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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Trump's Treasury secretary requested government jet for honeymoon

09/14/17 09:20AM

In a normal administration, right about now, we'd be talking about how much longer Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will be in office before being forced to resign.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin inquired about the use of a military plane for his European honeymoon last month, the Treasury Department confirmed on Wednesday, a disclosure that comes as he is already under scrutiny for taking a government plane to Kentucky before viewing the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

The Treasury Department said Mr. Mnuchin had asked about the military plane so that he would have access to secure communications when he was abroad.

As it turns out, officials at Treasury identified an "alternative way to communicate about government matters securely," and Mnuchin, a multi-millionaire, did not make use of a government jet for his honeymoon.

But the fact that he tried seems politically problematic. Let's not forget what forced John Sununu to resign from George H.W. Bush's White House in 1991.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump's message on DACA, Dreamers loses its coherence

09/14/17 08:45AM

Last week, when Donald Trump's administration rescinded the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers, the New York Times noted an interesting behind-the-scenes detail: White House officials were reportedly worried that the president didn't "fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take."

The piece added that these same officials "privately expressed concern" that when Trump discovered the "full impact" of his policy shift, he might reverse course.

Keep this in mind when trying to make sense of the latest developments on DACA.

Last night, Congress' top two Democrats -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- issued a joint written statement that surprised much of political world, explaining that they'd reached some kind of agreement with the president "to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides."

The idea that there's a bipartisan deal to protect Dreamers, not surprisingly, delighted progressives and infuriated conservatives, but this morning, Trump seemed to walk back the news via Twitter:

"No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote."

It's not altogether clear what this meant -- any deal would obviously be subject to congressional approval -- but "no deal was made last night on DACA" seemed pretty unambiguous.

That clarity, however, quickly evaporated. Almost immediately after Trump said there was no DACA deal, he quickly proceeded to lay out a blueprint for a DACA deal -- which sounded an awful lot like the Democratic leaders' position from last night.

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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.

In the US, criticizing the president shouldn't be a 'fireable offense'

09/14/17 08:00AM

Jemele Hill, a prominent ESPN host, raised a few eyebrows this week with some fierce criticism of Donald Trump, and the issue reached the White House press briefing room yesterday, with this exchange between a reporter and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Q: Yes, you mentioned a couple times today -- you've sort of emphasized diversity in the West Wing. You talked about the President being very clear after Charlottesville in denouncing all hate. I just wanted to read a comment from an influential African American sportscaster from ESPN yesterday, who said, "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy, period. He's unqualified and unfit to be President." Why do you think -- do you have a reaction to that? And is the President aware of that comment?

SANDERS: I'm not sure if he's aware, but I think that's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.

At a certain level, rhetoric like this may seem predictable. Trump World is known for having a thin skin, and it's hardly surprising when the White House lashes out aggressively at the president's critics.

But it's worth pausing to appreciate just how extraordinary these circumstances are: the White House press secretary, from the briefing-room podium, argued that a major media company should fire an employee for criticizing the president.

And that's just not how the United States is supposed to operate.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.13.17

09/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest school mass-shooting: "One student was killed and at least three others were injured Wednesday after gunfire erupted at a Washington state high school."

* Trump-Russia: "Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, according to four current and former government officials."

* Tragedy in Florida: "Police are investigating what led to the deaths of six people who were inside a sweltering hot Florida nursing home left powerless by Hurricane Irma."

* Daniel A. Craig: "President Donald Trump's nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Federal Emergency Management Agency withdrew from consideration on Wednesday after NBC News raised questions about a federal investigation that found he had falsified government travel and timekeeping records when he served in the Bush administration in 2005."

* The final vote on this was 61-36: "The Senate on Wednesday voted down an amendment that would have forced Congress to pass a new law authorizing the U.S. to wage war against ISIS and combat threats overseas."

* CHIP deal: "The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the top Democrat on the panel announced on Tuesday night that they had reached agreement on a plan to prevent the imminent exhaustion of federal funds for the Children's Health Insurance Program."

* No rush, guys: "Trump administration officials and congressional Republican leaders are promising a new framework in two weeks for legislation that would overhaul the U.S. tax code -- though they've shied away from releasing any details about how the changes would affect individuals or corporations."

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Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders holds up his notes while speaking about his attempts to influence the Democratic party's platform during a speech in Albany, New York, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Bryan Snyder/Reuters)

With quite a few friends, Sanders unveils his single-payer pitch

09/13/17 04:10PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been promoting the virtues of his "Medicare for All" approach to health care reform for quite a while, but today, the Vermont senator began promoting something new: his idea in legislative form.

