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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Trump helps put the spotlight back on his women accusers

02/20/18 11:35AM

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a recording emerged of Donald Trump bragging years earlier about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive -- "I don't even wait," Trump claimed at the time -- which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

"When you're a star, they let you do it," Trump said on the recording. "You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p---y."

When the Republican denied ever having done what he'd bragged about doing, 19 women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. Trump dismissed his accusers as liars and vowed to sue them. While he never followed through, one of the women is now suing Trump.

Other members of "The Nineteen," as they're sometimes called, have responded in different ways. The Washington Post today profiled Rachel Crooks, who's making an effort to make sure the allegations against the president don't just fade away.

Crooks, 35, had been publicly reliving this story for much of the past two years, ever since she first described it in an email to the New York Times several months before the 2016 election. "I don't know if people will really care about this or if this will matter at all," she had written then, and after Donald Trump's election she had repeated her story at the Women's March, on the "Today" show and at a news conference organized by women's rights attorney Gloria Allred. Crooks had spoken to people dressed in #MeToo sweatshirts and to her rural neighbors whose yards were decorated with Trump signs.

In early February, she launched a campaign to become a Democratic state representative in Ohio, in part so she could share her story more widely with voters across the state. And yet, after dozens of retellings, she still wasn't sure: Did people really care? Did it matter at all?

"I know there are many worse forms of sexual harassment, but doesn't this still speak to character?" Rachel Crooks told one audience. "I don't want money. I don't need a lawsuit. I just want people to listen. How many women have to come forward? What will it take to get a response?"

This morning, Trump responded.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Why Republicans and the US mainstream keep going in opposite directions

02/20/18 11:03AM

In any democratic system, there's usually quite a bit of overlap between what the public wants and the priorities politicians tend to pursue. There's no great mystery here: unless elected officials intend to have short careers in politics, they have an incentive to satisfy the electorate's demands.

And yet, in contemporary politics, there's a disconnect. The public urged Republicans not to take away health care coverage from millions of Americans, and yet, GOP policymakers fought tooth and nail to do exactly that. The public then urged Republicans not to cut taxes for the wealthy and big corporations, only to have GOP policymakers again do the opposite.

The same is true when it comes to policies the American mainstream actually likes. The public wants new measures, such as expanded background checks, to prevent gun violence. The public also wants protections for Dreamers. Republicans who control the levers of power don't want either of these things, and so these goals are likely to go unmet.

The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell makes the case today that it's important to identify the nature of the problem with specificity.

Dysfunctional Washington refuses to work out its differences to solve problems that matter to Americans. So say pundits and policy activists, perhaps hoping that diffuse criticism, rather than finger-pointing, will yield a government willing to govern.

But the problem isn't "Washington." It isn't "Congress," either. The problem is elected officials from a single political party: the GOP.

That seems more than fair. The next question is why Republican politicians, who ostensibly have to worry about the will of the electorate, are going in one direction while the American mainstream goes in another.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

Despite reality, Trump insists he's been 'tough' on Russia

02/20/18 10:14AM

Members of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section -- 170 scholars, in total -- ranked every president from best to worst, and the results were released yesterday. Barack Obama was among the presidential elite, ranked #8, while Donald Trump finished dead last.

Whether Trump saw these rankings or not is not yet clear, but it was interesting to see the Republican start to publish a series of tweets last night and this morning focused specifically on criticizing his immediate predecessor. One missive, however, stood out as especially notable.

"I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!"

Hmm. The president wants us to "just look at the facts." Perhaps that's a good idea.

It's a fact, for example, that Trump hasn't implemented congressionally approved sanctions punishing Russia for its attack on American elections. Similarly, it's a fact that Trump not only has failed to criticize Russia for the attack, he's also endorsed Vladimir Putin's denials of responsibility.

It's a fact that when the Russian government moved against U.S. diplomats, Trump thanked Putin. It's a fact that when Congress approved sanctions against Russia, Trump blamed American lawmakers, not Putin, for undermining relations between the two countries.

It's a fact that Trump has repeatedly and publicly praised Putin's authoritarian leadership style. It's a fact that Trump's political operation weakened the Republican Party's platform in ways that made Moscow happy. It's a fact that three weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Trump complained that Hillary Clinton was being too "tough" on Putin.

It's a fact that Trump welcomed Russian officials in the Oval Office, at Putin's request, and during the chat, the American president shared highly sensitive, classified information with his Russian guests in exchange for nothing.

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Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. speaks on the second day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, July 19, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA)

Trump's 'no foreign deals' pledge came with an asterisk

02/20/18 09:21AM

At a press conference during the presidential transition period last year, a lawyer representing Donald Trump's business assured the public that "no new foreign deals will be made whatsoever" during the Republican's presidency.

And yet, here we are, reading reports like these in the Washington Post.

