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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.6.17

02/06/17 05:32PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* DeVos: "Senate Democrats have begun a marathon Senate session, intending to speak throughout the night in a final attempt to derail the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Trump's choice to become the nation's education secretary."

* Muslim ban: "President Trump's executive order curtailing immigration 'could do long-term damage' to the United States' national security and foreign policy interests, endangering troops and intelligence agents and disrupting efforts to prevent terror attacks, 10 former senior U.S. diplomats and security officials asserted Monday in a court document."

* It's almost as if our president isn't respected abroad: "Scratch addressing the Houses of Parliament from President Trump's itinerary if and when he makes a state visit to Britain later this year. The speaker of the 650-member House of Commons ... said Trump is not welcome there."

* A key part of Neil Gorsuch's resume is his charitable work with the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Harvard Defenders. But for the Supreme Court nominee, there's apparently a catch: "[R]oughly three dozen students who participated in the two programs while Mr. Gorsuch was at Harvard Law School from 1988 to 1991 said they have no recollection of his involvement."

* If Trump administration officials deliberately dragged their feet in response to court orders, that's a problem.

* A case worth watching: "A Russian technology executive who was named in a dossier containing unverified allegations about connections between President Trump and the Russian government has sued BuzzFeed News, which published the information."

* Missouri: "Republican Gov. Eric Greitens is signing a bill to make Missouri the 28th right-to-work state on Monday, delivering a big win for primarily GOP supporters who have worked for years to pass the measure banning mandatory union fees and dues."
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Image: US President Trump signs executive order to allow Dakota,. Keystone pipelines

Who's calling the shots in Donald Trump's White House?

02/06/17 04:08PM

In April 1995, Bill Clinton's presidency wasn't going well. Republicans had just taken control of Congress for the first time in decades, and when the White House announced a prime-time news conference, most of the networks decided not to air it.

In a line he probably regretted soon after, Clinton told reporters, "The president is still relevant here." The trouble, of course, is that relevant leaders don't generally feel the need to talk up their relevance. The Democrat's defensiveness was ultimately self-defeating.

More than 20 years later, Donald Trump's presidency is experiencing its own problems, leading to a related, overly defensive claim. "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it," Trump said on Twitter this morning. (Because if there's one thing we think of when we hear the name Donald J. Trump, it's "accumulation of data.")

A boast like this may make the president feel better, but "everyone" clearly doesn't know he calls his own shots -- because if they did, Trump wouldn't feel the need to brag about his decision making. Leaders who confidently call their own shots don't need to whine about it. Trump sounds like a boss who's desperately trying to convince himself and those around him he's still in charge.

As for why the rookie president is making this misplaced boast in the first place, Trump appears to be responding to this New York Times piece, which noted, among other things, that the president doesn't seem to know what policies he's putting his signatures on.
Mr. Priebus bristles at the perception that he occupies a diminished perch in the West Wing pecking order compared with previous chiefs. But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president's dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump's anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.
"Was not fully briefed on details" suggests Trump made some important changes to the National Security Council without understanding his own policy.

A leader who calls his own shots probably would've asked for a briefing before he signed an executive order, and if he wasn't satisfied with the answers, he wouldn't have put his signature on it.
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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

Trump wants to be seen as the sole authority for truth

02/06/17 01:00PM

Donald Trump entered the White House as the least popular American president since the dawn of modern polling, and after a couple of weeks on the job, his standing has not improved. The latest survey results from Gallup, CNN, and CBS News point to a president with weak national support, pushing ideas that the American mainstream generally opposes.

Against this backdrop, Trump has a few options. The president could say, for example, that he's doing what he thinks is right, without regard for popularity. He could also say his agenda may lack support now, but Americans will grow to appreciate his ideas in time.

But this morning, Trump, who's clearly aware of the polling, went in a very different direction.
"Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting."
Hmm. Positive polls, from the White House's perspective, are to be trusted, but any negative poll must necessarily be seen as wrong and "fake" -- because Trump says so. He knows what "people want," so evidence to the contrary, by definition, must be wrong.

One of the most alarming aspects of the Trump presidency is how often he applies this kind of thinking to aspects of modern American life. Don't trust news organizations. Don't trust the courts. Don't trust pollsters. Don't trust U.S. intelligence agencies. Don't trust unemployment numbers. Don't even trust election results.

Too often, Donald J. Trump suggests there's a sole authority for truth, and the public is supposed to think it's him.
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Donald Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway speaks to the media while entering Trump Tower on Nov. 14, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Conway struggles to shake her made up 'massacre'

02/06/17 12:30PM

Kellyanne Conway, perhaps best known for her defense of "alternative facts," was eager to defend Donald Trump's Muslim ban last week, and even had some anecdotal evidence ready when she sat down with MSNBC's Chris Matthews last week.

"Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre," the White House aide insisted, adding, "Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered."

Even for Conway, it was a bizarre thing to say -- because there was no Bowling Green massacre.

A controversy soon followed, and the presidential counselor said she misspoke, using the word "massacre" when she intended to say "terrorists." Conway has also complained repeatedly that the White House's critics, whom she's labeled "haters," are being unfair to her, pouncing needlessly on an innocent mistake.

There are a couple of problems with the defense. The first is that it doesn't make much sense: read the quote again and substitute "terrorists" for "massacre." Conway meant to say the Iraqis "were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green terrorists" and "it" didn't get covered?  That's very hard to believe.

The second problem is that Conway referenced the exact same "massacre" a few days prior.
Kellyanne Conway took to Twitter on Friday to walk back her comments on MSNBC's Hardball about a nonexistent terrorist attack in Bowling Green, Kentucky. However, this wasn't the first time she used the words "Bowling Green massacre" in an on-the-record conversation with a reporter.