One of the major indicators of the changing political landscape was apparent on Wednesday, when Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled a Medicare-for-All bill with a record 15 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate. [...]

How would it work? The government already guarantees health care to anyone over age 65 – that's Medicare. Sanders' bill proposes extending the same benefit to all Americans, regardless of age, and expanding the benefits covered by the program to include dental, vision and hearing care. It would be phased in over four years. The first year, everyone under 18 and over 55 would be covered; that would expand to everyone over 45 in the second year, everyone over 35 in the third year, and every U.S. resident in the fourth year.

The goal, according to the plan is to create expansive, universal coverage, which would effectively be free to Americans -- who would no longer be burdened by premiums, deductibles, or co-pays.

It's probably an exaggeration, though, to characterize Sanders' proposal as a complete legislative package. As the Washington Post's Paul Waldman put it, the plan is more of an "opening bid."

Overhauling the U.S. system in such a dramatic way would require some important and difficult choices, and for the most part, Sanders sidesteps those challenges. Most notably, while the Vermont independent has several ideas about possible financing options -- which is to say, figuring out how to pay for a single-payer system -- Sanders' plan doesn't actually choose from these options in his new bill. He intends to address this and related elements of his plan in a separate piece of legislation.

That makes today's unveiling somewhat incomplete, but as a practical matter, that probably doesn't much matter: with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, it's not as if "Medicare for All" is poised for legislative consideration anyway. What Sanders apparently hopes to do is begin a conversation of sorts and help lay the political groundwork for future success. This is an aspirational approach to policymaking.

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A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

State special elections continue to go Democrats' way in 2017

09/13/17 12:57PM

In recent years, Republican have started to dominate in state legislatures nationwide, but so far this year, that GOP advantage has started to shrink, at least a little bit, as a result of some Democratic victories in special elections. The Week reported overnight:

In special elections on Tuesday, Democrats in Oklahoma and New Hampshire won state legislative seats vacated by Republicans in districts President Trump won by double digits.

In New Hampshire, Democratic small-business owner Charles St. Clair beat Republican Steve Whalley, 55 percent to 45 percent, for a state House seat that Trump won by 19 points last November. Democrats last held the seat in 2012, and Republicans had a 12-point party registration advantage. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, Democratic school teacher Jacob Rosecrants beat Republican Darin Chambers, 60 percent to 40 percent, in state House District 46, a district Trump won by 11 points and where Republicans have nearly 3,000 more registered voters.

According to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on Democratic state legislative races, the party has now flipped six seats this year from "red" to "blue" -- three in Oklahoma, two in New Hampshire, and one in New York -- on top of a series of other victories.

How many seats have Republicans flipped in 2017 from "blue" to "red"? Just one, in Louisiana, in a district where Democrats failed to run a candidate.

Given the setbacks Dems faced in 2016, the party has reason to be encouraged by results like these.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.13.17

09/13/17 12:00PM

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

* In Michigan, Republican Bill Schuette, the state's conservative attorney general, launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign yesterday. Schuette's name may be familiar with those who kept up on Rachel's coverage of the water crisis in Flint last year.

* Politico reported yesterday that a state judge in New Hampshire "has blocked recent changes to the state's voting laws that would have exposed some first-time voters to a fine or jail time if they failed to submit residence paperwork within 10 days of registering."

* House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) continues to be a central figure in his party's fundraising apparatus, transferring an additional $2 million to the NRCC in August, on top of the $28 million haul for the House campaign committee from earlier in the year. Politico reports that the House Speaker's fundraising "accounted for more than half of what the NRCC raised" last month.

* Democratic efforts to recruit military veterans to run for Congress continues apace, with Chris Kennedy, a Grand Junction City Councilor and a retired Marine, kicking off his campaign against Rep. Scott Tipton (R) in Colorado.

* In New Jersey, the Associated Press reported that Rep. Leonard Lance (R) is eyeing retirement in 2018, prompting the Republican lawmaker to insist he intends to run for re-election next year.

* In Detroit last night, Kid Rock, who's apparently considering a Republican U.S. Senate campaign, apparently delivered "an R-rated political speech ... chastising everyone from Nazis and professional athletes to single moms and deadbeat dads." The Washington Post published a transcript.

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty).

Conservative Dem open to 'exploring' single-payer health care

09/13/17 11:20AM

By most measures, West Virginia is an undeniably red state. It has a Republican governor and a Republican-led legislature. It has three representatives in the U.S. House, and they're all Republicans. Donald Trump won the state by nearly 42 points last year -- that's not a typo -- making it one of his strongest states in the 2016 election. (West Virginia has 55 counties and Trump won literally all of them by double digits.)

