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Campaign signs are seen before a rally for Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump in Charleston, W. Va., on May 5, 2016. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

The oddity of the West Virginia governor switching parties

08/04/17 04:15PM

Donald Trump, returning to West Virginia last night for the second time in a week, teased yesterday afternoon that the rally he was holding for himself would feature some kind of surprise. As it turned out, the surprise had nothing to do with the White House and everything to do with the governor's office.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice appeared with Trump and announced he's becoming a Republican.

"Today, I will tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, I can't help you anymore being a Democrat governor," Justice said. "So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican."

To be more specific, it's probably better to say Justice is changing his registration back to Republican. Justice was a registered GOP voter as recently as 2015, at which point he became a Democrat, took full advantage of Democratic resources to run successfully for governor in 2016, only to go back to being a Republican in 2017.

At a distance, this probably doesn't surprise anyone. After all, even before yesterday, Justice was a conservative red-state billionaire who became wealthy as a coal magnate. It's not exactly a c.v. that screams "Democratic mainstream."

That said, major statewide officeholders don't change parties often -- Justice is the first sitting governor to switch since Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat in 2013 -- so anytime it happens, switches like these are worth examining.

The closer one looks, however, the harder it is to make sense of Justice's decision.

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Middle East peace turns out to be harder than Trump thought

08/04/17 02:43PM

In April, Donald Trump declared with confidence, "I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there's not peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- none whatsoever." As we discussed at the time, there are all kinds of things standing in the way of peace, though the president didn't appear to recognize them.

He was, however, quite serious about the attitude. In May, Trump expanded on his earlier thoughts, and boasted there's a "very, very good chance" his administration would help strike a deal for Middle East peace. "It's something, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," the president added.

With this in mind, Trump assigned his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to oversee the White House's efforts to reach an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, earlier this year, Trump said of Kushner, "If you can't produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. OK. All my life I've been hearing that's the toughest deal in the world to make. And I've seen it, but I have a feeling that Jared is going to do a great job."

Seven months later, Jared Kushner doesn't seem to agree. Wired magazine published a leaked transcript of remarks the president's senior adviser delivered to a group of congressional interns this week, and the questions he fielded about negotiating a possible peace deal.

[Kushner] doesn't directly answer either question, but he does reveal that, in his extensive research, he's learned that "not a whole lot has been accomplished over the last 40 or 50 years." He also notes that he's spoken to "a lot of people," which has taught him that "this is a very emotionally charged situation."

Later in the clip, Kushner expresses frustration at others' attempts to teach him about the delicate situation he's been inserted into, saying, "Everyone finds an issue, that 'You have to understand what they did then' and 'You have to understand that they did this.' But how does that help us get peace? Let's not focus on that. We don't want a history lesson. We've read enough books. Let's focus on, How do you come up with a conclusion to the situation?"

He added, "So, what do [Trump administration officials] offer that's unique? I don't know."

This doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

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

Team Trump's unexpected dispute with the Secret Service

08/04/17 12:55PM

There was an odd moment a few weeks ago when Jay Sekulow, one of Donald Trump's top attorneys working on the Russia scandal, raised a new argument about the controversial meeting last year between members of Trump's inner circle and Russian nationals offering campaign assistance.

"I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in," Sekulow said, pushing a talking point that hadn't been presented before.

The argument was bizarre for all sorts of reasons, and it prompted the Secret Service, which very rarely weighs in on political disputes, to make clear that Sekulow's point was misguided.

What we didn't know was that this wouldn't be the last point of contention between Team Trump and the Secret Service. The Washington Post published this surprising piece last night:

The Secret Service has vacated its command post inside Trump Tower in Manhattan following a dispute between the government and President Trump's company over the terms of a lease for the space, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Previously, the Secret Service had stationed its command post -- which houses supervisors and backup agents on standby in case of an emergency -- in a Trump Tower unit one floor below the president's apartment.

But in early July, the post was relocated to a trailer on the sidewalk, more than 50 floors below, a distance that some security experts worry could hamper the agency that protects the president's home and family.

