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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.15.17

09/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from London: "The detonation of a device aboard a subway train in the British capital on Friday was being investigated as terrorism, police said. Authorities confirmed 29 people had been injured at Parsons Green Tube station in southwest London. None of their wounds -- mostly superficial burns -- were considered serious or life-threatening."

* North Korea earlier today "fired a ballistic missile that flew over Japanese airspace before crashing into the Pacific Ocean, South Korean and U.S. military officials said."

* Keep an eye on this one: "The Department of Homeland Security on Friday released the names of only 22 visitors to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property, despite being ordered to make its full visitor list public after being sued by watchdog groups."

* There's a phrase we haven't heard in a while: "Almost nothing is publicly known about the American ISIS fighter who is now in the custody of the U.S. military, but one fact has already made the case extraordinary: The Trump Administration has declared him an enemy combatant, according to a military spokesman."

* It's been quite a hurricane season, and we're only halfway through it: "Jose has re-strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic, but there is no current threat to land."

* Zero bare counties: "Anthem Inc. reversed course and said it will offer Obamacare plans in Virginia, after a pullback by another insurer threatened to leave the state with large gaps in coverage."

* This seems like a problem: "In the days leading up to Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan."

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British officials admonish Trump after 'unhelpful' terror tweets

09/15/17 12:40PM

Exactly one month ago, Donald Trump held a bizarre press conference in which he tried to defend his response to racist violence in Charlottesville. Asked why it took so long for him to denounce white supremacists, the president had an explanation in mind.

"I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement," Trump said, adding, "[Y]ou don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts.... I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts…. When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts.... This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts."

And yet, there was Trump this morning, responding with lightning speed this morning to the detonation of a device aboard a London subway train, tweeting, "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!" Whether the president had Scotland Yard's permission to share those details is unclear. (The message also implicitly suggested law enforcement officials in the U.K. hadn't done enough.)

The American president quickly added, in the hopes of exploiting the violence to advance his agenda, "The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific -- but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!" What he was proposing in practical terms was unclear.

Our allies were not impressed.

Britain's Prime Minister rebuked President Donald Trump Friday after he tweeted that "a loser terrorist" responsible for a subway train blast had been "in the sights" of London's Metropolitan Police.

Asked whether Trump knew something that the British public did not, PM Theresa May said: "I never think it's helpful for anybody to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation."

Her former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, went further, describing Trump's comment as "so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner."

It'd be less jarring if this were the first time Trump responded badly to an attack in London, but it's not.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.15.17

09/15/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama's Republican Senate primary, Roy Moore and Luther Strange agreed yesterday to participate in one final debate ahead of their Sept. 26 runoff. Though the logistical details still need to be worked out, the two apparently intend to debate without a moderator.

* On a related note, the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to the Senate Republican leadership, commissioned its own poll in Alabama and found Moore narrowly leading Strange, 41% to 40%. The SLC is supporting Strange's candidacy.

* Donald Trump was in Florida yesterday, and at a briefing on Hurricane Irma relief efforts, the president took a minute to inject some partisan politics, urging Gov. Rick Scott (R) to run for the Senate next year.

* On a related note, in light of the hurricane, Florida Democrats urged the governor to postpone a Sept. 26 state Senate special election by two weeks. Yesterday, Rick Scott refused the request.

* In New Jersey, Sen. Robert Menendez's (D) corruption trial is now well underway, and it's not yet clear what will happen to the senator's career. A new Quinnipiac poll found this week, however, that if Menendez is forced to leave office, 68% of New Jersey voters do not want Gov. Chris Christie (R) choosing his replacement.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

It looks like Trump was for single-payer before he was against it

09/15/17 11:20AM

Donald Trump has heard about Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) "Medicare for All" plan, and he turned to Twitter yesterday to assure Americans the progressive proposal isn't going anywhere.

