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Dissatisfied with Americans' attitudes, Trump picks his own approval rating

04/06/18 03:10PM

About two weeks after his inauguration, Donald Trump was confronted with news reports about the absence of a honeymoon period and his failing popularity. The new president made a declaration about all public-opinion polls: "Any negative polls are fake news."

It was a curious posture to take publicly. To hear Trump tell it, polls he likes are real and trustworthy, while polls he dislikes are unreliable and "fake." Why? Because he says so.

As ridiculous as this was, this presidential assessment was a sign of things to come. In recent days, Trump has ignored a series of national, independent polls that show him unpopular, and instead promoted results from Rasmussen, a Republican-friendly pollster, which has published results that make him feel better.

This morning, however, the president went a little further during an interview on a conservative radio show. As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, Trump apparently believes even cherry-picked surveys are understating Americans' love for their president.

In today's interview with "Bernie and Sid in the Morning" on WABC radio, Trump listened modestly as his hosts showered obsequious praise on him for heroically making America great in the face of unremitting hate from the media.

"A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it's now 51," Trump said. "They say that it's 51 but add another 7 or 8 points to it.... They don't want to talk about it, but when they get into the booth they're going to vote for Trump."

OK, a few things.

First, Rasmussen's latest report puts Trump's approval rating at 47%, not 51%. But even putting that aside, Rasmussen's data remains an outlier, and most of the major polling outlets put the president's current support quite a bit lower. The average currently stands at about 40%.

Second, this entire subject is one Trump should avoid. At this point in his presidency, Trump is the least popular president since the dawn of modern American polling. With this in mind, the smart move would be for him to subtly steer conversations away from polls, pretending to be principally concerned with governing, not the ebbs and flows of day-to-day political noise.

Instead, Trump seems determined to keep the focus on one of the more notable embarrassments of his presidency.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

The Justice Dept disagrees with Trump about the legality of collusion

04/06/18 12:40PM

For the better part of a year, two of Donald Trump's favorite words have been "no collusion." The president seems to understand that the investigation into the Russia scandal is serious, and he seems to realize that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are exploring whether Moscow had help during its attack on American elections in 2016.

With this in mind, Trump has been eager to exonerate himself from the idea that his campaign was in league with Russian operatives during their intelligence operation against the United States.

But presented with all kinds of evidence pointing to cooperation between Trump's political operation and Russia during its attack, the president and his team have hedged a bit. Trump said in December, for example, "There is no collusion, and even if there was, it's not a crime."

Around the same time, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal defense team, added that even if Trump World colluded with Russia, it would be irrelevant as a criminal matter. Sekulow said, "There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion."

The point wasn't subtle. Trump and his team desperately want the public to believe there was no collusion, but they also seem to recognize the possibility that the Republican campaign really did cooperate with the foreign adversary during its attack on our democracy -- so they've made the case that such collusion would be perfectly permissible under the law.

The funny thing is, the Justice Department apparently disagrees with Trump World's legal analysis.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.6.18

04/06/18 12:00PM

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

* The Associated Press reported yesterday on a historic electoral breakthrough: "The number of women running for the U.S. House of Representatives set a record Thursday, most of them Democrats motivated by angst over President Donald Trump and policies of the Republican-controlled Congress."

* At his event in West Virginia yesterday, Trump invited two of the three Republicans running for the U.S. Senate this year: Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. He did not, however, invite former coal executive Don Blankenship.

* At the same event, for no apparent reason, the president talked about winning Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the 2016 election -- which was 17 months ago.

* The latest Cook Political Report analysis on the 2018 midterms reported, "Our latest ratings feature 55 competitive seats (Toss Up or Lean Democratic/Republican), including 50 currently held by Republicans and five held by Democrats.... We continue to view Democrats the slight favorites for House control." This new report changed the ratings for 13 districts, and all 13 moved in the Democrats' favor.

* In Mississippi this morning, former Rep. Mike Espy (D) officially kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign, running for the seat Sen. Thad Cochran (R) gave up for health reasons. His campaign operation recently commissioned a poll showing him doing well in the race, but the survey didn't include some of the other Democratic candidates.

* To the surprise of no one, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) yesterday launched a campaign to get his old job back. Pawlenty is trying to make the transition back to elected office following a stint as the head of a banking lobbying group.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

With China and trade, Trump discovers 'nothing is easy'

04/06/18 11:20AM

At a White House event this week, Donald Trump reflected briefly on the burgeoning trade war he's initiating with China.

