexts.

The first came when a reporter, referencing the mass shooting in Las Vegas, asked, "Has this particular massacre made the President think anything more about pursuing tighter gun laws, such as background checks, to prevent massacres like this from happening again?" Sanders replied:

"Look, this is an unspeakable tragedy. Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those individuals. There's a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country. There is currently an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation. A motive is yet to be determined, and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don't fully know all the facts or what took place last night."

A few minutes later, a reporter asked if Sunday night's mass murders amounted to an act of domestic terrorism. The press secretary returned to the "premature" talking point:

"Again, we're still in a fact-finding mission. This is an ongoing investigation and it would be premature to weigh in on something like that before we have any more facts."

At face value, these aren't necessarily bad answers. It's hardly outrageous to think a White House, in the immediate aftermath of a horrific mass shooting, would choose to delay comment on provocative aspects of the larger issues.

The trouble is, this White House doesn't exactly apply these standards evenly.

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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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