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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.16.17

03/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It wasn't just the judge in Hawaii that ruled against Donald Trump's Muslim ban: "A second federal judge in Maryland ruled against Mr. Trump overnight, with a separate order forbidding the core provision of the travel ban from going into effect."

Michael Flynn: "The state-sponsored Russian television network RT paid former Defense Intelligence Agency head Mike Flynn more than $45,000, plus perks, to speak at its 10th anniversary gala in December 2015, according to documents released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee Thursday."

* It was close: "The Republican health care bill passed another step of the process Thursday morning as the House Budget Committee advanced the measure out of its committee despite growing opposition from Republicans. Three Republicans, all members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, voted with all Democrats against the measure:"

* Asia-Pacific: "Diplomacy has failed and it's time to 'take a different approach' to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said here Thursday, as the North Korean Embassy in China warned that American military threats were bringing the region to the brink of nuclear war."

* Europe: "The sighs of relief among the European leadership were almost palpable on Thursday after Dutch voters turned out in record numbers to deny the populist leader Geert Wilders victory in an election seen as a barometer of far-right nationalism's appeal on the Continent."

* DOJ: "Less than two years after the Drug Enforcement Administration officially admitted that 'heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana,' new Attorney General Jeff Sessions revisited that comparison in remarks [yesterday] before law enforcement officials in Richmond."
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump doesn't deny punishing his base with his health care plan

03/16/17 04:15PM

One of the most politically striking aspects of the Republican health care plan is the degree to which it punishes the party's own base. The Americans who stand to lose the most from the American Health Care Act, which some have labeled "Trumpcare," are many of the same folks who backed Donald Trump in large numbers last fall.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" this week, the New York Times' David Brooks said the Republican plan is effectively "declaring war on their own voters."

On Fox News last night, Tucker Carlson asked the GOP president about this, and Trump offered an unexpectedly candid response.
CARLSON: This bill has, as one of its centerpieces, a tax cut for investors that would primarily benefit people making over $250,000 a year. Already done pretty well in the past 10 years, as you know. A Bloomberg analysis showed that counties that voted for you, middle class and working class counties, would do far less well under this bill than the counties that voted for Hillary, the more affluent counties.

TRUMP: Oh, I know. I know.
When the host highlighted the asymmetry, suggesting "maybe this isn't consistent with the message of the last election," the president responded, "A lot of things aren't consistent."

Trump added, by way of an argument, that the policy implications are "very preliminary" and in the process of being "negotiated."

In other words, the president is conceding that the evidence is true, and his health care proposal really will punish key segments of his electoral base. I suppose there's something vaguely refreshing about the fact that Trump didn't deny reality; I more or less expected him to respond to the question by saying the facts are "fake news," cooked up by nefarious conspirators, who are no doubt in league with Barack Obama, George Soros, and Bigfoot, all of whom are working to obscure the fact that his core supporters would all get free ice cream and ponies as a result of "Trumpcare."

Instead, Trump implicitly acknowledged reality. He knows his bill will punish his supporters; he knows it will require him to break key promises he made to the nation; but at least for now, the president is content to assume he and his team will figure out solutions later.
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S.

Trump may have blurted out classified information

03/16/17 12:54PM

Fox News' Tucker Carlson asked Donald Trump last night about his wiretap conspiracy theory, which his Republican allies are quickly running away from, and the host specifically pressed the president on a specific point: "Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?"

Trump responded, "Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of an agency. We have enough problems."

I honestly haven't the foggiest idea what this was supposed to mean. The president, for whatever reason, came to believe he was the target of illegal surveillance, and he could've asked officials in his administration to provide him with information about his concerns. He didn't, however, because it would've "violated" the "strength" of an intelligence agency? Since when do factual questions from a president to intelligence professionals undermine government agencies?

Trump quickly added:
"And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken -- that was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation."
This was an apparent reference to reports, which surfaced earlier this month, that WikiLeaks released thousands of pages of documents that were apparently obtained as part of a hack of the Central Intelligence Agency.

At the time, however, the agency wouldn't even confirm the authenticity of the materials, and a CIA spokesperson told reporters, "We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents."

All of which suggests Trump, responding to a question he was not asked, may have blurted out something important on national television. Indeed, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, noted in a statement, "In his effort to once again blame Obama, the president appears to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information."
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.17

03/16/17 12:00PM

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

* At a rally in Tennessee last night, Donald Trump told supporters, The law and the Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration when he deems -- or she, or she. Fortunately, it will not be Hillary she." His crowd responded, once again, by chanting, "Lock her up."

* Still nervous about the upcoming congressional special election in Georgia, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backed by House Republican leaders, has launched its second attack ad targeting Jon Ossoff (D). Like the first, the commercial goes after Ossoff for goofing around with his friends while in college.