"Bernie Sanders is pushing hard for a single payer healthcare plan - a curse on the U.S. & its people. I told Republicans to approve healthcare fast or this would happen. But don't worry, I will veto because I love our country & its people."

It's an odd message. The president is prepared to veto a single-payer bill if it's approved by a Republican-led House and a Republican-led Senate? Thank you, Captain Obvious.

But what stood out for me as interesting in Trump's statement is the idea that single-payer would be a "curse" on Americans. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters something similar on Wednesday, arguing, "I think that the president, as well as the majority of the country, knows that the single-payer system that the Democrats are proposing is a horrible idea."

And that reminds me of the many instances in which Trump has said the exact opposite.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Ia., Sept. 19, 2015. (Photo by Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

GOP crusaders claim they can nearly pass their ACA repeal bill

09/15/17 10:43AM

There's every reason to be skeptical of the Republicans' last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a regressive, far-right alternative. The last bill standing -- a package unveiled this week by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and their allies -- is a dreadful piece of legislation, which has a closing window of opportunity.

As we discussed the other day, the bill has to get a Congressional Budget Office score, go through committee scrutiny, pass the committee, be subjected to Byrd Rule scrutiny, receive a floor debate, face a series of votes on amendments, and then pass the Senate with 50 votes. From there, the House would have to pass the same bill as-is, or make changes that the Senate would again approve with 50 votes.

All of this will have to happen by Sept. 30 at midnight -- which is two weeks from tomorrow.

Just about everyone believes this won't happen, and yet, as the Washington Examiner noted this morning, the bill's leading sponsors sure do seem optimistic about their chances.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said Friday that more senators have told him they support his proposal to overhaul Obamacare, bringing the total to as many as 49 votes. [...]

"I'm confident we'll get there on the Republican side," Cassidy said. "People are coming out and saying they are for it, either publicly or privately."

The Louisiana Republican believes he has the support of 48 or 49 GOP senators, which followed a similar assessment from Lindsey Graham yesterday, who said he thinks the bill has 47 or 48 votes.

Let's note a few relevant details for the record. First, Cassidy, Graham, and their allies have every reason to exaggerate: if they can manufacture a sense of momentum, it improves their odds of success. These senators may claim to be on the precipice of passage, but that doesn't necessarily mean the votes are there.

But to assume they're fibbing carries all kinds of risks. If health care advocates are complacent, and Cassidy and Graham really are just a couple of votes shy of 50 with two weeks remaining, the consequences may be catastrophic for millions of American families.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)

POW/MIA Recognition Day is an awkward one for Trump

09/15/17 10:00AM

The White House issued a proclamation this week that, under normal circumstances, would've been quite routine. Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, and Donald Trump formally honored the day in writing, just as other modern presidents have done. From the statement:

"It is our sacred obligation to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of our Armed Forces who have been imprisoned while serving in conflicts and who have yet to return to American soil. We reflect on the brave Americans who, while guarding our freedom and our way of life, spent years of their youth imprisoned in distant lands. They paid an enormous price and remained dedicated to our sacred principles, even while under extreme duress. [...]

"As Commander in Chief, it is my solemn duty to keep all Americans safe. I will never forget our heroes held prisoner or who have gone missing in action while serving their country."

What's wrong with this? At face value, nothing. It's exactly the kind of proclamation we'd expect to see from any president on National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

But then we're reminded of the disconnect between the message and the messenger. During the campaign, Donald Trump became one of the few prominent Americans to ever disparage John McCain's military service, telling an Iowa audience in reference to the Arizona Republican, "He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, okay?"

Given a chance to apologize, Trump refused.

So on the one hand, the president "will never forget our heroes held prisoner," and on the other hand, we know -- because he told us -- that Trump doesn't really think they're heroes, and he prefers people who "weren't captured."

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US National Security Advisor Susan Rice listens to a speaker before speaking in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on March 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/Getty.