Though it's generally difficult to be surprised by Trump-related stories, I'll concede this is an odd one. The Secret Service -- which, for the record, works to protect the lives of the president and his family -- had space inside Trump Tower, which it has apparently since lost. According to the Post's article, there was a "dispute" between the Trump Organization and the agency, which reportedly involved "sticking points" that included "the price and other conditions of the lease."

In other words, the president's business couldn't work out a rental agreement with the Secret Service.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.4.17

08/04/17 12:00PM

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

* Nine months after last year's presidential election, Donald Trump again insisted in a speech in West Virginia last night that the Justice Department should investigate Hillary Clinton's email server protocols. Trump followers in the audience responded with "Lock her up!" chants.

* In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot by 14 points, 52% to 38%.

* In Alabama, the Senate Republican leadership's super PAC isn't just scrambling to help appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R); it's also begun running negative ads targeting former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, one of Strange's rivals in the Aug. 15 special election primary.

* In Missouri, where Republican leaders have pressured state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year, the party may get its wish. Hawley, just six months into his career, has now formed an exploratory committee for next year's Senate race.

* The Seattle Times reported this week that the city will elect "a woman as mayor in 2017 for the first time in 91 years, with voters putting four women ahead in a crowded primary election in Tuesday night's returns."

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John Cornyn, R-Texas, leaves Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol on Oct. 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

This year isn't doing John Cornyn's reputation any favors

08/04/17 11:20AM

In recent years, I've taken note of the many troubles the House Republican whip operation has had, both in securing and counting votes. In theory, no one should have a better sense of whether a bill is going to pass or not than a Majority Whip, and in the GOP-led House, the conference has been caught in a series of embarrassing surprises.

But the HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery raised an interesting point yesterday, noting that the Senate's whip operation has had troubles of its own, most notably with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) struggling to recognize what's coming in the fight over health care legislation.

Cornyn said in March to get ready for a repeal vote in early April. That never happened. By June, he predicted a procedural vote later that month and was “absolutely” sure the Senate would repeal Obamacare by late July. That didn’t happen either. Rolling into mid-July, Cornyn said he was “pretty confident” Obamacare repeal would pass and to expect a vote the next week.

He was right on the latter point: The Senate voted the following week on a repeal bill ― and it failed, as Cornyn conceded he had “no idea” that conservatives were going to oppose it.

When GOP leaders teed up a final vote last Thursday on a different, slimmed-down version of Obamacare repeal, Cornyn told reporters he expected it to pass. He even went on a conservative radio show that day and declared he was “quite optimistic” about its chances. Then that bill failed, after three Republican senators opposed it in a stunning late-night vote.

It was an outcome that Cornyn evidently didn't see coming, though by some measures, it was his job to know.

To be sure, this wasn't the only area of trouble for the Texas Republican during the debate. Cornyn defended bill-writing secrecy as "open and transparent" -- a defense that remains baffling -- and dismissed accurate information he found inconvenient as "fake news," which isn't generally the sort of cheap rhetoric one expects from a member of the Senate leadership.

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Image: Donald Trump

As the Russia scandal intensifies, Trump moves the goalposts

08/04/17 10:40AM

Kellyanne Conway, trying to downplay the significance of the Trump-Russia scandal, argued a few weeks ago, "The goalposts have been moved."

If that's true, it's Donald Trump and his team who've moved them.

The original line from Trump World was that Russia didn't intervene in the American election. When that position was no longer sustainable, Trump and his team said Russia may have intervened, but no one from the Republican campaign was in communications with Russia during the foreign adversary's espionage operation.

When that line was discredited, Trump World changed gears again, saying members of Trump's team may have connected with Putin's government during the attack, but there was no collusion between Russia and Trump's campaign.

After this was also proven to be wrong -- top members of Trump's inner circle met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in order to receive campaign assistance from Putin's government -- the president delivered a new line to a supportive West Virginia audience last night.

The president called probes into alleged collusion between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election "demeaning" and "fake."

"Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign -- there never were," Trump said.