The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is making what has been dubbed an unofficial visit to India to promote his family's real estate projects. But he's also planning to deliver a foreign policy speech on Indo-Pacific relations at an event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Beginning Tuesday, Trump Jr. will have a full schedule of meet-and-greets with investors and business leaders throughout India, where the Trump family has real estate projects -- Mumbai, the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, the western city of Pune and the eastern city of Kolkata.

Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told the Post, "Trump's company is literally selling access to the president's son overseas. For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes."

That assessment seems more than fair. The Post's reporting describes a dynamic in which Indian media outlets are telling the public, "Trump is here -- Are You Invited?" Prospective customers are invited to pay about $38,000 to have access to the American president's son.

It's during this same business trip that Trump Jr. will speak on foreign policy at a summit that will also feature remarks from India's prime minister.

Eric Trump, who's also helping lead the president's private-sector enterprise -- from which the president has refused to divest -- told the Post last year that "the company and policy and government are completely separated. We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two."

If by "unbelievable," the president's son meant literally unable to be believed, then sure, the firewall is unbelievable.

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Trump: Romney camp hasn't asked me to lay off the birther talk

The awkward dance between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney

02/20/18 08:44AM

In 2012, as Mitt Romney was wrapping up the Republicans' presidential nomination, he welcomed a public endorsement from Donald Trump. At the time, this was not without controversy; Trump was widely seen as a ridiculous television personality who championed a racist conspiracy theory.

But Romney, eager to lock up support from conservatives who agreed with Trump, welcomed the support anyway, literally standing alongside him at a 2012 event.

The alliance didn't last. By 2014, when Trump was weighing his own presidential campaign, he started taking shots at Romney, and that intensified in 2015. By March 2016, the feeling was mutual: Romney delivered a blistering condemnation of Trump's candidacy, telling voters, "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers."

That same week, Romney expressed some regret for having accepted Trump's endorsement four years earlier. (It was also around this time that Trump described Romney as "one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.")

Nevertheless, Romney changed his mind again after Trump was actually elected and Romney saw an opportunity to become Secretary of State -- a chance Trump seemed eager to dangle, right up until he yanked it away.

A year later, the dance continues. Romney, once described by Trump as a "stone cold loser," yesterday picked up Trump's endorsement for his Senate campaign.

President Donald Trump is endorsing Mitt Romney in Utah's Senate race, another sign that the two Republicans are burying the hatchet after a fraught relationship.

The GOP's presidential nominee in 2012, Romney announced last week he would seek the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. In a tweet Monday night, Trump wrote, "He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!" Romney quickly accepted the endorsement via Twitter.

This was not necessarily an inevitability.

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Burdened by scandals, school shooting offered Trump World a 'reprieve'

02/20/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump's White House team faced daunting challenges last week, burdened by multiple controversies at once. The president and his aides found it difficult to answer questions, for example, about whether they tried to cover for a staff secretary accused of violence toward women. Rumors were rampant that the White House chief of staff was on his way out.

At the same time, the Russia scandal was becoming more serious; Trump confronted reports of two adulterous affairs with women from the adult-entertainment industry; and two cabinet members struggled to explain taxpayer-financed trips.

Against this backdrop, the Washington Post  reported overnight, some in the White House apparently felt some relief after a mass murder pushed West Wing controversies off the front page.

[A] gun massacre at a Florida high school last Wednesday, which left 17 dead, seemed to shift the media glare away from the Trump scandals and gave embattled aides an opportunity to re­focus on handling a crisis not of their own making. While the White House mourned the loss of life in Parkland, Fla., some aides privately acknowledged that the tragedy offered a breather from the political storm.

"For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve," an unnamed White House official told the Post. "A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled."

He or she added, "But as we all know, sadly, when the coverage dies down a little bit, we'll be back through the chaos."

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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.19.18

02/19/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Problematic: "The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is making what's been dubbed an unofficial visit to India to promote his family's real estate projects. But he's also planning to deliver a foreign policy speech on Indo-Pacific relations at an event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi."

* Yesterday's mass shooting: "Police were seeking a suspect after a 6-year-old boy and three adults were shot in the parking lot of a popular San Antonio steakhouse. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus says two of the adults' injuries are life-threatening. The boy was shot in the leg and is expected to survive."

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that beginning next week, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information -- a move that could threaten the standing of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law."

* The national scourge: "Vermont police on Friday said they thwarted a potential attack on a high school and had arrested an 18-year-old after receiving what they said were credible threats he planned to, in his words, 'shoot up' Fair Haven Union High School."

* A fight worth watching: "The Commerce Department recommended Friday that President Trump restrict soaring imports of steel and aluminum, saying that relying upon foreign sources for such critical materials poses a threat to national security."

* The right thing to do: "Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has reportedly apologized for defending his former chief of staff Rob Porter, who recently resigned from President Donald Trump's administration following allegations that he abused his two ex-wives."

