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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

GOP rep accused of using his office to boost his investments

04/18/18 11:21AM

You might remember Tom Price as the former HHS secretary who was forced to resign after using public funds for private chartered flights. But before that controversy ended his political career, Price was a Georgia Republican who was also controversial for his investments.

Price, regular readers may recall, invested in an Australian biomedical firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics, and then sponsored legislation that sent the company's stock higher, making his investment far more valuable.

But Price wasn't alone. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of Donald Trump's key congressional allies, was an even bigger investor in Innate Immunotherapeutics -- indeed, the New York Republican sits on the company's board -- and Collins also took the lead on pushing legislation that benefited the company.

The Daily Beast moved the ball forward yesterday, reporting that Collins has sponsored "several bills" that would have benefited the company he's invested in, while also "trying to make changes to a government program that would save the company millions of dollars if its drug is approved by the FDA."

Collins's office says he doesn't believe his bills represent a conflict of interest, but he is already accused by independent Office of Congressional Ethics of violating House ethics rules and U.S. securities law for his dealings with the drug company.

The Daily Beast found at least four bills that Collins drafted or sponsored that would have directly affected the drug company, Innate Immunotherapeutics.

This comes six months after the New York Times, citing findings from the Office of Congressional Ethics, reported that Collins "may have violated federal law by sharing nonpublic information about a company on whose board he served," and "may have broken House ethics rules by meeting with the National Institutes of Health and asking for help with the design of a clinical trial being set up by the company."

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump speaks to the media during a meeting with congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, in Washington, D.C., November 28, 2017.

On trade, Trump brings an abrupt end to a plan he never understood

04/18/18 10:45AM

Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) failed presidential 2016 campaign was largely forgettable -- he quit a couple of days after a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses -- but it featured one shining moment.

It came during a November 2015 debate, when Donald Trump was asked why he was so opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he responded by rambling for a long while about China and currency manipulation. Eventually, Rand Paul interjected, "You know, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal" -- a detail Trump seemed completely unaware of.

It was the first real indication that Trump hated the TPP, despite not knowing what it was.

Nevertheless, after becoming president, the Republican formally ended the U.S. role in the partnership, prompting our former partners to move on without us. (In January 2017, Trump assured Americans he'd replace the TPP with a "beautiful" alternative. Fifteen months later, we've seen no such policy.)

Recently, however, the White House opened the door, at least a crack. In February, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the president would "consider" re-engaging with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Last week, to the delight of rural-state senators, Trump went much further, instructing White House officials to examine rejoining the TPP that he'd already abandoned.

And why didn't I write about this at the time? Because I had a hunch this was going to happen.

After publicly flirting last week with having the United States rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Trump appeared to rebuff the idea once and for all late Tuesday.

In a Twitter post at 10:49 p.m., Mr. Trump said that although Japan and South Korea would like the United States to join the 11 other nations in the multilateral trade agreement, he had no intention of doing so. The decision put an apparent end to a meandering trade policy in which Mr. Trump pulled out of the deal in his first week in office, before suggesting last week that he was having second thoughts.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow also downplayed the possibility, calling the idea of the United States rejoining the TPP more of a "thought than a policy."

The trouble is, that same phrase could be applied to practically every aspect of the White House agenda: Trump and his team are filled with thoughts, but they have few actual policies.

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U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during a news conference on the terror attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi Feb. 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Arizona Republicans try to play partisan games with McCain's Senate seat

04/18/18 10:00AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been ailing in recent months, and this past weekend, the senator's office issued a statement noting that he'd undergone an additional surgery to treat an intestinal infection related to diverticulitis. McCain was described as being in stable condition.

Those close to the senator are, of course, hoping for a speedy recovery that would allow him to return to Capitol Hill. In Arizona's Republican-controlled state legislature, however, there's an effort underway to change how members of Congress who give up their seats are replaced. The state Associated Press reported overnight:

U.S. Senate vacancies are filled by a governor's appointee, with the seat on the next general election ballot. The secretary of state has interpreted that to mean that if McCain's seat is vacated by May 31, it would be on the August primary and November general election ballot. The new proposal changes that to 150 days before the primary, or March 31 of this year. [...]