I guess this is the new line? Russia attacked the election, took steps to put Trump in power, communicated with members of Trump's team during the attack, and colluded with the Trump campaign -- but don't worry, Trump didn't literally put Russians on the campaign payroll, so there's no need to make a fuss.

What was that Kellyanne Conway was saying about the goalposts being moved?

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Does Pence ever get tired of Trump contradicting him?

08/04/17 10:07AM

The trouble started before they even took office. In the second presidential debate last year, ABC News' Martha Raddatz reminded Donald Trump that Mike Pence, his own running mate, said in the context of a discussion about U.S. policy in Syria, that "provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength." In an unusual display, Trump denounced the position.

In fact, the Republican nominee said of Pence, "He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree. I disagree."

The embarrassing moment came to mind this week, when Mike Pence declared that when it comes to U.S. policy towards Russia, the Trump administration and Congress are "speaking with a unified voice." Yesterday, Trump himself publicly rejected this positioning, insisting that it's Americans in Congress, not Vladimir Putin, who deserve the blame for the deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

And that got me thinking: does the vice president ever get tired of the president contradicting him in public?

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Xi Jinping

White House expects to pressure China through Trump's Twitter feed

08/04/17 09:20AM

After Donald Trump embarrassed himself repeatedly with China, the American president became the subject of mockery in China's state-run media. One headline in April read, "Trump slaps self in face, again."

The U.S. leader nevertheless continues to struggle to settle on a posture, going back and forth between praising Beijing and expressing his "disappointment" with the country over its inability to deal with North Korea in a way the White House likes.

This week, in an unsigned editorial in the English-language newspaper China Daily, the government sounded an exasperated note. "Trump is wrong in his assumption that Beijing can single-handedly handle the matter," it read. "As Beijing has said, repeatedly, it does not have the kind of 'control' over Pyongyang that the U.S. president believes it does."

So, what's the White House's next move? Apparently, as TPM noted, Team Trump has some possible tweets in mind.

White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Thursday that President Donald Trump's Twitter feed could apply sufficient pressure on the Chinese government to force them to intervene in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"What card left do you have to get China to act?" Fox News' Bill Hemmer asked Gorka, after referencing an op-ed in a state-owned Chinese newspaper that downplayed the influence China has over North Korea. [...]

"We have the President's Twitter feed," Gorka responded.

When the Fox host suggested that Chinese officials may not be swayed by presidential tweets, Gorka responded, "If you can win a U.S. election with it, I think it's pretty powerful."

I don't think he was kidding.

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U.S. job growth remains steady and strong in July

08/04/17 08:41AM

After a couple of underwhelming months for U.S. job growth in the spring, it looks like the summer is faring better.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July, which is down a bit from June, but which is nevertheless further evidence of a healthy job market. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, inched a little lower to 4.3%.

As for the revisions, the totals for May were revised down, while June were revised up, and combined they show a net gain of about 2,000 jobs.

All told, if current averages keep up, we're on track to see the U.S. economy add about 2.2 million jobs this calendar year, which would be roughly in line with what we saw last year.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty...

In bipartisan fashion, senators move to protect Mueller from Trump

08/04/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump has already made public comments that suggest he'd like to get rid of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who's currently overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal. With Mueller reportedly having impaneled a grand jury, it's likely the president's opposition to the probe has reached new heights.

And while Trump lacks the legal authority to fire the special counsel directly, there's a growing fear the president may try to shake up the Justice Department's leadership in order to force Mueller out. It's against this backdrop that there's a bipartisan effort underway to protect Mueller from the president.

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are moving to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's job, putting forth new legislation that aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.

The bill would apply retroactively to May 17, 2017 — the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign.

As Sen. Coons explained on last night's show, there are actually two related pieces of legislation under consideration. His bipartisan bill would give Mueller legal options if Trump took steps to fire him, while a separate bill, championed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), intends to give Mueller protections before he's ousted.

It's too soon to say with any confidence whether these measures are going to become law, and with no companion measures in the Republican-led House, it's probably best to keep expectations in check. That said, the fact that these bipartisan Senate measures exist at all is striking.

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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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