* In New Jersey, home to one of the two gubernatorial races held this year, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows former Ambassador Phil Murphy (D) and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) leading their respective primary fields, though most voters in both parties are far from making up their minds.

* On a related note, in a hypothetical match-up in the Garden State, the same poll showed Murphy with a significant lead over Guadagno, though again, a big chunk of New Jersey's electorate is undecided.

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Ron Kind (D) announced this week that he isn't running for governor in Wisconsin next year, and he'll instead seek re-election in his competitive district. Incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) is expected to run for a third term in 2018.

* Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's Democratic presidential campaign didn't work out too well last year, but he's apparently eyeing another try in 2020: "The leadership PAC tied to [O'Malley] conducted a poll in Iowa this month testing the state of play in the Hawkeye State."
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This Nov. 18, 2008 file photo shows the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip in southeastern Mont. (Photo by James Woodcock/Billings Gazette/AP)

GOP takes one step forward, two steps back on climate crisis

03/16/17 11:20AM

When it comes to Republicans taking the climate crisis seriously, it's sometimes necessary to grade on a curve. This piece from The New Republic, for example, may not look encouraging, but it nevertheless points to evidence of incremental progress.
Seventeen GOP members of Congress signed a resolution on Wednesday promising to take "meaningful and responsible action" to address human-caused climate change. It is the largest number of Republicans ever to join an action-oriented climate initiative in "maybe ever," said Jay Butera, a congressional liaison for Citizens' Climate Lobby, which helped put together the resolution. "I've been working on this issue for 10 years," he told me. "This is a high-water mark." Of course, these 17 Republicans represent just 7 percent of the House GOP.

The resolution, which is entirely symbolic, is a remake of a 2015 pledge which put 11 House Republicans on record agreeing with the scientific fact that humans cause climate change. Like the 2015 resolution, this year's resolution states that it's a "conservative principle" to "be good stewards of our environment, responsibly plan for all market factors, and base our policy decisions in science and quantifiable facts on the ground." It acknowledges that, left unaddressed, climate change will have devastating impacts on "key economic sectors," as well as on vulnerable populations.
The piece added that in the last Congress, the House's Climate Solutions Caucus had six Republican members. Now, its GOP representation is up to 15.

By most measures, that's a woefully small number given the total number of Republicans in Congress, but for those looking for some kind of hope, the modest improvement at least exists.

And then one looks at Donald Trump's proposed budget, and those hopes are quickly washed away by rising tides.
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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

Trump's border-wall dream moves forward, but not with Mexican money

03/16/17 10:41AM

If you actually believed Donald Trump's claims that Mexico would pay for his dream of a wall along the United States' southern border, I have some very bad news for you. Politico reports:
The Trump administration proposes to kick-start construction of a border wall with $4.1 billion in spending through 2018, an official said Wednesday.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the president would request $1.5 billion in a supplemental spending bill and $2.6 billion in his fiscal year 2018 budget.... Despite Trump's repeated campaign promises, the administration does not expect Mexico to pay for the wall. "It's coming out of the treasury," Mulvaney said.
Note, the reference to "the treasury" refers to money from U.S. taxpayers. In other words, Mexico isn't writing a $4.1 billion check; in Trump's vision, you are. (Asked last week whether Mexico would pay for Trump's border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Uh, no.")

The president is nevertheless committed to the idea, telling a Tennessee audience last night that the proposed border wall is "way ahead of schedule" -- which continues to be odd, since there is no actual schedule and the administration doesn't yet have money to begin the project.

The key takeaway from all of this, however, is whether that money will ever be approved. If the White House is counting on Congress ponying up the cash, officials in the West Wing may be disappointed.
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Republicans shouldn't count on the economy to bolster Trump

03/16/17 10:05AM

The newly released Fox News poll points to an electorate that's starting to feel better about the U.S. economy. This question, for example, stood out:
For you and your family, does it feel like the economy is getting better or getting worse?

Getting better: 48%
Getting worse: 29%
Sure, some of this may be the result of raw partisan attitudes -- Republican voters expressing greater confidence because their party is in control -- but 48% is nevertheless the highest this number has been in several years.

Similarly, the same poll asked respondents if they "approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling" the economy. A 47% plurality said they approve. Not bad,

Against this backdrop, one might assume, the president's support would look strong. After all, the economy is nearly always the public's top priority, so it stands to reason that if Americans feel good about the economy, they'll feel good about their president.

Except the exact same poll, pointing to the attitudes of the exact same respondents, shows Trump's approval rating dropping five points since last month to 43%.