The Legislation was originally intended to lengthen the time required for a special election for a vacant U.S. House seat and was prompted by the scramble to replace Trent Franks, a longtime Congressman who stepped down in December amid sexual misconduct allegations.

In other words, someone in the state Senate wants to take McCain's seat out of play, should the senator no longer be able to serve, preventing voters from choosing a successor this year.

This isn't going to work. Steve Farley, a Democratic state senator, told the AP, "They're trying to make it really easy to appoint someone to two and a half years without an election to a U.S. Senate seat should the current holder of that Senate seat resign or no longer be able to hold office. The thing is, we're all going to vote against it as Democrats, so they won't get their emergency. It's silly for them to put it on and think we won't notice."

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Image: James Comey

Trump contradicts his own claims on James Comey's firing

04/18/18 09:20AM

NBC News reported last week that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is focused on possible obstruction-of-justice allegations against Donald Trump, with investigators collecting information on four specific areas of interest. At the top of the list: the president's intent when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.

It's against this backdrop that Trump decided to change his story a bit this morning, publishing this tweet:

"Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI Director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)!"

Some of this is obviously just garden-variety nonsense. There is, for example, all kinds of evidence of cooperation between Trump's political operation and Russia during Russia's 2016 attack on the American elections. There is also no evidence of collusion between Putin's government and Democrats -- the party Moscow took steps to defeat.

But what matters this morning is the American president's newfound belief that Comey's firing was unrelated to the Russia scandal. We know this claim isn't true -- because Donald Trump has already told us the opposite.

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Ethics be damned, Trump touts his private club in Florida

04/18/18 08:39AM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump delivered some brief remarks alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of a closed-door meeting. According to the White House's transcript, the American president began his remarks, "I just want to say that your representatives look right out of a movie. You're absolutely perfect. So I think that's very nice. I'm very impressed."

Trump's preoccupation with "central casting" is well-documented, but sometimes it goes in uncomfortable directions.

Yesterday afternoon, Trump and Abe spoke briefly to reporters from Mar-a-Lago, where the American president seemed eager to do a little infomercial for the venue he continues to profit from.

"Many of the world's great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. They like it; I like it. We're comfortable. We have great relationships. As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. [...]

"It is, indeed, the Southern White House. And again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically."

I'm skeptical that foreign leaders have specifically requested visits to the president's Florida club, but I'm not in a position to know for sure. It certainly seems like the sort of thing Trump would blurt out because he would like it to be true, but anything's possible.

What's more jarring is the fact that the president continues to use his office to promote a private resort that puts money in his own pocket.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

McConnell rejects bipartisan effort to protect Mueller from Trump

04/18/18 08:00AM

The more Donald Trump raises the prospect of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the greater the need for congressional action to prevent a crisis. Fortunately for those who support the law and the judicial system, there are several pieces that are already coming together.

A bipartisan proposal to shield Mueller from presidential interference is already on the table in the Senate; it's poised for attention in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week; and there's a bipartisan House bill picking up co-sponsors in the lower chamber, too.

Everything appeared to be on track, right up until yesterday afternoon.

The effort to pass legislation to protect Robert Mueller's job as special counsel appeared to hit a dead end Tuesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow the bill to come to the floor for a full Senate vote.

"I'm the one who decides what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as majority leader. We'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate," the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.

McConnell said that he believed there's "no indication that Mueller's going to be fired" -- the GOP leader might have missed the president's public comments last week -- making the bipartisan bill "not necessary."

In fairness to McConnell, it's worth emphasizing that he hasn't called for Mueller's ouster. On the contrary, McConnell has said, more than once, that the special counsel should be allowed to continue his work. The Republican leader, with varying degrees of subtlety, has even warned Trump not to interfere with the ongoing investigation.

But McConnell isn't prepared to do anything to ensure Mueller is shielded from the White House. Even if there's bipartisan support to pass legislation, McConnell has decided to prevent the Senate from exercising its will.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.17.18

04/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Diplomacy: "U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States has been having direct talks with North Korea 'at extremely high levels' to try to arrange a summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un."

* Unexpected: "The Supreme Court said Tuesday that part of a federal law that makes it easier to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes is too vague to be enforced. The court's 5-4 decision -- an unusual alignment in which new Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices -- concerns a catchall provision of immigration law that defines what makes a crime violent."

