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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.10.17

08/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another escalation: "President Donald Trump said Thursday that his previous promise of 'fire and fury' in response to threats from North Korea may have not gone far enough, vowing 'trouble' for the country if its actions don't change."

* I hope you saw Rachel's segment on this: "A senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday that several U.S agencies are investigating allegations that Cuban officials directed some kind of ultrasound energy at American diplomats in the Havana embassy that left several with damaged hearing."

* Maybe now he'll take the crisis seriously? "President Donald Trump threw the weight of the White House behind the fight against the opioid crisis Thursday and declared it a national emergency."

* This rhetoric sure does sound familiar: "In a pugnacious speech on Wednesday evening before thousands of supporters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, embroiled in graft investigations, railed against 'the left' and 'the media that serves it,' contending that they had ganged up to overthrow him."

* Seems like a potential problem: "Four senior cybersecurity officials are stepping down from their US government positions, raising concerns that an exodus of top leaders may make the federal government more vulnerable to hacking."

* A case to watch: "Five members of the U.S. armed forces sued President Donald Trump and top military brass, seeking to stop them from banning transgender people from serving 'in any capacity.'"

* Following up on something Rachel touched on last night: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has lost two of her top aides, key departures that come at a time of growing international tensions between the U.S. and North Korea."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

Trump barks orders, expects McConnell to do the real work

08/10/17 04:15PM

Donald Trump and his allies have expressed quite a bit of dissatisfaction this week with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and this afternoon, the president sent his third shot across his ostensible ally's bow.

"Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!"

It's hard not to appreciate the irony of the circumstances: Trump is in the early stages of a 17-day vacation at a golf resort he owns in New Jersey. For the president to urge McConnell to "get back to work," while Trump continues his lengthy break, is kind of hilarious.

Regardless, the president soon after made related comments to the press.

When asked if McConnell should step down from his leadership position, Trump told reporters, "If he doesn't get repeal and replace done, and he doesn't get taxes done and...infrastructure...then you can ask me that question."

Whether he understands this or not, this tells us quite a bit about how Trump views his role in governing.

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Testing the limits of Trump's 'obsession' with Obama

08/10/17 12:50PM

BuzzFeed published an interesting piece yesterday based on interviews with "six top European government officials who've had firsthand dealings on the international stage with [Donald Trump] and his administration." Not surprisingly, the foreign officials characterized the American president as erratic, ignorant, and "something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings."

But what stood out for me was the description of Trump's obsession with his predecessor. "It's his only real position," one European diplomat said. "He will ask: 'Did Obama approve this?' And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: 'We don't.' He won't even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama."

And while that's plainly pathetic, it's consistent with everything we've seen from this president -- who seems to think about Barack Obama far more than he should, accusing him of all sorts of weird things, including secretly tapping his phones. Just this morning, Trump highlighted an unscientific poll of sympathetic Twitter users who said they like him better than his predecessor, which the Republican apparently considered important for reasons he didn't explain.

In fact, the burgeoning crisis in North Korea seems to have brought these festering attitudes to the fore. The Washington Post reported this morning, "Starting on Wednesday night, the Republican president retweeted a series of Twitter posts related to his Democratic predecessor, starting with one by John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor, who said the United States is at risk because of Obama."

The problem -- well, one of them, anyway -- is that aside from the reckless rhetoric, Trump's policy towards North Korea is surprisingly similar to Obama's.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.10.17

08/10/17 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia's gubernatorial race, which is now just three months away, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest lead over Ed Gillespie (R), 44% to 38%. That six-point advantage is roughly in line with other recent polling from the commonwealth.

* On a related note, Northam unveiled his first television ad of the general election this week, and it focuses on protecting families' health care benefits.

* The Indianapolis Star published an interesting report today, noting that state and local Republican officials "expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas," which had a "significant" impact on participation rates.

* In Massachusetts, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) announced yesterday she's retiring at the end of this Congress, following a decade on Capitol Hill. A variety of local Dems have already expressed an interest in succeeding her.

* Robert Mercer, a billionaire Trump donor, is reportedly investing in an effort to derail Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) re-election plans in Arizona next year. Politico said Mercer is "contributing $300,000 to a super PAC supporting former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake in a Republican primary."

* In Florida's gubernatorial election, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's (D) campaign received some good news yesterday when a grand jury cleared him "in his office's purchase of software used to send a handful of politically tinged emails to constituents, an issue that's dogged his campaign for governor since it began."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump holds press conference

Trump's political antics push consumers' health care costs higher

08/10/17 11:00AM

At a press briefing a few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there's all kinds of evidence that the Affordable Care Act is facing a "collapse." To prove her point, Donald Trump's principal spokesperson told reporters, "Premiums continue to skyrocket."

And while it's true that many consumers are having to pay more for coverage, what Team Trump doesn't like to talk about is its role in creating the problem the president and his aides like to complain about. The Associated Press reported this morning:

The Trump administration's own actions are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many consumers, a nonpartisan study has found.