"We've helped rebuild China over the last 25 years, if you take a look at what's happened. We have helped rebuild China. So we intend to get along with China, but we have to do something very substantial about the trade deficit. And with that, nothing is easy."

As a factual matter, it's easy to take issue with nearly all of these claims. China's economy has grown considerably in recent decades, but the idea that the United States "helped rebuild" the country is dubious. For that matter, the president's insistence that "we have to do something very substantial about the trade deficit" is problematic, since we don't actually have to do anything at all.

But it's that last line that stood out for me: "Nothing is easy."

There's certainly some truth to that, though I'd love to hear the White House explain when, exactly, the president came to this realization -- because in the recent past, Trump was under the impression that these issues were quite easy, indeed.

In June 2016, for example, then-candidate Trump promised to target China with tariffs and assured voters his tactics would succeed with little effort. "This is very easy," he said at the time. "This is so easy!"

Just last month, he was at it again. After his initial moves on tariffs, the president declared, "[T]rade wars are good, and easy to win." It apparently took a month for Trump to switch gears and discover that "nothing is easy."

One of the amazing things about Trump's presidency has been watching the process of presidential discovery, in which he's surprised by complexities the rest of us already recognized.

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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 apparently wasn't kidding about targeting terrorist's families

04/06/18 10:40AM

On his first full day as president, Donald Trump traveled to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, spoke in front of a memorial wall, and delivered one of the strangest presidential speeches I've ever seen.

Trump attacked journalists, lied about the size of his inaugural crowd, assured those in attendance about how impressed he was with his intellect, reflected on the number of instances in which he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and speculated about taking Iraqi oil.

But the Washington Post reported this week on something else that happened when the president visited the CIA and "was ushered up to the agency's drone operations floor."

Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. "If you can do it in 10 days, get it done," he said, according to two former officials familiar with the meeting.

Later, when the agency's head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, "Why did you wait?" one participant in the meeting recalled.

For those with a moral compass, such a comment is obviously jarring, especially coming from a president. But for those who've covered Trump's public positions, this isn't too surprising.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

Trump literally throws away his 'boring' script on tax cuts

04/06/18 10:08AM

Donald Trump has made it painfully clear that he doesn't much like to read materials prepared for him by White House officials. Yesterday, however, offered a rather comical example of the phenomenon. Politico  reported:

President Donald Trump on Thursday ditched his "boring" prepared remarks at a tax roundtable in West Virginia, and instead repeated his claim that "millions" of people are voting illegally and boasted that he was right about the threat of Mexican rapists.

"You know, this was going to be my remarks, it would've have taken about two minutes, but to hell with it," the president said, tossing papers in the air. "That would have been a little boring, a little boring."

When you see reports that Trump threw away his prepared remarks, it's worth appreciating the fact that he literally did this.

Republican leaders tend to believe focusing on tax breaks is key to helping GOP candidates in this year's midterm elections, and White House staffers probably put a fair amount of effort in writing yesterday's presidential script. And early on at yesterday's event in West Virginia, everything appeared to be on track. Trump bantered with those seated around him for a while, before saying, "And I think with that, I'll start." That's when Trump decided that talking about tax cuts was "boring" -- so he threw his remarks in the air.

His like-minded audience found this entertaining, but this was a reminder that Trump often acts as if he thinks being president is a drag. Talking about tax breaks at an event about tax breaks? Yawn. It's vastly more fun, Trump decided, to talk about what Trump like to talk about.

And so, the president complained incessantly about immigration. And talked about his 2016 election victory. And made up baseless claims about rapists. And pretended "millions" of people voted illegally during the last election cycle.

Practically everything the president said about these subjects was demonstrably wrong, but Trump events aren't about accuracy. They're about self-indulgence and what Trump sees as the keys to his political success.

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Image: 2018 Adult Video News Awards - Arrivals

Trump breaks his silence on Stormy Daniels (to the delight of her lawyer)

04/06/18 09:20AM

Since Donald Trump's Stormy Daniels scandal broke, the president has said literally nothing about the controversy. Not in a tweet. Not in a Fox News appearance. Total silence.

Yesterday, however, Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One, and whether he intended to or not, the president made some news.

Q: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No. What else?

Q: Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Q: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know. No.

And why is this important? A couple of reasons, actually.

First, Trump's latest version of events -- he didn't know about the hush-money payment and has no idea where the $130,000 came from -- seems to contradict what we learned last month. The Wall Street Journal  reported in early March that Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, missed some payment deadlines in the fall of 2016 because "he couldn't reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign." The same article added that Cohen "complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment" to the adult-film actress.

