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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.14.18

03/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Spy poisoning: "Britain is to expel 23 Russian diplomats allegedly operating as undeclared intelligence officers after Moscow ignored a midnight deadline to explain how its nerve weapon was used in the attempted assassination of a former double agent on U.K. soil."

* I wish her boss were as forceful on the issue: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday the United States believes Russia is responsible for the attempted assassination of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain -- and the U.N. Security Council should hold the Kremlin 'accountable.'"

* House Intelligence Committee: "One day after the GOP announced they had completed a draft report concluding that the Trump campaign had not colluded with Russians in an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton, Democrats issued a 22-page document specifying unresolved issues they said the committee needed to continue exploring -- and that they would attempt to do so even without the GOP's cooperation."

* Hmm: "U.S. retail sales fell for a third straight month in February as households cut back on purchases of motor vehicles and other big-ticket items, pointing to a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter."

* Minnesota: "Three men charged Tuesday with illegally possessing a machine gun are suspected of bombing a mosque in Minnesota and attempting to bomb an abortion clinic in Illinois last year, federal officials said."

* Everyone realizes how absurd this is, right? "Before House Republicans had even learned the details of a new White House proposal for a three-year renewal of DACA paired with three years of border wall funding, the White House had already walked back the idea."

* ICE: "A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as 'false' and 'misleading' statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump taps CNBC anchor for White House's top economics job

03/14/18 03:13PM

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump conceded he's looking "very strongly" at CNBC's Larry Kudlow to lead the White House's National Economic Council. As of today, he's apparently done looking.

President Donald Trump plans to name longtime supporter Larry Kudlow as his top economic adviser, sources told CNBC Wednesday.

Kudlow would replace National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who resigned earlier this month after clashing with the president over controversial steel and aluminum tariffs. Kudlow also was not a fan of the policy, although Trump said Tuesday that "he has now come around to believing in tariffs as a negotiating point."

There's every reason to believe the CNBC anchor will fit in just fine on Team Trump. As a Washington Post  analysis noted yesterday, Kudlow is "as standard a Wall Street Republican as you'll find. He believes in the Reaganite Holy Trinity of low taxes, low inflation and free trade. He believes in them so much that he's spent the better part of the last 20 years proclaiming them on TV and radio."

That, alas, hasn't always worked out for him. By some measures, Kudlow has been consistently mistaken about many of the major economic debates of the last several years.

But what I think is the most important takeaway of today's news is that there are few tools in the United States more important than Donald Trump's television remote control.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

After another election setback, GOP scrambles to find its footing

03/14/18 12:45PM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump assured the public that Republican candidates are undefeated -- five wins and no losses -- in recent congressional special elections. That's plainly wrong, though House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared the same day, "There's already been five special elections and Republicans have won all five of those."

Using that same faulty arithmetic, some Republicans are content with recent results.

Walking into the meeting, New York. Rep. Chris Collins, a close ally of President Donald Trump, called the race a "one-off."

"We've won five [special elections]; they've won one. I'm feeling pretty good," he added.

I'll confess to being mystified by this. There was a congressional special election in California's 34th district last summer, which a Democrat won easily. There was also a U.S. Senate special election in Alabama in December that the GOP may have noticed.

Pretending losses didn't happen doesn't make them go away.

But even if we put Chris Collins' curious blind spots aside, the larger issue is the Republican Party's reaction to Conor Lamb's (D) apparent victory over Rick Saccone (R) in Pennsylvania's special election. Politico's report added, many GOP officials "seemed to be in denial."

The most common argument seems to be that Lamb ran "as a conservative," and since the vast majority of Democratic candidates will run on progressive platforms, this race was a fluke. There are two key problems with the assertion. First, Lamb may be to the right of the Democratic Party at the national level, but on several core issues, he's very much within the Dems' mainstream.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.14.18

03/14/18 12:00PM

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

* Four days ago, at a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump said, in reference to Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone, “This guy should win easily, and he is going to win easy.” Evidently, that was wrong.

* The news wasn't all bad for Republicans yesterday. A GOP candidate in Tennessee won a state Senate special election in a landslide, even outperforming Donald Trump, who carried this same district by 44 points in 2016.

