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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.10.17

01/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Dylann Roof: "An admitted white supremacist was sentenced to death Tuesday for massacring nine black worshipers who'd invited him to study the Bible with them at a Charleston, S.C., church, ending a two-phase federal trial that exposed the killer's hate-fueled motives and plumbed the chasms of grief left by the victims' deaths."

* Tune in tonight: "President Obama will say farewell Tuesday night to a nation he helped transform during his eight years in the White House."

* Hacking scandal: "The director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Russian hackers had penetrated the Republican National Committee's computer records, but he called it a 'limited penetration of old R.N.C.' computer systems that were 'no longer in use.'"

* Bomb threats, "which turned out to be unfounded, were reported all over the Eastern United States on Monday, at as many as 16 Jewish community facilities, one advocacy group estimated. Time and time again, the police responded, buildings were evacuated and, after tense waits, the centers and schools reopened."

* VW scandal: "Volkswagen has reached a deal with the United States government to pay $4.3 billion to resolve a federal criminal investigation into its cheating on emissions tests, the company said on Tuesday. As part of the settlement with federal officials, the company will plead guilty to criminal charges."

* U.S. allies want to remind Trump who are actual U.S. allies: "The prospect of President-elect Donald Trump striking a grand bargain with Russian President Vladimir Putin is unnerving to many traditional U.S. allies, but few stand to lose more than the pro-American leaders of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Those leaders, fighting on the front line of the battle against Putin's drive to upend the democratic world order, are asking Trump to think twice before choosing the wrong side."
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Image: President Elect Trump Continues His "Thank You Tour" In Grand Rapids, Michigan

On health care, Trump seems deeply confused about policy and process

01/10/17 04:22PM

When it comes to the health care debate, Republican unanimity has unraveled with surprising speed in recent weeks. GOP leaders in the House and Senate are committed to a "repeal and delay" strategy in which Republicans would repeal the Affordable Care Act quickly and work out the details in a few years, while a growing number of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers don't want to vote on repeal until the party has an alternative reform plan to replace "Obamacare."

To help work out the differences, Republicans could probably use some presidential leadership. Unfortunately for the GOP, however, the party is stuck with Donald Trump -- who made clear in a New York Times interview this afternoon that he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about when it comes to the most rudimentary details of the debate.
President-elect Donald J. Trump pressed Republicans on Tuesday to move forward with the immediate repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to replace it very quickly thereafter, saying, "We have to get to business. Obamacare has been a catastrophic event."

Mr. Trump's position undercuts Republican leaders who want a quick vote to repeal President Obama's signature domestic achievement but who also want to wait as long as two to three years to come up with an alternative. But he was also challenging the resolve of nervous Republicans in Congress who do not want any vote on a repeal until that replacement exists.
Hmm. There are two GOP factions on this: those who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then replace it with a more conservative alternative, and those who want to tackle both tasks simultaneously. Trump, in effect, said he kinda sorta disagrees with both approaches -- and kinda sorta agrees with both, too.

The president-elect, completely clueless about his own party's plans, went on to tell the Times he wants to see a repeal vote "probably some time next week." Trump then wants the replacement bill to follow "very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter."

That doesn't make any sense.
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A jobs record Obama can (and should) brag about

01/10/17 12:51PM

President Obama will deliver his farewell address tonight with a speech in Chicago, and it's a safe bet he'll mention his successes in turning the economy around, helping rescue the country from the Great Recession. It's a shame, though, that his presentation probably won't include charts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the final jobs report of the Obama era late last week, and it showed the United States added over 2.15 million jobs in 2016. That's the sixth consecutive year in which the country has seen job growth over 2 million -- a streak unseen since the late 1990s.

I created the above chart showing job growth by year for the four most recent presidential administrations -- two Democratic and two Republican. The blue columns point to the two Democratic administrations (darker blue for overall job growth, lighter blue for private-sector-only growth), and the red columns point to the two Republican administrations (darker red for overall job growth, lighter red for private-sector-only growth).

It's always tempting at the end of a presidency to compare various administrations' records, but there's some important context with Obama's record: he inherited a global economic crisis unlike anything we've seen in the modern era. And yet, the president's record on job creation -- over 15 million jobs created during the last seven years -- stacks up quite well, and easily surpasses the totals from recent GOP administrations.

The same is true of the unemployment rate.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.10.17

01/10/17 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will testify this week against Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) Attorney General nomination. It will be a historic first: no other sitting senator has ever testified against a Senate colleague during a confirmation hearing.

*Monica Crowley, Donald Trump's pick for a top position on the White House National Security Council, has now been accused of plagiarizing several passages in her doctoral dissertation. It's the third time Crowley has faced plagiarism allegations.

* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won't rule out the possibility of a presidential campaign in 2020. The longtime lawmaker will be 79 by the time the next Election Day rolls around.

* Virginia's gubernatorial race got a little more crowded yesterday, with Denver Riggleman, the owner of a craft distillery, launching his Republican candidacy. As the Washington Post noted, Riggleman, who's joining a four-person GOP primary, is running on a platform of bringing "blunt force trauma" to the political system.