In other words, Cohen reportedly implicated the president in the pre-election scheme to pay hush money to one of his alleged mistresses before she undermined his candidacy. In that version of events, Trump was not only aware of the payment, his lawyer expected to be repaid the $130,000.

Yesterday, however, Trump said largely the opposite. Which leads us to the second reason why this is important -- and why Stormy Daniels' lawyer seems so pleased.

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Following February's highs, job growth slowed down in March

04/06/18 08:49AM

Headed into this morning, economic forecasters said they expected another strong jobs report today. That's not quite what happened.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the economy added 103,000 jobs in March, while the unemployment rate held steady at 4.1% for the sixth consecutive month. In both cases, forecasts projected better progress, making today's report disappointing.

Making matters slightly worse, the revisions for the two previous months -- January and February -- point to a combined loss of 50,000 jobs as compared to previous BLS reports.

As a rule, I'd recommend against over-interpreting any one report. February's totals, for example, were still excellent, and we'd need a lot more evidence before drawing any conclusions about a cooling job market. That said, Donald Trump and the White House have been running around telling people that 2018 was shaping up to be the strongest year for jobs "in more than two decades." As of this morning, the first quarter of 2018 was the best for job creation since the first quarter of ... 2015.

Above you'll find the chart I run every month, showing monthly changes in total jobs since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly changes under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to monthly job changes under the Obama administration.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

EPA's Scott Pruitt buried under avalanche of scandals

04/06/18 08:00AM

The funny thing is, Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump's far-right EPA chief, was plagued by serious controversies  before last week. Now, of course, the Oklahoma Republican's ethical and legal crises have reached an entirely new level.

The Washington Post did a nice job summarizing several key reasons the EPA administrator's career is in so much jeopardy: Pruitt stands accused of corruption, misusing public resources, and several abuses of power, and the evidence to bolster the claims is, at least for now, largely uncontested.

That list, however, isn't comprehensive -- it doesn't include the EPA chief's brazen dishonesty about some of his messes. Pruitt claimed, for example, that his lobbyist landlord didn't have any business before the EPA. That wasn't true. He also claimed that his sweetheart-deal lease was approved by ethics officials, but those same officials now say they didn't have all of the pertinent details. He also claimed he had nothing to do with giving dubious raises to his top aides, but was apparently lying about that, too.

What's more, as Rachel explained on the show last night, there's no need to separate Pruitt's on-the-job failings with his ethics scandals, since his relationship with former Trump regulatory czar Carl Icahn helps show that the two areas are intertwined.

Meanwhile, the number of congressional Republicans calling for Pruitt's ouster is now up to three -- which is an underwhelming number given the circumstances, but which is better than zero.

Under normal circumstances, the far-right EPA chief would not only be fired, he'd also be shopping around for a good defense attorney. The question, however, is what the president intends to do with Pruitt. The issue came up yesterday when Trump chatted briefly with reporters on Air Force One.

Q: How are you feeling about Scott Pruitt, Mr. President? Is he --

TRUMP: I think he's done a fantastic job at EPA. I think he's done an incredible job. He's been very courageous. Hasn't been easy, but I think he's done an absolutely fantastic job. I think he'll be fine.

Asked about the latest reports on Pruitt's controversies, the president said he'd "have to look at it," before adding that his EPA administrator has done a "terrific job" and a "great job."

So, what happens now?

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.5.18

04/05/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This was supposed to be an event about taxes: "President Donald Trump touted the urgency of tougher security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, as he claimed that women 'are being raped at numbers never seen before' while an immigrant caravan was heading toward the U.S."

* This just got more complicated: "President Trump said Thursday that he did not know that his personal attorney paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 days before the presidential election to prevent her from publicly accusing Trump of having an affair."

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, four of them high-ranking, were reassigned or demoted, or requested new jobs in the past year after they raised concerns about the spending and management of the agency's administrator, Scott Pruitt."

* Him again? "In his latest round of anti-FBI shenanigans, House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is threatening legal action against the Justice Department for refusing to show him unredacted versions of materials documenting the launch of the FBI's Russia probe."

* Rep. John Duncan Jr: "A Republican congressman from Tennessee may have improperly converted more than $100,000 from his campaign committee and leadership political action committee into personal use over the past decade, according to an independent ethics office that asked the House Ethics Committee to review the matter."

* A Trump administration official will actually get something right: "America's top doctor has urged more Americans to start carrying an overdose antidote to help fight back against the nation's spiraling opioid crisis. In remarks set for Thursday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams will say he wants people at risk of overdosing, as well as their friends and family, to start carrying the naloxone antidote and learn how to use it to save lives."

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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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