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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Trump doubts Russia's role in 2016 attack, mocks US intel agencies

07/06/17 08:00AM

When it comes to Russia's attack on the American elections, the Kremlin wants nothing more than for U.S. officials to raise doubts about Russia's role. Every time an American tries to shield Vladimir Putin's government, or suggests others may bear responsibility, he or she is effectively defending Russia's crimes by boosting the Kremlin's propaganda strategy.

And with that in mind, it was extraordinary to see Donald Trump once again question Russia's role in the attack. The Washington Post reported:

"I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could well have been other countries, I won't be specific," Trump said at a news conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda. [...]

"Nobody really knows," Trump added. "Nobody really knows for sure."

The American president's lengthy response meandered for a while -- it included extensive whining about Barack Obama, a rather dramatic break with protocol for a sitting president appearing on foreign soil -- and eventually included mockery of American intelligence agencies.

"I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction," Trump said. "How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong and it led to a mess."

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.5.17

07/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "One U.S. Army soldier was killed and two others were injured in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Wednesday."

* A stunning scene in Caracas: "Venezuelan lawmakers who oppose President Nicolás Maduro were beaten and bloodied on the floor of congress Wednesday, as pro-government mobs stormed the building, apparently facing little or no resistance from security guards."

* An important ruling: "The Trump administration cannot delay an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting methane pollution from oil and natural gas drilling, a federal court ruled Monday."

* Mass shooting in Arkansas: "Two people remain in critical condition after a mass shooting at a Little Rock nightclub early Saturday, authorities said during a news conference at city hall that afternoon. Twenty-five people were hit by gunfire when shots rang out during a rap show around 2:30 a.m."

* Pentagon: "A plan to allow transgender recruits to join the United States military beginning on Saturday has been delayed for six months by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a Pentagon spokeswoman said on Friday."

* Sign of the times: "In their campaign program for the German election, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have dropped the term 'friend' in describing the relationship with the United States."

* "Medicaid Worsens Your Health? That's a Classic Misinterpretation of Research."

* I'm glad we could get this straightened out: "A report on Alex Jones' InfoWars claiming child sex slaves have been kidnapped and shipped to Mars is untrue, NASA told The Daily Beast on Thursday."

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Anthony Kennedy

Justice Kennedy's future plans can change the nation's direction

07/05/17 04:27PM

No one expected the Supreme Court to issue any stop-the-presses, landmark rulings on the last day of their term last week, but much of the political world was keeping an eye on the high court anyway for one important reason: there were rumors that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy might retire.

By any fair measure, such a move would set off a political earthquake, which is why many legal observers breathed a sigh of relief when the 80-year-old Reagan appointee did not announce the end of his tenure. The reprieve, however, was temporary. NPR's Nina Totenberg reported over the holiday weekend:

[I]t is unlikely that Kennedy will remain on the court for the full four years of the Trump presidency. While he long ago hired his law clerks for the coming term, he has not done so for the following term (beginning Oct. 2018), and has let applicants for those positions know he is considering retirement.

Kennedy's position on the court is more than consequential. In the most hotly contested and closely divided cases, his vote often decides the outcome.

Given the timing of next fall's term -- the one for which Kennedy has not hired clerks -- don't be too surprised if the justice steps down around the time of next year's midterm elections.

And if that happens, the events that follow will likely change the direction of the nation for a generation. Indeed, a Washington Post report added that it's "difficult to overstate the significance of all this."

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Trump could use a coherent foreign policy towards North Korea

07/05/17 01:00PM

In April, Vice President Mike Pence visited several Asia-Pacific countries, and spent some time at the demilitarized zone between South Korea and North Korea. Pence wasn't originally scheduled to go outside a South Korean building at the DMZ, but the Republican said he wanted to make a point

"I thought it was important that we went outside," Pence said. "I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face."

It's never been altogether clear what that was supposed to mean, but whatever the intended message, it appears the vice president's steely gaze didn't affect North Korea's direction.

North Korea fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday, military officials said, a significant step forward in Pyongyang's weapons program and an escalation of a perilous nuclear standoff with the United States. [...]

The ICBM, which is believed to be "two-stage," officials said, would have a range of at least 3,500 miles and thus be able to reach Alaska.

In January, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!" This hasn't held up especially well.

What's more, even before he became a presidential candidate, Trump used to see North Korean missile launches as evidence of American weakness. In late 2012, for example, he tweeted, "We can't even stop the Norks from blasting a missile.... It is really sad." This hasn't held up well, either.

Misplaced missives aside, part of the problem is that the president doesn't seem to have an actual policy towards North Korea.

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Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.

Clay Higgins' congressional career is off to a provocative start

07/05/17 12:37PM

Louisiana's Clay Higgins, in his capacity as a local sheriff, appeared in a video last year in which he described several wanted members of a street gang as "animals" and "heathens," adding, "You will be hunted, you will be trapped, and if you raise a weapon to a man like me, we'll return fire with superior fire."

After the video surfaced, Higgins resigned -- which cleared the way for his election to Congress, where he's already making quite an impression.

After a terrorist attack in London last month, the freshman Republican congressman wrote that "the free world" and "all of Christendom" is at war with "Islamic horror."

And over the holiday weekend, Higgins managed to make headlines for himself once again. The Times-Picayune reported:

Just in time for Independence Day, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, has a video message for America. But instead of visiting constituent cookouts, shooting off fireworks and waving the United States flag, Higgins delivers a stark dispatch from the Nazis' Auschwitz concentration camp at Oswiecim, Poland.

"A great sense of dread comes over you in this place," Higgins says, leading the viewer on a five-minute, nine-second tour of the site, with a dirge-like solo violin playing in the background.