* This apparently has to do with the governor's charity: "Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Tuesday that his office has uncovered potential criminal wrongdoing by Gov. Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, and has turned that evidence over to the St. Louis prosecutor."

* Starbucks: "Amid outcry over the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks, the coffee chain announced Tuesday it will close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for an afternoon next month to train workers in 'racial-bias education.'"

* He's fitting right in: "President Donald Trump's new national economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, on Tuesday used Republicans' go-to tactic for responding to the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the GOP tax cut law."

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign paid "$93,000 to a law firm earlier this year to fight back against Michael Wolff's hotly debated White House tell-all book, 'Fire and Fury.' Harder LLP -- founded by Charles Harder, who represented pro wrestler Hulk Hogan in his case against Gawker -- received two payments for its efforts on Trump's behalf."

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A woman places her vote into the ballot box on March 5, 2016 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo by Austin Anthony/Daily News/AP)

Automatic voter registration expands its reach even further

04/17/18 03:03PM

It was only a matter of time before automatic voter registration reached another state, though I thought it'd take more than a week.

More than a half million New Jersey residents could soon become New Jersey voters.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Tuesday that will automatically register people to vote if they apply for a driver's license or non-driver ID card in the Garden State.

New Jersey is the 13th state to have automatic voter registration. The new law could register nearly 600,000 people, according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive research group.

The news comes just five days after Maryland also adopted AVR. New Jersey and Maryland join (in alphabetical order) Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Nevada is likely next: AVR will be on the statewide ballot this fall, and most observers expect it to pass.

Not bad for a policy that didn't exist in any state as recently as three years ago.

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Trying to put distance between Trump and Cohen won't work

04/17/18 12:46PM

On Air Force One yesterday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "Is Michael Cohen still the president's personal attorney?" She replied, "I believe they've still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know."

Hogan Gidley, another White House spokesman, used very similar language on CNN last night, emphasizing Donald Trump's "many" lawyers, of which Cohen was merely one.

And just like that, the effort to put some distance between the scandal-plagued president who's under investigation and the scandal-plagued lawyer who's under investigation got underway. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake highlighted the problem: this is never going to work.

Come on. Trump certainly has a lot of lawyers -- especially given his special counsel investigation problem -- but Cohen was the only one negotiating hush-money payments with porn stars, appearing on TV as a surrogate, and to whom Trump regularly referred as "my attorney." Cohen is the guy who has expressed unflinching and complete loyalty to Trump.

Cohen isn't just another lawyer. In fact, "lawyer" doesn't begin to describe his closeness to Trump.

Quite right. Any effort to put some distance between Trump and Cohen may be hilarious, but it's also doomed. Axios today accurately described Cohen as Trump's "make-it-go-away guy," adding, "Cohen ... is the only person on earth intertwined in Trump's professional, political, personal, legal and family life"

Try Googling "Trump," "Cohen," and "fixer." The list of results isn't short.

The trouble is, the White House appears to have a playbook featuring exactly one play: "Let's pretend Trump isn't close with the guy in trouble, if he knows the guy at all."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.17.18

04/17/18 12:00PM

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

* The already lengthy list of congressional resignations is about to grow: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who was already poised to retire at the end of this Congress, will now walk away from Capitol Hill "in the coming weeks."

* Though the results should probably be taken with a grain of salt, an Emerson College poll in Arizona's 8th congressional district found Hiral Tipirneni (D) narrowly leading Debbie Lesko (R), 46% to 45%, in a heavily "red" district. The congressional special election is a week from today.

* On a related note, according to a Daily Kos analysis, the National Republican Congressional Committee's independent expenditure arm "just dropped another $250,000 on ads attacking Tipirneni," bringing the NRCC's total outlay in Arizona's 8th to $383,000.

* A Monmouth University poll released yesterday showed Democrats with a 19-point advantage over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot among voters in New Jersey. The Garden State's congressional delegation currently includes five Republicans, but if the Dems' advantage is this large, several of those seats will be in play in November.

* True to form, Mitt Romney's Republican Senate campaign in Utah is benefiting from generous support from his Wall Street and corporate allies.

* In Tennessee, retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R) is officially supporting Marsha Blackburn (R), the right-wing House member running to succeed him, but Corker has announced he won't campaign against her opponent, former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

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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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