In an earlier interview with Cosmopolitan.com, she not only used this same phrase but also went a step further in describing the actions of the two Iraqi men involved in the case to which she was referring.
Conway spoke to MSNBC on Thursday, but earlier in the week, she did an interview with Cosmopolitan.com in which she also referenced the "Bowling Green massacre."
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.6.17

02/06/17 12:00PM

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

* VoteVets released a brutal new television ad this morning, confronting Donald Trump over the Affordable Care Act and the White House's Muslim ban.

* Steve Bannon's picture on the cover of this week's Time magazine reportedly "caught the attention of senior officials, as well as Trump, who takes pride in his own cover appearances and inquired about Bannon's Time debut with aides."

* The president was at one of his resorts over the weekend, but White House officials "refused to give details about the president's activities." Note, as a candidate, Trump assured voters he would curtail vacations and golfing.

* Mitt Romney, who strongly denounced Trump until he wanted to be Secretary of State, told the Deseret News over the weekend that the new president has "obviously gotten off to a very strong start." By all indications, this wasn't intended as sarcasm.

* In his Fox interview, aired yesterday, Trump once again boasted, "I've been against the war in Iraq from the beginning." He is, for the record, still lying.

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) has decided not to take on Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in Pennsylvania next year.

* A FiveThirtyEight analysis found that Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are Trump "MVPs" so far this year: the two Republicans have voted with the president 100% of the time despite representing states where Trump lost.
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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Trump narrows the focus of his voter-fraud conspiracy theory

02/06/17 11:30AM

A couple of weeks ago, for reasons no one at the White House has been able to explain, Donald Trump railed against widespread voter fraud that appears to exist only in his mind. It came as part of a larger push from the president to convince people that he secretly won the popular vote when one excludes the millions of illegally cast ballots – despite the fact that literally no one has any proof to substantiate this ridiculous claim.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Trump was supposed to issue a new directive, launching a formal investigation into the imaginary problem, but a few hours before the White House ceremony, the event was abruptly cancelled without explanation. Soon after, Team Trump moved away from the issue altogether.

Last week, a senior administration official told CNN that the voter-fraud investigation "is no longer a top priority."

But when Trump sat down with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly for an interview that aired last night, it became clear that the issue hasn't completely faded.
O'REILLY: Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things you can't back up factually, and as the president, if you say, for example, that there are 3 million illegal aliens who voted, and then you don't have the data to back it up, some people are going to say, that's irresponsible for a president to say that, is there any validity to it?

TRUMP: Well, many people have come out and said I am right, you know that.... A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.
That's not how reality works. One cannot make something up and then point to others who choose to believe the manufactured nonsense as proof of the lie's validity.

More important is the fact that the president is apparently moving the goalposts a bit. From the transcript:
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on national security in his offices in Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Trump administration takes foreign policy in a strange direction

02/06/17 11:00AM

Donald Trump promised Americans he'd take U.S. foreign policy in a radical new direction, and there are early signs that he's already following through on that commitment. In terms of the nation's interests, however, that may not be a good thing.

In recent weeks, for example, the Republican president has needlessly alienated U.S. allies such as Australia and Mexico. Trump has antagonized China. He received a lecture on the Geneva Conventions from Germany. He's been the subject of international protests about his infamous Muslim ban. He's put Iran "on notice," without explaining what in the world that means. He unveiled his long-awaited plan to combat ISIS, which largely amounted to ordering military leaders to come up with a plan for him.

When it comes to international affairs, it's hard to think of any American president having a worse start. Abroad, Trump is celebrated in Moscow, but nowhere else.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that the new president is causing widespread confusion, not only abroad, but even in his own administration. Last week, National Security Council staff participated in a town-hall meeting with their new leadership, and when asked what the "America First" mantra meant in practical terms, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn reportedly "reiterated Trump's campaign assurances that he could put U.S. interests ahead of those of other countries."

How clarifying.

But then the AP piece went in an unexpected direction:
Some early moves by Trump officials have given hints about their priorities -- and raised concerns within the administration. [...]

According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist.
There's quite a bit about the new administration that worries me, but I'll confess it's stuff like this that causes me the most unease.
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An exterior view of the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel at the old post office on Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

Questions surrounding Trump's conflicts of interest intensify

02/06/17 10:30AM

A week before taking office, Donald Trump held a press conference intended to resolve long-standing questions about his many conflicts of interest. The event was something of a disaster: instead of divesting, creating a blind trust, and/or separating his ownership stake in his private-sector ventures, the Republican and his team announced a plan in which Trump would remain the owner of his business enterprise.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the problems may have been pushed from the front page by other Trump-related controversies, but the underlying issues haven't changed at all.
While the president says he has walked away from the day-to-day operations of his business, two people close to him are the named trustees and have broad legal authority over his assets: his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer. Mr. Trump, who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time.

What's more, the purpose of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is to hold assets for the "exclusive benefit" of the president. This trust remains under Mr. Trump's Social Security number, at least as far as federal taxes are concerned.
This is of particular interest as it relates to the Old Post Office, near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Trump converted into a hotel. Legally, according to the building's lease, the hotel cannot benefit any elected official, including the president. And yet, as of now, Trump is still profiting from the building he helped build at the site.

A Washington Post report added, "While Trump has promised he will observe a separation between his business and the presidency, he retains ownership of the business and will personally benefit if the business profits from decisions made by his government. Further, the business will be run by family members who remain the most trusted members of Trump's inner circle, raising questions about whether Trump's promises to limit communication about the business's fate are realistic."
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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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