The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty "far outside the norm," leading insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.

In fairness, there are multiple factors that contribute to premium increases -- which were, of course, common long before "Obamacare" became the law of the land -- but as the AP's report explained, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "mixed signals" from the Trump administration have clearly made matters worse.

"The vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the administration," the report said.

The result is what some on the left have begun calling a "Trump Tax" on consumers: Americans are being forced to pay more for health care insurance as a direct result of the White House's political tactics.

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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump's favorite tabloid takes aim at Manafort at a key moment

08/10/17 10:09AM

The more federal investigators turn their attention to Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, the more Team Trump would love to put some distance between the president and his former top aide. In the spring, for example, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer twice tried to downplay the significance of Manafort's role in Trump's political operation.

Just how far would Trump World go to throw Manafort under the bus? The question took a curious turn yesterday.

The National Enquirer, the president's favorite supermarket tabloid, announced its latest scoop yesterday, insisting that Manafort has been caught up in some kind of sex scandal -- a story that ran just hours after we learned the FBI raided the former campaign chairman's home last month. The National Enquirer's piece went on to quote a "White House adviser" who said Manafort was guilty of "betraying ... his country."

This comes about a month after the president publicly suggested he has some influence over the tabloid's editorial decisions.

Slate summarized the larger context nicely:

So, six weeks after Trump seemingly admitted that he can use National Enquirer stories as leverage in personal disputes, the Enquirer has published a sensational attack on an individual who may (may!) possess incriminating information about Trump-Russia collusion.

Let's note for context that when former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's troubles grew more serious, he started receiving unflattering coverage in the National Enquirer, too.

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Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

One of Trump's favorite pastors: God backs an attack on North Korea

08/10/17 09:20AM

As Donald Trump threatened North Korea this week with "fire and fury," one of the Republican president's closest allies from the faith community argued that God has extended His approval to the White House launching a deadly attack. USA Today reported:

Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump's evangelical advisers, said that God has given the president "full control" to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In a statement to CBN News Tuesday, the First Baptist Dallas pastor wrote that a biblical passage in the book of Romans endowed "rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war -- to stop evil."

"In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un," Jeffress told CBN News.

Some backstory is probably in order. As regular readers may recall, Jeffress, a far-right mega-church leader in Texas, first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) candidacy and had some unkind words for rival Mitt Romney.

Specifically, Jeffress targeted Romney’s faith, saying the Republican was “a member of a cult.”

A controversy soon followed, and much of the country learned of Jeffress’ record of over-the-top extremism on issues throughout the so-called “culture war,” with the Texas pastor having lashed out at everyone from gays to Mormons to Catholics. As recently as two years ago, Jeffress insisted that Christians in the United States are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany’s treatment of Jews before the Holocaust.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was “beneath the office of president of the United States.”

Trump, however, doesn't seem to care.

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Image: Trump holds a healthcare meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House in Washington

Donald Trump loves to bluff, despite being bad at it

08/10/17 08:41AM

When Donald Trump raised the specter of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea this week, he wasn't just saber-rattling; he was issuing a specific kind of warning. As Rich Lowry put in a new Politico piece:

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was on the receiving end of the alliteration heard around the world, when Trump promised "fire and fury" if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States.

It was classic Trump -- a memorably pungent expression that dominated the news cycle and probably didn't reflect more than about 30 seconds of thought.

It was a promise, however, that the American president had no intention of keeping. Trump vowed "fire and fury" in response to North Korean threats, which naturally led to more North Korean threats. The Republican, confronted with the provocation he'd just said would be unacceptable, responded quickly -- by complaining about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Kim Jong-un didn't hesitate to cross Trump's bright red line, just as Trump didn't hesitate to back down from the "fire and fury" promise he'd made for all the world to see.

The president, in other words, was bluffing -- something Trump does often, despite being horrible at it.

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Image: Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell

GOP food fight: Trump and McConnell take aim at each other

08/10/17 08:00AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to a Rotary Group in Kentucky on Monday, expressing some frustrations about Donald Trump's "excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process." The GOP's Senate leader added that the president doesn't yet understand the "reality" of the legislative process.

The New York Times reports that the two Republicans spoke by phone yesterday, and Trump expressed "his disappointment" with McConnell's comments. Soon after, the president's private concerns became public concerns.

"Senator Mitch McConnell said I had 'excessive expectations,' but I don't think so," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, as he and lawmakers took time away from Washington during the August recess. "After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?"

And while that was obviously a mild rebuke, especially by Trump standards, the president's tone seemed a little more agitated this morning, adding via Twitter, "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!"

Some of Trump's closest allies appear eager to add fuel to the fire. Senior White House aide Dan Scavino Jr. lashed out at McConnell yesterday morning, and Fox's Sean Hannity, a Trump loyalist, was even more aggressive in targeting his party's Senate leader.

Nearly seven months into the Trump era, is managing to divide not just the country, but also the Republican Party.

The consequences of the intra-party food fight matter.

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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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