[Update: Higgins apologized this afternoon and pulled the video.]

In a video posted online on Saturday, the GOP lawmaker, referencing Auschwitz, said, "This is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible. The world's a smaller place now than it was in World War II. The United States is more accessible to terror like this, horror like this.

"It's hard to walk away from the gas chambers and ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment -- unwavering commitment -- to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world."

Higgins made the comments while shooting the video himself, selfie-style, including inside a former gas chamber.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.5.17

07/05/17 12:00PM

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

* In Missouri, Rep. Ann Wagner (R), Republicans' top choice to take on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year, announced on Monday she'll instead seek re-election to the House.

* On a related note, GOP attention is now shifting to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), just six months into his first term, as a possible McCaskill rival.

* In Virginia, Tom Perriello's Democratic gubernatorial campaign fell short this year, but the former congressman isn't walking away from the arena altogether. The Washington Post reports that Perriello is now leading a new political action committee "aimed at ending the GOP's longtime majority in the commonwealth's House of Delegates."

* Nina Turner, who now leads Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution, was asked in an interview with The Nation last week whether the activist group is "working to bring some unity" to factions in Democratic politics. "No," Turner replied. "Not really." Asked if Our Revolution intends to endorse some non-Democratic candidates, Turner added, "You know what, yes. We are open to it."

* There have already been a handful of closely watched state special elections, and the next one will be in the state of Washington, where a state Senate race will dictate control of the chamber. Party primaries are next month and the special election will be in November.

* An interesting observation: "A Smart Politics analysis finds that there have been at least two U.S. Senators who did not seek another term in each of the 52 election cycles since the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913, but almost all of the 33 lawmakers up for reelection in 2018 have already confirmed they are running." A handful of incumbents, including North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, have not yet formally announced their intentions, but each are expected to run.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Away from DC, only some Republicans willing to hear from constituents

07/05/17 11:30AM

One of the reasons Senate Republican leaders tried to rush a vote on their regressive health care plan is they feared the consequences of public pressure. If rank-and-file GOP lawmakers headed home during the 4th of July break and were confronted with legions of angry constituents, they may be less likely to return to Capitol Hill eager to start gutting Americans' health security.

There is, however, a challenge facing those eager to urge their senators to oppose the Republican health plan: many of these GOP senators won't be easy to find.

Only a handful of Senate Republicans, for example, are hosting town-hall events this week, and the New York Times reported that most GOP senators did not participate in Independence Day parades in their home states.

The Washington Post noted that one of the few Republican senators to engage with her constituents yesterday heard thanks for opposing her party's legislation.

For the 15th year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spent July 4 marching through this town of 1,331, a short boat ride away from Canada. She walked and waved, next to marching bands and Shriner-driven lobster boats. Her constituents cheered -- and then asked whether she would vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"There was only one issue. That's unusual. It's usually a wide range of issues," Collins said in an interview after the parade. "I heard, over and over again, encouragement for my stand against the current version of the Senate and House health-care bills. People were thanking me, over and over again. 'Thank you, Susan!' 'Stay strong, Susan!' "

The same article added that more Senate Republicans will go to Afghanistan this week than hold town-hall events with their constituents.

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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

On health care, the Salesman in Chief doesn't know what to say

07/05/17 11:00AM

At a White House event last week, Donald Trump took a couple of minutes to express confidence about the fate of the Republican plan to overhaul the American health care system. "We're talking about a great, great form of health care," the president said, adding, "And we are looking at a health care that would be a fantastic tribute to our country; a health care that will take care of people, finally... This health care would be so good."

NBC's Seth Myers joked, "He sounds like a high-school student who didn't read the book, or have the book, or know how to read."

The New York Times put together a video of Trump's public comments on health care, which show him repeatedly saying lots of words, none of which amount to much. "If your only source of information was the president," the Times noted, you wouldn't know almost anything about the Republican plan.

The Washington Post reported over the holiday weekend that even some White House allies "are increasingly frustrated" that the president isn't using his platform to sell his party's proposal.

Trump has spoken out repeatedly during his tenure about the shortcomings of Obamacare, which he brands a "disaster." But he has made relatively little effort to detail for the public why Republican replacement plans — which fare dismally in public opinion polls — would improve on the former president's signature initiative.

The lackluster sales job, combined with recent controversial tweets and public statements targeting the media, has diminished the focus on the president's leading legislative priority at a key juncture in the Senate, allies and analysts say.

Barry Bennett, a Republican operative who advised Trump's campaign last year and remains close to the White House, told the Post, "It's a mystery."

No, it's not.

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The sun rises behind the steeple of a church, Aug. 23, 2015, in Plains, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Church politicking measure advances, creating unintended risks

07/05/17 10:30AM

One of the few proposals Donald Trump has talked about consistently, before and after the election, is his desire to change federal tax law to allow houses of worship to engage in partisan politicking. As the Associated Press reported, the president isn't the only Republican in D.C. who's made this a priority.

Churches should have the right to endorse political candidates and still keep their tax-free status, say House Republicans targeting a law that prohibits such outright politicking from the pulpit.

Republicans repeatedly have failed to scrap the law preventing churches and other nonprofits from backing candidates, so now they are trying to starve it. With little fanfare, a House Appropriations subcommittee added a provision that would deny money to the IRS to enforce the 63-year-old law to a bill to fund the Treasury Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies.

The subcommittee passed the bill Thursday.

At issue is something called the Johnson Amendment, which Trump and his GOP allies are so eager to gut. Whether they realize it or not, the change would likely carry sweeping consequences.

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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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