* It's been a while since we saw data out of New Jersey, so it was of great interest to see the latest Quinnipiac poll yesterday, which showed Sen. Bob Menendez (D) leading Bob Hugin (R) by 17 points, 49% to 32%.

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign continues to add staffers, despite the fact that the race is still years away. This week, former national campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson signed onto the 2020 effort as a senior adviser.

* The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity is reportedly planning to "step up its advertising" in Indiana and Missouri, spending nearly $4 million in the hopes of defeating Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly.

* While the president draws attention to his unpopularity for reasons that aren't altogether clear, the latest CBS News poll found Trump with a 38% approval rating. (He insisted over the weekend he's "around 50%.")

* Former Attorney General Eric Holder, helping lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, wasn't kidding about focusing on down-ballot races: he'll be in Wisconsin this week, supporting Rebecca Dallet in a state Supreme Court race. The election is April 3.

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

On job numbers, White House spins in wildly unnecessary ways

03/14/18 11:22AM

If you stop by the White House's homepage right now, you'll see a headline at the top of the site that reads, "The Strongest Average Monthly Job Growth in More Than Two Decades." It leads to a piece that makes the case that job growth in January and February -- and only January and February -- has the U.S. on track for the best year since the mid-1990s.

This is not a good argument. Sure, job growth in the first two months of the year was great -- combined, we saw growth of 552,000 jobs -- but no one seriously tries to extrapolate annual results from just two months.

Except Donald Trump and his team, that is.

I'm not unsympathetic to the White House's eagerness to brag about encouraging economic news. What Team Trump shouldn't do, however, is try to spin good data in misleading ways.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, told reporters last week, "Jobs are coming in at record numbers." No, actually, they're not. Job growth in Trump's first year, for example, was slower than any year of Barack Obama's second term. We topped 300,000 jobs in February, which is fantastic, but we crossed that same threshold nine times during Obama's presidency. No records are being broken.

As for the 552,000 jobs created in the first two months of 2018, that's excellent news, but it's easy to find even better back-to-back monthly totals in recent years. In June and July of 2016, for example, when Trump first launched his campaign. the U.S. economy created 610,000 jobs in just those two months -- though it didn't stop Trump from telling Americans the economy was terrible.

Indeed, while the truth should be good enough, the Republican president is himself describing the latest job numbers in ways that are plainly and demonstrably dishonest.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Pressed on gun policy shift, White House points at Obama

03/14/18 10:42AM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump endorsed an ambitious vision for "comprehensive" reforms to the nation's gun laws, including everything from hiking age requirements on long-guns to "powerful" background checks to gun confiscation without prior due process. This week, the White House announced that the president's vision has been dramatically curtailed and moved in an NRA-friendly direction.

At a briefing this week, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "Why he didn't go forward with what he has proposed earlier?" She responded by pointing on the need for congressional support, before changing the subject -- to Barack Obama.

"Let's not forget that the Obama administration had the White House and all of Congress for two years, and never did anything. This president is actually supporting specific pieces of legislation and still laying out other priorities that he would like to see talked about and implemented, whether we have to do that on a state level..."

I realize Team Trump tends to see almost everything through an Obama-centric lens, but this is getting a little silly. The Republican White House is bothered by Democratic inattention to new gun laws in 2010? As if any such measure wouldn't have died at the hands of a GOP filibuster?

But as it turns out, the Trump White House is also taking this argument a step further. The New York Times  reported this week:

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump wants to hit the campaign trail, but who'll stand by his side?

03/14/18 10:11AM

Late last year, Donald Trump tried to help then-Sen. Luther Strange (R) win his primary election in Alabama. Local Republicans ignored the president's suggestion. Soon after, Trump tried to get Strange's opponent, Roy Moore, elected to the Senate. That didn't work, either.

Nevertheless, the Washington Post  reported a few days after a Democrat won Alabama's special election that the president and his team were planning "a full-throttle campaign to plunge the president into the midterm elections." White House officials had already met with 116 candidates, and Trump reportedly told aides he "wants to travel extensively" and spend "much of 2018 campaigning."

In January, Trump told Reuters that he intends to spend "probably four or five days a week" helping GOP candidates in 2018.