The economy makes a big difference in a president's support, but it's not everything. In fact, let me introduce you to a man by the name of George W. Bush,
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Image: Paul Ryan

New polling: Americans are unimpressed with GOP health care plan

03/16/17 09:24AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday, “Donald Trump is so excited about barnstorming America in Democrat [sic] Senate district states where he won [by] double digits like Missouri and Indiana and North Dakota and Montana.” The point wasn't subtle: Ryan believes Senate Democrats from red states can be pushed to support the Republican health care plan by a president who's eager to apply pressure.

In theory, that makes perfect sense. In practice, red-state Dems probably aren't too worried about an unpopular president barnstorming through the country, pushing an unpopular bill.

The new Fox News poll, for example, shows Trump's approval rating dropping to 43%, down five points from the network's previous survey. The same poll found the health care plan the president is pushing is even less popular than he is:
"Do you favor or oppose the Republican health care plan that would replace Obamacare?"

Strongly favor: 17%
Somewhat favor: 17%
Somewhat oppose: 14%
Strongly oppose: 40%
Combined, it means the American Health Care Act, which some are calling "Trumpcare," has a 34% favorable rating and a 54% unfavorable rating. (Note that a fairly strong plurality put themselves in the "strongly oppose" camp.)

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act now has a 50% favorability rating in the Fox News poll, making it considerably more popular than the bill GOP officials are trying to replace it with. Making matters slightly worse, while Trump enjoys decent support on his handling of some issues, only 35% of Americans support the president's handling of health care.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, which my wife works for and which the Republican health care plan intends to gut, continues to enjoy more national support than the ACA or the Republican plan, with a 57% favorability rating.

For those keeping score, that means, according to Fox News' poll, Planned Parenthood is more popular than the Affordable Care Act, which is more popular than Donald Trump, who is more popular than Paul Ryan, who is more popular than the Republican health care plan, which is more popular than congressional Democrats, who are more popular than congressional Republicans.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump's defense of his wiretap conspiracy theory goes horribly awry

03/16/17 08:40AM

I've tried to keep an open mind about Donald Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory. The idea that President Obama ordered illegal surveillance of the then-Republican candidate obviously seems ridiculous, but it's plausible to me that some members of Team Trump had communications that were caught up in a legitimate, proper investigation.

But every time I try to take at least part of the story seriously, Trump shares some thoughts on the matter, which make his allegations sound crazy all over again. Last night, for example, Fox News aired a new interview between Tucker Carlson and the president.
CARLSON: On March 4th, 6:45 in the morning, you are down in Florida, and you tweet, "The former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me at Trump Tower during the last election." How did you find out? You said "I just found out," how did you learn that?

TRUMP: I had been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous, where he was talking about certain, very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said "Wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about." I have been seeing a lot of things.
Let's pause here for a moment. To hear the president tell it, when he told the world that he'd "just found out" about an illegal surveillance operation launched against him by Barack Obama, that was apparently a lie. The New York Times mentioned wiretapping in January, and Fox's Bret Baier mentioned it again more recently, but neither report made any mention of Obama targeting Trump.

Also note Trump's vague references to "things": he's read some "things," he's read "other things," and he's "seeing a lot of things." This wouldn't work for a child delivering a book report about a book he hasn't read, and it sounds even worse when a president is defending accusations of an illegal espionage operation.

The interview continued:
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Monday, leaving Iraq off the list of targeted countries at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S.

As Muslim ban flops again, Team Trump is its own worst enemy

03/16/17 08:00AM

Even if no one at the White House has ever been charged with a crime, members of Team Trump are probably familiar with the opening phrases of the Miranda warning: "You have the right to remain silent... Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law." When it comes to Donald Trump's Muslim ban, it's advice the president and his aides should try to keep in mind.

The original version of the administration's Muslim ban failed in the courts, with judges quoting Trump and his cohorts to prove that the policy was discriminatory. Last night, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, blocked implementation of the Muslim Ban 2.0, by again citing remarks from the president and his allies.
"A reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion," Watson wrote.

Chin said the public statements by Trump and his associates were crucial to the decision.
Indeed, the degree to which the White House was its own worst enemy is amazing. The ruling specifically notes, "A review of the historical background here makes plain why the Government wishes to focus on the Executive Order's text, rather than its context. The record before this Court is unique. It includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor."

The ruling then points to a series of public remarks from Donald Trump himself, in which he unambiguously explains the discriminatory intent of his own policy. In an unintentionally amusing twist, the court also quoted White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, telling a national television audience that the second executive order on this will "have the same basic policy outcome" as the first.

In other words, according to the White House, the first Muslim ban failed in the courts, so officials made superficial changes without altering the ban's broader goals -- which in turn made it easy for a federal court to reject the same policy.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters last night that Trump "should just continue talking, because he is making our arguments for us."
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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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