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Scholars' rankings offer good news for Obama, bad news for Trump

02/19/18 02:26PM

In honor of Presidents' Day, the New York Times published the results of an interesting survey today. Members of the American Political Science Association's Presidents and Executive Politics section -- 170 scholars, in total -- ranked each of the presidents from best to worst. (There are, to be sure, more than one set of rankings, and they always make for fun conversation pieces.)

Here, for example, is the new top 10 list:

1. Lincoln
2. Washington
3. F.D. Roosevelt
4. T. Roosevelt
5. Jefferson
6. Truman
7. Eisenhower
8. Obama
9. Reagan
10. L.B. Johnson

And here's the list of the bottom 10:

35. Taylor
36. Hoover
37. Tyler
38. Fillmore
39. Harding
40. A. Johnson
41. Pierce
42. W.H. Harrison
43. Buchanan
44. Trump

OK, a few things:

1. When the scholars are broken down by party affiliation, Trump ranks #44 among Democratic scholars, #43 among independents, and #40 among Republican scholars. In other words, according to scholars of every stripe, our current president is off to a truly abysmal start and is well on his way to historical ignominy.

2. I consider Trump's election and presidency a profound failure of the American political system, which will haunt us for a generation, and even I'm not sure I'd put him at #44 just yet. Buchanan's ineptitude led to the Civil War, for goodness' sake.

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Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

As Trump takes an interest in background checks, there's reason for skepticism

02/19/18 12:42PM

At first blush, the news today will probably seem encouraging for gun-safety advocates, but I'd recommend caution.

The White House supports efforts to strengthen background checks for gun purchases in the wake of last week's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump is open to bipartisan legislation to shore up the background checks system, which is supposed to prevent people with severe mental illness and serious criminal records from purchasing firearms.

"The President spoke to Senator Cornyn on Friday about the bipartisan bill he and Sen. Murphy introduced to improve Federal Compliance with Criminal Background check Legislation. While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system," Sanders said in a statement.

Right off the bat, note that this is not an explicit endorsement of a pending proposal. Rather, the president is now saying he's "supportive of efforts" to strengthen background checks.

But that's not the reason for skepticism.

1. Trump and the White House are unfortunately unreliable sources of information as it relates to the president's future plans. It's entirely possible that Trump will say the exact opposite of today's vague statement in a tweet later this evening. Or he'll chat with some far-right policymaker who'll convince him it was his idea to weaken existing background checks.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.19.18

02/19/18 12:00PM

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

* The Movement for Black Lives launched a voter-registration campaign over the weekend, tied to the national release of the "Black Panther" film. This strikes me as a very smart move.

* Al Hoffman Jr., a prominent Republican donor in Florida, told GOP leaders over the weekend he intends to keep his wallet closed until the party passes new measures to restrict gun access.

* With Sen. Bob Corker (R) weighing whether to reverse course on his upcoming retirement in Tennessee, far-right Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) has made clear she's staying in the Senate race, whether Corker runs again or not.

* After downplaying connections between the state party and the online Maine Examiner outlet, Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, has finally admitted "to a state ethics panel that he is the owner and operator" of the secretive website.

* Sixteen months after the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump asked over the weekend, "[W]asn't I a great candidate?" (The answer, for what it's worth, is that great candidates generally don't lose the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.)

* In New York late last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) formally accepted the state party's re-nomination for a second term. Asked if she intends to serve a full six-year term, the New Yorker, rumored to be interested in the 2020 presidential race, said, "I do.... I really want to serve in the U.S. Senate."

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Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol

McConnell's response to Russian attack is back in the spotlight

02/19/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump insisted again yesterday that Barack Obama "did nothing" about the threat posed by Russia's attack on U.S. elections in 2016. This is an odd thing for the Republican president to say.

After all, Trump -- the direct beneficiary of Moscow's intelligence operation -- has spent the better part of two years pretending Russia wasn't responsible for the attack; he's done nothing to punish Russia for its intervention in our elections; and he hasn't taken steps to protect us from further attacks.

But of particular interest is the idea that Trump's predecessor sat on his hands and let the intervention happen. There's certainly room for debate about whether Obama could have gone further, but it's factually wrong to say he "did nothing." What the Democratic president did was try to generate bipartisan support for an American response to a foreign attack -- which did not happen in large part because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't want it to.

Republican strategist John Weaver, who helped run John McCain's and John Kasich's presidential campaigns, said over the weekend that it's time to "revisit why [McConnell] refused to join [Obama] in warning America the Russians had attacked us." Former Vice President Joe Biden recently raised related concerns.

Former Vice President Joe Biden says he and President Barack Obama decided not to speak out publicly on Russian interference during the 2016 campaign after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to sign a bipartisan statement condemning the Kremlin's role.

Speaking on Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden said the Obama administration sought a united front to dispel concerns that going public with such accusations would be seen as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the election.

However, McConnell "wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment saying, essentially, 'Russia's doing this. Stop,' " he said.

I'm glad this comes up from time to time, because it's an under-appreciated part of the larger controversy.

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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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