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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

After creating historic deficits, Republicans move to outlaw deficits

04/13/18 11:23AM

They're sometimes called "messaging votes." Congressional leaders will bring measures to the floor that they have no intention of passing, purely for symbolic and electoral reasons. These pointless votes are generally a waste of time, though they tend to make assorted partisans feel better.

Some messaging votes, however, are more offensive than others.

The House failed on Thursday to advance a constitutional amendment that would require Congress not spend more than the nation collects in revenue. Some conservative lawmakers had hoped a vote on the bill would calm grassroots conservatives who had been fuming about recent high levels of spending.

On a mostly party line vote, Republicans failed to advance the bill, 233-184. Normally, legislation requires 218 votes to win approval in the House and can be passed with just Republican votes. The balanced budget amendment, however, required bipartisan support with a two-thirds majority vote because it was a constitutional amendment.

GOP leaders knew, of course, that this constitutional amendment would fail. More to the point, they voted for it despite the fact that they wanted it to fail.

Indeed, what made yesterday's vote so exasperating was the backdrop against which it came. It was just a few months ago that Republicans approved massive tax breaks the nation can't afford, and the Congressional Budget Office reported this week that those tax cuts will wreak havoc on the nation's finances for many years to come. More recently, Republicans also approved a $1.3 trillion omnibus package that, among other things, increased government spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.

All of which led up to yesterday's vote, in which Republicans said they want a constitutional gimmick to stop Republicans from passing the kinds of bills Republicans just voted for. The people who are creating trillion-dollar deficits are the same people who are saying deficits should be outlawed.

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell added last night, "A balanced-budget amendment is pretty much always a stupid idea. But you know when it's stupidest? When you've just blown a multitrillion-dollar hole in the deficit, and also, umm, don't even really plan to pass a budget."

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

American mainstream rejects Trump's condemnation of Mueller probe

04/13/18 10:40AM

At a certain level, public-opinion polls on federal criminal investigations seem unimportant. After all, law-enforcement officials are not politicians, and while they serve the public's interests, they also have a job to do that has little to do with popular will.

That said, I tend to keep an eye on polling related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, not because public attitudes should shape the direction of the investigation, but because I'm interested in whether the Republican campaign to undermine public confidence in the probe is working.

Donald Trump, for example, has characterized the investigation itself as "illegal" and "corrupt." His allies in Congress and conservative media have mounted a spirited campaign against Mueller, the FBI, and the Justice Department, which collectively have become a bete noire for the right.

The American mainstream isn't buying it.

A clear majority of Americans support special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged collusion with President Trump's campaign, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

The results show backing for inquiries into Trump's orbit on several fronts.

Nearly 7 in 10 adults say they support Mueller's focus on possible collusion with Russia. Sixty-four percent say they want the special counsel investigating Trump's business activities. And a 58 percent majority supports investigating alleged payments by Trump associates to silence women who say they had affairs with him.

Just to clarify, whether Mueller and his investigators have any interest in Trump World's hush-money scandals is unclear, but the point is there's a fair mount of public support for examining this and related Trump controversies.

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Image: James Comey

Trump says Comey is a 'slime ball,' calls for his criminal prosecution

04/13/18 10:02AM

We're still a few days out from the official release of James Comey's book, but as news outlets get their hands on leaked copies, we're learning quite a bit about the former FBI director's interactions with, and concerns about, Donald Trump.

The president doesn't appear to be taking the news well, as evidenced by a pair of tweets this morning.

"James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH.

"He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst 'botch jobs' of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!"

If I didn't know better, I might think Comey has gotten under the president's skin a bit.

What I find especially entertaining about Trump's little tirade, though isn't just how factually inaccurate it is, but the degree to which his lack of impulse control has upended the White House's plan.

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Coal lobbyist takes over key leadership post at Trump's EPA

04/13/18 09:20AM

At around 2 p.m. (E.T.) yesterday, Donald Trump insisted he's "draining the swamp," even if it may not look like it." At around 4 p.m. (E.T.), we were reminded why "it may not look like" the president is honoring his commitment. Mother Jones  reported:

The fossil fuel industry now has yet another ally at the Environmental Protection Agency -- one who would almost certainly take over as head of the agency if Scott Pruitt is forced to resign. In a 53-45 vote on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler -- a coal lobbyist who once worked for DC's most notorious climate change denier -- for the EPA's second-most powerful position. [...]

As deputy administrator -- a powerful, if somewhat low-profile position -- Wheeler will be responsible for implementing Pruitt's vision. Wheeler is likely to have a hand in making appointments, overseeing operations, and working with regional and state agencies.

I realize that when it comes to this White House's personnel decisions, we've seen a staggering number of tough-to-defend moves, but Wheeler is especially egregious.

Let's circle back to our coverage from a few months ago to provide some relevant context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy’s CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)

In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation’s preeminent climate deniers.

