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Despite the 2016 attack, Trump ready to 'move forward' with Russia

07/10/17 08:30AM

After Donald Trump's recent skirmish with two MSNBC hosts, many were reminded of Melania Trump's plans to combat cyber-bullying -- which her husband appeared to be engaged in. Asked for comment, Melania Trump didn't seem at all concerned about the president's abusive behavior, saying through a spokesperson that "when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder."

The president does not, however, seem to apply that standard to the United States. When the country is attacked, Trump not only fails to punch back 10 times harder, he also agrees to cozy up to the adversary responsible for the attack. Here was the Washington Post's report from midday yesterday:

President Trump vowed Sunday to "move forward in working constructively with Russia," including forming a cybersecurity unit between the two countries, after Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump's pledge to partner with Putin on cybersecurity drew swift and stern denunciations from both Democratic and Republican officials, who described the U.S. president as dangerously naive for trusting his Russian counterpart.

After Trump's problematic meeting with the Russian president whose attack helped elevate Trump to power, there was some disagreement among officials from both countries about exactly what was said during the private discussion.

But the American president removed all doubt yesterday with a series of statements via Twitter. Trump said Putin "vehemently denied" intervening in the American election, and so, as far as Trump is concerned, it's time to "move forward."

And with that in mind, the U.S. leader added that he's prepared to form "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" with Russia "so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded."

As is always the case, it's best to pay less attention to what Trump and his aides say and more attention to what they do. In this case, in response to the most serious attack against the United States since 9/11, Team Trump has done nothing, is doing nothing, and intends to continue to do nothing -- except partner with Russia on some kind of "cyber-security unit."

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Donald Trump Jr. and his wife Vanessa Trump wait for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Trump Jr. meeting takes Russia scandal in an alarming direction

07/10/17 08:00AM

In any political controversy, when a relevant player starts dramatically changing his or her story, from one day to the next, it's a sign of real trouble.

In March, for example, Donald Trump Jr. said that during his father's campaign, he never participated in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals. Over the weekend, that claim fell apart when the New York Times reported that he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, best known for opposition to the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers.

The meeting took place in June 2016 in Trump Tower, and Trump Jr. was joined by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman at the time. None of the players deny that the meeting took place, but Trump Jr. said the discussion focused on an adoption program. This was "the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump's inner circle during the campaign."

Soon after Team Trump's story changed again, this time in a statement from the president's outside legal team, suggesting that Democrats were somehow to blame.

Yesterday, the story changed once more. As the Times reported, the meeting wasn't about adoptions.

President Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it. [...]

The meeting -- at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination -- points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin's meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

In a statement, Trump Jr. acknowledged that the meeting took place, and was arranged at the request of an acquaintance he did not name. "After pleasantries were exchanged," he said, "the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information." He added that "the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting."

Trump Jr. may not fully appreciate the significance of that statement.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.7.17

07/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Will we ever really know what was said? "President Donald Trump pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia's interference in the 2016 election when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Friday."

* A dozen plants were targeted: "Russia is suspected to be behind recent hacker intrusions at American power plants, including at least one nuclear facility, two U.S. officials told NBC News."

* He should be backing away from his absurd promise, not doubling down on it: "President Trump told reporters on Friday that he 'absolutely' still wants Mexico to pay for a border wall in the United States, ahead of a private meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Group of 20 summit."

* The latest elections-have-consequences moment: "Texas' new voter identification law fully absolves the state from having discriminated against minority voters in 2011, and courts should not take further action in a battle over the state's old voter ID law, President Donald Trump's Department of Justice argued in a legal filing Wednesday."

* Scary thought: "Buried in a New York Times profile of CNN chief Jeff Zucker was a brief comment from an unnamed official that could make the Trump administration's already rough political road that much rockier. 'White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary' CNN, the official told the Times’s Michael Grynbaum: 'a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T.'"

* Here's hoping other sheriffs know better: " The sheriff of one opioid-ravaged Ohio county is refusing to equip his deputies with Narcan, the drug that has saved the lives of countless overdosing addicts."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

The White House's volatile employment environment

07/07/17 04:11PM

Donald Trump's White House is unusual in a wide variety of ways, but one of its more bizarre traits is the competing factions that have taken root after just six months in office. Politico reported yesterday that in the West Wing, "top advisers have built up personal staffs to support their own agendas instead of using a traditional White House policy and messaging operation."

The article added that this dynamic includes staffers, such as Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, having their own press operations, separate from the White House's messaging apparatus. Even Republicans concede there is no precedent for anything like this.

The dynamic appears to be an outgrowth of the competing factions within Trump World, which includes a sizable Breitbart contingent, made up of several veterans of the right-wing website: Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Julia Hahn, and Tera Dahl.

This week, that faction got a little smaller.

As rival factions inside the White House continue to battle over urgent foreign policy decisions, a key ally of Donald Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon is leaving the National Security Council, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Tera Dahl, deputy chief of staff at the NSC and a former columnist for Breitbart, is being reassigned to a position outside of the White House, three people familiar with the decision told BuzzFeed News. The move frees up National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to install another staffer of his choosing in his drive to reshape the NSC to his liking.

As for the growing list of Trump World departures, we can now update the overall tally. Note, some of the departures were voluntary, some weren't.

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, confer at the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The new GOP pitch: Millions will 'choose' health care insecurity

07/07/17 03:20PM

It's amazing how important semantics have become to Republicans engaged in the health care fight. It started in March with a strange fight over the nuanced meaning of the word "everybody."

More recently, GOP officials have been reduced to insisting that taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicaid shouldn't ever be described as a "cut."