* A variety of federal workers are required to work at the inauguration. Given that many of them are not Donald Trump fans, these workers are apparently not pleased about next week's event.
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Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe talks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol February 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Senator accidentally speaks his mind about Trump's cabinet picks

01/10/17 11:20AM

As President Obama's cabinet nominees were advancing in 2009, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent a letter to Democratic leaders, insisting among other things that senators have a chance to review the nominees' FBI background checks and the Office of Government Ethics' vetting letters.

Now, however, it's Donald Trump's cabinet nominees who are under consideration -- despite the fact that FBI background checks and Office of Government Ethics scrutiny haven't been completed for many of the president-elect's picks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took the cheeky step yesterday of sending Mitch McConnell his own 2009 letter yesterday, with a different date.

The point, of course, is that Senate Republicans seem to have a very different set of standards for Trump's nominees than they did for Obama's nominees. The Huffington Post found one GOP senator who was surprisingly candid on the matter.
When The Huffington Post asked [Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe] on Monday night if this same standard of disclosing foreign payments should apply to Trump's Cabinet nominees, he said it shouldn't.

"So it's different now because it's Trump?" we asked.

"That's just right," Inhofe said.

"That's right?" we asked to clarify.

"Yeah," he said.
The disclosure question arose because Inhofe signed onto a 2013 letter demanding "unprecedented disclosures" from former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), at the time Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, because Senate Republicans were concerned about "the potential for foreign conflicts of interest."

Inhofe seems to have no comparable concerns now -- because it's "different."
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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Republican still has his eyes on Hillary Clinton, emails

01/10/17 10:41AM

On Nov. 9, literally the day after the election, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his pre-election plans had not changed: he would continue to pursue Hillary Clinton and her email server management. A month later, he said it again.

"We can't just simply let this go," Chaffetz told Fox News in December.

Evidently, he means it. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:
The election may be over, but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use at the State Department, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told reporters Monday.

"This was never a political targeting from the beginning. Just because there's a political election doesn't mean it goes away. So of course I'm going to continue to pursue that," Chaffetz said.
This continues to be a bad idea. Clinton, a private citizen who hasn't held public office in nearly five years, didn't actually commit any crimes and the State Department has already changed its practices. Clumsy I.T. practices from several years ago may have inexplicably become one of the nation's most important issues in the presidential campaign, and the political world's preoccupation with this may have helped put an unqualified television personality in the Oval Office, but it's difficult to make a substantive case to keep the issue alive in 2017.

Besides, shouldn't the House Oversight Committee be preparing to conduct oversight of the administration that's actually in office?
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the NRA Convention at the Kentucky Exposition Center on May 20, 2016 in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

As AG, Jeff Sessions likely to reverse recent progress on pot

01/10/17 10:10AM

As Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) confirmation hearings get underway this morning, there's no shortage of reasons to consider him one of Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet nominees. The far-right Attorney General nominee's record on race, criminal justice, and other social issues issues puts him far outside the American mainstream.

But Bloomberg Politics had an interesting report yesterday on an under-appreciated aspect of Sessions' policy worldview.
Lawmakers in both parties are pressing Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions not to wipe out the booming marijuana industry in states like Colorado should he win confirmation as U.S. attorney general.

Sessions could theoretically use federal enforcement power to try to cripple what is already a $6 billion business that may soon triple after California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine voted in November to legalize recreational use of the drug.
As regular readers probably know, there have been some historic breakthroughs in recent years on U.S. drug policy, with voters in several states approving ballot measures to legalize recreational or medicinal marijuana use. These state-based policies have been allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.

But it didn't have to. As we've discussed, under federal law, officials could have ignored voters' will and blocked those policies from advancing. State experimentation has been allowed to flourish because President Obama and his team have a progressive approach to the issue.

Sessions doesn't.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves the stage with his wife Melania Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump. after the first Republican presidential debate, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trump can't even tell the truth about dress sales

01/10/17 09:20AM

Clothing sales in the nation's capital aren't generally the basis for national news coverage, but a president-elect who just can't stop telling self-aggrandizing falsehoods is worthy of some attention.

Early yesterday, Donald Trump talked to the New York Times about Meryl Streep's criticism, which led him to make a curious boast.
Mr. Trump said that, Ms. Streep and her allies aside, he was confident that celebrities and others would turn out in strong numbers for his inauguration.

"We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration, and there will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars," Mr. Trump said. "All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It's hard to find a great dress for this inauguration."
Obviously, the point of a boast like this is Trump's way of trying to hype himself and his inauguration. DC dress shops no longer have an inventory, the president-elect believes, because so many women are so excited about his inauguration that they've flocked to Washington, buying up formal attire and cleaning dress shops out.

Except, that's not all true. The Washington Post checked with stores in the area and found plenty of dresses on racks. The general manager of a Neiman Marcus store literally laughed when told about Trump's claim.

People magazine spoke to the owner of DC-area boutique, who said, "There's never been less demand for inaugural ballgowns in my 38 years."