It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency – a decision literally every Senate Republican on the floor yesterday, in addition to three red-state Democrats, endorsed yesterday.

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

Trump says he's 'draining the swamp,' even if 'it may not look like it'

04/13/18 08:40AM

One of the signature lines of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was "drain the swamp." Through the Republican was always a little vague about the meaning of the phrase, it was widely seen as an outsider's vow to clean up the nation's capital.

The Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press” during the campaign that he’s tired of everybody in the nation’s capital “being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists.” Trump went so far as to say he’d have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration altogether.

The promise has since become the punch-line to a sad joke, though at a White House event yesterday, the president made the case that he's honoring his commitment -- even if reality suggests otherwise.

"From the day I took the oath of office, I've been fighting to drain the swamp. And sometimes it may not look like it, but, believe me, we are draining the swamp. And there are a lot of unhappy people. You can see that every day. All you have to do is turn on the news. Every time you see me hit, you know that I'm draining the swamp. And people don't like it."

As a rule, when Trump says, "Believe me," the public's first instinct should be to not believe him.

That's certainly true in this case because the only "unhappy people" we have seen "every day" are those who actually believed Trump's campaign promises.

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Despite Trump's boasts, odds of his Mueller interview have 'drastically dimmed'

04/13/18 08:00AM

A few months ago, Donald Trump surprised White House reporters by making unscheduled comments about a provocative subject: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. More specifically, the president made a variety of comments about how much he's looking forward to speaking to Mueller and his team under oath.

"I'm looking forward to it, actually," Trump said, adding that he'd "love to" talk to the special counsel investigators. The president went on to say he's "absolutely" prepared to answer questions under oath.

NBC News reported late yesterday, however, that the prospects for a presidential interview have "drastically dimmed."

Special counsel Robert Mueller's office and President Donald Trump's legal team are now proceeding with strategies that presume a presidential interview will likely not take place as part of the Russia investigation, after months of talks between the two sides collapsed earlier this week, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

While the negotiations over a possible interview continued earlier this week, the FBI's raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room apparently changed the overall calculus.

And where does that leave us? If Mueller and his investigators aren't going to speak directly with the president, it brings us to a point in the trajectory of this story that's likely to be a very big deal.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.12.18

04/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Syria: "The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday's deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence."

* The island's crisis is ongoing: "A single tree fell on top of a main power line in Cayey, Puerto Rico, causing a massive outage that left almost 900,000 customers in the dark as the U.S. territory is still recovering from Hurricane Maria."

* Given what we know of his political career, this isn't especially surprising: "Steve Stockman, a Republican former congressman from Texas, has been convicted of defrauding two conservative mega-donors and funneling their $1.25 million into personal and campaign expenses as part of what prosecutors have described as a 'white collar crime spree.'"

* Literally zero Senate Republicans voted against Andrew Wheeler: "If embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were to leave office, the reins of the agency could fall to a former Senate aide and coal mining lobbyist who was confirmed 53-45 Thursday afternoon to become second-in-command at EPA."

* This is a weird story: "When Scott Pruitt wanted to refashion the Environmental Protection Agency's 'challenge coin' -- a type of souvenir medallion with military origins that has become a status symbol among civilians -- he proposed an unusual design: Make it bigger, and delete the E.P.A. logo."

* I know this will sound like inside-baseball, but it matters: "White House budget director Mick Mulvaney won his fight to grab some regulatory power from the Treasury Department, with possibly major ramifications for the new tax law. Treasury and OMB released a joint "Memorandum of Agreement" on Thursday that gives the budget office significant new authority to review tax regulations before they take effect."

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RNC takes aim at former FBI Director James Comey

04/12/18 12:59PM

Former FBI Director James Comey's book will soon hit shelves, and by all accounts, it will have less-than-flattering things to say about Donald Trump -- the president who fired Comey last year in the hopes of derailing the investigation into the Russia scandal. What exactly does the White House intend to do about Comey's return to the national spotlight?

According to a Politico  report published earlier this week, not much. "There is no blitz attack planned by the White House," the article said. Instead, the "nitty-gritty of preparing talking points and rapid response is being outsourced to the Republican National Committee."

And what, pray tell, does the Republican National Committee have in mind? TPM reported this morning on the party's unveiling of a new website and partisan talking points.

The website,, is strewn with quotes from prominent Democrats bashing Comey after his July 5, 2016 statement on the FBI's investigation into then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's emails, punctuated by black and white photos of the former FBI director looking shifty.

"Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing," RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN.

A Washington Post  report added, "RNC officials say their effort will also include digital ads, a 'war room' to monitor Comey's television appearances, a rapid response team to rebut his claims in real time and coordination of Trump surrogates to fan out across other TV programs."

Look, I can appreciate why the president's allies are feeling a little anxious about Comey's book, but the RNC's offensive is a little tough to take seriously.

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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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