All of which brings us to the spirited, ongoing dispute about whether the tens of millions of Americans who'd lose their health coverage as a result of the Republican plan would really be "choosing" to go without. From TPM's summary:

As Senate Republicans lurch towards repealing the Affordable Care Act, party leaders and the Trump administration are pushing a new line about the projection that their bill would strip 22 million people of their health insurance over the next decade: that many or most of those people would be exercising their freedoms and dropping coverage by choice.

"If you're not going to force people to buy something they don't want, then they won't buy it," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Fox News. "So it's not that people are getting pushed off a plan. It's that people will choose not to buy something they don't like or want."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has been especially enthusiastic about pushing the "choice" argument. The Republican leader doesn't dispute the Congressional Budget Office's findings that the GOP bill would leave 22 million Americans uninsured; rather, Cornyn has tried to reframe this as some kind of positive.

Those tens of millions of Americans, as the Texas senator sees it, will simply "choose" not to have health security -- because Republicans are promoting "freedom."

Just so we're clear, Cornyn and Paul Ryan aren't kidding. This isn't some kind of strange attempt at dark humor or a satirical attempt to make Republicans appear cartoonishly cruel.

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Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches a piece of hardware with a warning label "Do Not Touch" at Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Maybe Trump and Pence should steer clear of astronomy altogether

07/07/17 01:27PM

A week ago, in a strange White House ceremony, Donald Trump signed an executive order to bring back the National Space Council. The event was odd for a variety of reasons, including the remarks the president made to wrap up the official gathering.

"This is infinity here," Trump said. "It could be infinity. We don't really don't know. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right?"

I honestly have no idea what the president was even trying to say.

A week later, the administration kept its focus on astronomy, dispatching Mike Pence to the Kennedy Space Center, where he was photographed putting his hand on equipment that featured a prominent sign that read, "Critical Space Flight Hardware: Do Not Touch."

You were warned, Vice President Mike Pence. The sign is pretty clear: "Do Not Touch."

Like the Roswell UFO incident or the "Star Wars" prequels, this photo leaves us asking: What happened here? Maybe the vice president had express permission to touch the "Critical Space Flight Hardware" during his tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Flight Center. Maybe he wanted to recreate that time President Donald Trump put his hands on a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia.

Maybe he was looking for that infinity the president was so excited about.

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Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Press Briefing At White House

Trump administration steps on Trump's 'death spiral' talking point

07/07/17 01:00PM

The nation's top Republican officials, including Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, routinely insist that the Affordable Care Act is beyond repair because it's entered a "death spiral." I've long believed they use this phrase because it sounds terrifying -- they like any sentence that includes the words "Obamacare," "death," and "spiral."

But the phrase is actually a term of art for those who take the policy debate seriously. At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, if the ACA were in "death spiral," we'd see declining enrollment numbers, with consumers withdrawing from the system because they can't afford the premiums and would rather pay the penalty than buy insurance they can't afford. This, in turn, pushes healthier people out of the market, leaving behind sicker people in need of more care, increasing prices in a cyclical and self-defeating way.

As regular readers know, the real-world evidence says this isn't happening. As Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Huffington Post in January, "It seems to me that enrollment holding steady amidst tremendous uncertainty about the future of the law and big premium increases is a positive sign. There is no evidence of a market collapse or insurance death spiral."

Complicating matters, it's not just experts reaching this conclusion. Even the Trump administration agrees that Trump's rhetoric is wrong. FiveThirtyEight explained this morning:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, last week released a report about a wonky aspect of the Affordable Care Act related to insurance payments. Tucked away in the report, however, was evidence that the health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016.

Contrary to the "death-spiral" narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

Remember, before the ACA's critics start shouting, "Fake news!" this data came directly from the Trump administration itself.

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In this Oct. 2015 file photo, Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a town hall meeting in Auburn, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine's LePage suggests he likes to 'make up' news stories

07/07/17 12:00PM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has a striking track record for inflammatory and offensive rhetoric, much of it directed at the media. A few years ago, for example, the Republican governor climbed into the cockpit of a fighter-jet simulator and declared, "I want to find the [Portland] Press Herald building and blow it up."

Yesterday, LePage added to his greatest-hits package with a new curious claim.

Gov. Paul LePage lashed out at the media for reporting he planned to leave the state during a budget impasse, and he suggested he sometimes concocts stories to mislead reporters. The Republican governor also characterized the state media as "vile," "inaccurate" and "useless."

"I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they'll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it's awful," he told WGAN-AM on Thursday.

LePage added, "The sooner the print press goes away the better society will be."

Note the phrasing: in the governor's mind, it's a foregone conclusion that the print press will die. He just hopes it happens sooner rather than later.

We've come a long way from Thomas Jefferson writing in 1787, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place in Billings, Mont., Nov. 6, 2012.

Trump's voting commission relies on evidence that doesn't exist

07/07/17 11:19AM

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R), a member of Donald Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission, appeared on MSNBC yesterday and had a rather unpleasant exchange with Katy Tur. After he eventually let Tur ask her first question about the absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, Blackwell turned to a familiar talking point.

"Let me say that the Pew Foundation found that we have corrupted voter registration files, which means that we have folks who have either registered to vote in two states or we have folks who are still registered to vote who happen to be dead and you create vulnerabilities for the integrity of the system."

If you watch the clip, Katy Tur reminded viewers of the relevant detail that Blackwell chose not to mention: the Pew study didn't point to any evidence of voter fraud. He was asked about fraud, but Blackwell's "proof" was unrelated to the question.

For voter-suppression advocates, this Pew Center report has become a life-preserver of sorts. Whenever Donald Trump has been asked to substantiate some of his more outlandish voter-fraud claims, he insists that Pew provided iron-clad evidence that backs him up. Kris Kobach has also repeatedly cited the Pew research as proof.

Perhaps they didn't understand what they read -- because the report plainly doesn't say what they think it says.

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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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