Again, I honestly don't care about DC-area dress sales, but Donald Trump's propensity for saying things that aren't true -- especially claims in which he exaggerates his professed greatness -- are a real problem.

Kellyanne Conway lamented the fact yesterday that many media professionals don't give the president-elect "the benefit of the doubt." But that's a courtesy generally extended to be people who have some credibility -- or at least those who aren't routinely caught lying about things big and small.
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Ivanka Trump smiles at her her husband, Jared Kushner (L), as her father Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump speaks to supporters and the media on May 3, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by View press/Corbis/Getty)

Trump gives key White House post to son-in-law

01/10/17 08:40AM

There's been quite a bit of attention paid in recent months to Donald Trump's adult children, who've taken on a controversial role in their father's transition team, making the president-elect's conflict-of-interest problems considerably worse.

But when it comes to post-inaugural influence, it's not just Trump's adult kids who'll need scrutiny; it's also his son-in-law.
President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who emerged as a key figure in the Republican's successful 2016 campaign, will be named senior adviser to the president, the campaign announced Monday. [...]

Kushner was an influential behind the scenes confidant to his father-in-law during last year's election and has continued to be a leading voice in Trump's transition to the White House. But a number of legal questions potentially complicate the billionaire real estate developer's role in the incoming administration.
Transition officials insist there's no controversy here, but there are three main angles to keep an eye on.

First, appointing Kushner to this post may not be entirely legal. Anti-nepotism laws have been on the books for decades, limiting a president's power to appoint his relatives to powerful governmental posts. As a Washington Post report noted, it's "not completely clear whether this law applies specifically to White House staff," and Kushner is taking steps -- including foregoing a federal salary -- to help mitigate potential legal trouble.

It's a safe bet there will be a lawsuit anyway, just as there was when then-President Clinton appointed his wife to lead a health care task force in 1993.

Second, there are the potential conflicts of interest. Kushner has said he'll step down from his real-estate company and sell many of his assets, but as the New York Times reported, "[B]ecause he plans to sell to his brother or to a family trust controlled by his mother, some ethics lawyers interviewed questioned how meaningful the divestiture would be."
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Obamacare Tax Subsidies Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The Republican 'Obamacare' repeal crusade starts to unravel

01/10/17 08:00AM

Two months ago, when Republicans enjoyed a successful Election Day, one thing seemed obvious: GOP officials would use their dominant position to repeal the Affordable Care Act the moment they had the chance. It would be the first order of business in 2017, Republican leaders vowed.

There was every reason to believe the GOP would keep this promise -- that is, until very recently. The Huffington Post published a helpful report last night of how quickly the Republican approach is unraveling.
Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process.

[A]t least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine -- well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress.
To quickly recap, the GOP strategy since the elections is built around a clumsy idea called "repeal and delay." Roughly speaking, the gambit involves Republican lawmakers using their majority status to quickly pass legislation that repeals the Affordable Care Act, while also leaving the law -- or at least most of it -- intact for years while Republicans work on their alternative.

The original GOP idea, of course, was "repeal and replace," but that fell out of favor when it dawned on Republicans that replacing an effective reform system is extremely difficult, and they had no idea how to achieve their goals.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and other party leaders want to move forward on "repeal and delay" anyway, but they're running into an arithmetic problem: too many Republicans are skeptical of their own party's plan. Ryan and McConnell just don't have the votes.
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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.9.17

01/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida: "The Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people in a Florida airport appeared in court Monday and was told he could face the death penalty. Esteban Santiago gave brief yes or no answers to a federal judge who sought make sure he understood the charges against him, according to The Associated Press."

* Iran: "A U.S. warship fired warning shots at Iranian boats approaching the destroyer at high speeds as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to the Pentagon."

* Pakistan probably could've found better uses for that money: "Pakistan's military claimed Monday that it had fired its first submarine-launched cruise missile. The announcement is likely to raise tensions between Pakistan's military and arch-rival India's million-man army."

* Israel: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long inserted himself into Israel's fierce newspaper wars to bolster his grip on power. But an Israeli television station reported on Sunday that the police are looking into his involvement as part of a possible corruption case that could undermine his political future."

* Russia: "The Obama administration plans to blacklist five Russians, including the government's chief public investigator who is a close aide to President Vladimir V. Putin, for human rights abuses, throwing down a gauntlet to President-elect Donald J. Trump nearly two weeks before he takes office with a promise to thaw relations with Russia."

* A step backward: "Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on Saturday signed controversial legislation that will allow workers to refuse to pay union dues, a victory for Republicans who control the state government for the first time in nearly a century."

* An important angle: "As the dust settles on Russian interference in the United States election, journalists are confronting an aspect that has received less scrutiny than the hacking itself but poses its own thorny questions: Moscow's ability to steer Western media coverage by doling out hacked documents."

* The VW scandal isn't over: "The F.B.I. has arrested a Volkswagen executive in Florida, accusing him of playing a central role in a broad conspiracy to keep United States regulators from discovering that diesel vehicles made by the company were programmed to cheat on emissions tests."
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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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