At face value, none of this was surprising. It's not exactly a secret that the president prefers campaigning to governing, and with Republicans feeling anxious about their electoral prospects, it stands to reason Trump would be eager to hit the campaign trail. After all, a president can realistically only invest so much time on golfing and watching conservative media.

The better question is the extent to which Trump will be welcome on the stump. Axios had an interesting item yesterday.

[T]he reality is that out of the 23 most vulnerable House Republicans, only two candidates said they would accept Trump's help -- and neither were especially eager about it.

Axios reached out to the 23 House Republicans who represent districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and asked whether they'd welcome a presidential visit. In fairness, several of these districts are represented by GOP incumbents who are retiring this year.

But others are running for re-election -- and they're not rolling out the welcome mat for their party's president.

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U.S. Sen. John Tester (D-MT), listens to testimony during a Senate Homeland Security hearing on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on border security as some are calling for an overhaul of immigration...

In Montana race, Green Party candidate was on GOP's payroll

03/14/18 09:20AM

There are more than a few Senate Democrats running in red states this year, including Sen. Jon Tester (D) in Montana, whom Republicans are eager to beat.

How eager? The Associated Press ran an interesting report late yesterday.

A man who registered as a Green Party candidate for Montana's U.S. Senate race was on the state Republican Party's payroll and heads a newly formed anti-tax group, according to a review of election documents.

Timothy Adams filed as a challenger Monday against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who faces a tough re-election campaign, in a race where a Green Party candidate could siphon votes from the Democrat.

Now, I suppose it's possible that this guy, who was paid by the Montana Republican State Central Committee as recently as 2015, underwent a dramatic reevaluation of his political beliefs, and somehow went from the far-right to the far-left quite quickly.

But it seems more likely that the GOP is engaged in some unfortunate electoral mischief.

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Trump raises eyebrows with call for 'a space force'

03/14/18 08:42AM

Last summer, Donald Trump hosted a White House event in recognition of an executive order on the National Space Council. It wouldn't have been especially notable, were it not for the president sharing some unscripted thoughts on the topic of the day.

"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 still have no idea what he was even trying to say.

Regardless, between this and his comments yesterday, I'm starting to think the president should avoid this issue altogether. Politico reported:

President Donald Trump predicted on Tuesday that the U.S. would reach Mars "very soon" and backed the idea of creating a militaristic "space force," seemingly expressing support for a measure that faced opposition from officials in his own administration.

Touting recent technological advancements, Trump forecast that "very soon we're going to Mars" -- a feat that he said wouldn't have been possible had Hillary Clinton prevailed in the 2016 election.

Let's unpack this one, because it's kind of amazing.

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Image: Democratic Congressional Candidate Conor Lamb Holds Election Night Event

Dem appears to pull an upset in district Trump won by 20 points

03/14/18 08:00AM

Republican officials had reason to worry about the 2018 election cycle before yesterday, but it's safe to say their anxiety levels reached new heights overnight.

Democrat Conor Lamb is the apparent winner over Republican Rick Saccone in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, according to an NBC News projection.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Lamb was leading by 641 votes in a district long held by the GOP and one that President Donald Trump -- who backed Saccone -- carried by 20 points in 2016.

Lamb declared victory early Wednesday morning. Saccone has not conceded and his campaign is in touch with legal counsel.

I can appreciate why the "apparent" caveat is unsatisfying, but that's where things stand. Given the best information available right now, it looks like Lamb has narrowly won this race.

And that's not an outcome many would've predicted when the special-election campaign started. As we discussed yesterday, Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, south of Pittsburgh in the Keystone State's southwest corner, can safely be described as a Republican stronghold. John McCain won here by 11 points in his presidential campaign in 2008; Mitt Romney fared even better four years later, winning by 17 points; and Donald Trump carried the district by a 20-point margin.

The area's former congressman, Republican Tim Murphy, ran unopposed in the last two election cycles – because no local Democrats saw any point in going up against him.

When a sex scandal led to Murphy's resignation, GOP officials assumed the party would have little trouble holding onto the seat. After all, a Democrat winning here would be like a Democrat winning a U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama.

Wait, that recently happened, too.

As the dust settles, it's worth keeping a few things in mind:

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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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