It's against this backdrop that GOP officials are looking at incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D) and assuming he's ripe for the picking in 2018. After all, how in the world can a Democrat expect to compete in a state where nearly every statewide officeholder is a Republican?

The answer, it turns out, is pretty well. The MetroNews Network in Charleston recently reported on the latest statewide polling in West Virginia, which found that Manchin is easily the most popular politician in the state -- and is even more popular there than Trump. In hypothetical 2018 match-ups, Manchin had double-digit leads over his most likely GOP rivals.

With this kind of support from his constituents, Manchin can even open the door to a debate on single-payer health care. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday:

"It should be explored," said West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who faces re-election next year in a state President Donald Trump carried by 42 points. "I want to know what happens in all the countries that have it -- how well it works or the challenges they have."

To be sure, the West Virginian isn't signing on as a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) "Medicare for All" bill, and in a follow-up statement, Manchin clarified that he's "skeptical that single-payer is the right solution."

But the debate is clearly changing rapidly, to the point that Congress' most conservative Democrat, instead of dismissing single-payer out of hand, is ready to examine the idea on its merits. Up until very recently, this was largely unthinkable.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's meeting with the Malaysian leader was anything but normal

09/13/17 10:24AM

When a president hosts a meeting with a foreign head of state, it's normal. When Donald Trump welcomed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House yesterday, "normal" isn't the adjective that comes to mind.

After all, as the New York Times reported, Najib is at the center of a corruption scandal that's under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

[Najib] is under investigation by the United States and others for an estimated $3.5 billion that investigators believe he and his associates diverted from a Malaysian government fund that he headed. Among other things, the money was used to buy jewelry, real estate and the rights to Hollywood films.

The White House insisted that the Justice Department inquiry had no relevance to the meeting and would not figure in the conversation.

It's an awkward dynamic to consider: when Trump and Najib met, who was the most controversial head of state in the room?

For his part, Najib has responded to the corruption allegations by firing investigators and dismissing allegations as "fake news."

Traditionally, when the United States talked about exporting the power of ideas around the globe, this wasn't what we meant.

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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

With the NRA's backing, gun silencer bill gets attention in House

09/13/17 09:20AM

A  plan to make it easier to buy gun silencers was scheduled to receive some attention in June, though the timing was less than ideal: work on the bill was going to roughly coincide with the first anniversary of the Orlando nightclub massacre and the second anniversary of the murders at a Charleston Bible study.

The bill was delayed, however, because of the mass shooting that nearly killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Three months have passed, however, and Politico reports that the measure, championed by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), is back.

Duncan included the silencer provision in a broader bill, the "Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act," or SHARE Act. There are several gun-related items in the package, which is being marked up by the Natural Resources Committee this week.

Duncan argues that silencers are used by hunters and target shooters to limit potential hearing loss from gunfire.

The article added that while many police organizations oppose the bill, it remains "one of the top legislative goals for the powerful National Rifle Association."

As for what, exactly, the bill would do, it's an interesting story.

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A voter casts their ballot at a polling place in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo by Cassi Alexandra/For The Washington Post/Getty)

Trump's voting commission descends further into farce

09/13/17 08:40AM

The existence of Donald Trump's "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" has long been a running joke. By all appearances, the Republican president, annoyed about losing the popular vote and comforted by strange conspiracy theories, created a panel to root out the voter fraud scourge that exists only in conservatives' imaginations.

But as its work has progressed, Trump's voting commission has somehow managed to get even more embarrassing. Last week, for example, the panel's co-chair, voter-suppression pioneer Kris Kobach, claimed to have uncovered "proof" of systemic fraud in New Hampshire -- claims that were quickly discredited as transparent nonsense.

Yesterday, at the commission's public event in the Granite State, members of the panel clashed with Kobach over his attempts at public deception, and heard from a witness who's "proposing that voters literally undergo the same background check as those who are purchasing firearms."

The witness, John Lott, a controversial researcher and Fox News commentator, stressed yesterday that he wasn't kidding.

The New York Times, meanwhile, flagged another rather amazing detail.

Critics say the panel is politically stacked -- the chairman and vice chairman are both Republicans -- and loaded with extremists who contend that election fraud is rampant.

On Tuesday, the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group, released an email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in which a Justice Department employee was urged to push Attorney General Jeff Sessions to create just such a commission.

The email's author, whose name was originally redacted, was concerned that the administration's voting commission would include Democrats and "mainstream Republicans and/or academics."

The Heritage Foundation conceded late yesterday that the email was written by Hans von Spakovsky -- whom Trump appointed to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, despite his ridiculous record on voting rights, and who'd denied having authored the note.

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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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