No one told Trump his Susan Rice smear has already unraveled

09/15/17 09:20AM

It started, oddly enough, with Donald Trump accusing Barack Obama of illegally tapping his phones ahead of the election. In time, the Republican president's attack inexplicably shifted into an attack on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice for "unmasking" Trump associates caught up in a surveillance operation.

Trump told the New York Times in April, "I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it's a massive, massive story.... Yeah, it's a bigger story than you know.... I think that it's going to be the biggest story."

It did not become the biggest story. In fact, it quickly became clear that the badly confused president had no idea what he was saying. And yet, there was Trump yesterday aboard Air Force One, once again telling journalists about the imagined controversy surrounding Susan Rice.

Q: What I'm wondering, Mr. President, is that Susan Rice has finally come out and said that she did unmask officials in your campaign, and I'm wondering what your reaction is.

TRUMP: She's not supposed to be doing that, and what she did was wrong. And we've been saying that, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. What she did was wrong. Not supposed to be doing that. You know it. The unmasking and the surveillance, and I heard she admitted that yesterday. Just not right.

Either no one at the White House has explained the basics of this story to Trump, or the president's aides did explain it and he didn't understand. Either way, let's do him a favor and set the record straight.

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Image: Trump speaks before departing Washington for Florida

Trump on hurricanes: 'I never even knew a Category 5 existed'

09/15/17 08:40AM

At a White House reception last night, Donald Trump reflected on the severity of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively, and referring to the latter, the president said, "I never even knew a Category 5 existed."

And as strange as this was -- a 71-year-old man who watches a lot of television had never heard of a Category 5 hurricane? -- it wasn't the most surprising thing Trump said yesterday in reference to the deadly storms. Consider this exchange aboard Air Force One yesterday between the president and reporters:

Q: Mr. President, the severity of these storms -- the one in Florida, the one in Texas -- has that made you rethink your views of climate change?

TRUMP: Well, we've had bigger storms than this. And if you go back into the 1930s and the 1940s, and you take a look, we've had storms over the years that have been bigger than this. If you go back into the Teens, you'll see storms that were as big or bigger. So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms. But if you go back into the '30s and '40s, and you go back into the Teens, you'll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, okay?

Let's take a step back for a moment. As Hurricane Harvey approached Texas' gulf coast, Trump couldn't stop marveling at its size and intensity. At a news conference, he said, "I've heard the words, 'epic.' I've heard 'historic.' That's what it is." It followed a tweet in which Trump added, "Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen."

For a while, I assumed this was the president's way of conveying a sense of urgency to the public, but the more Trump gushed, the more it seemed he was referring to the scope of the challenge on his shoulders. As a Washington Post piece put it a few weeks ago, "By focusing on the historic epicness of the hurricane, Trump has repeatedly turned attention to his role in confronting the disaster."

Soon after, as Irma approached land, he tweeted, "Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!" It was followed by, "Hurricane Irma is of epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen."

But the moment climate change came up, Trump turned on a dime. "We've had storms over the years that have been bigger than this" is the new line.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump reignites racial controversy over Charlottesville violence

09/15/17 08:00AM

A month later, it's still hard to believe the controversy even happened. In the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Donald Trump created an international firestorm by arguing that "both sides" -- racist protesters and anti-racism protesters -- bore equal responsibility for what transpired, adding that there were many "fine people" among the bigots.

In the days that followed, members of several White House advisory boards resigned in disgust; organizations started cancelling events at Mar-a-Lago; and even some congressional Republicans and members Team Trump were publicly critical of the president's bizarre remarks.

Yesterday, talking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump apparently thought it'd be a good idea to bring all of this up again.

"[Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and I] had a great talk yesterday. I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what's going on there. You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that's what I said.

"Now because of what's happened since then with Antifa, when you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying, and people have actually written, 'Gee, Trump may have a point.' I said there's some very bad people on the other side also."

To appreciate the context, the president did speak on Wednesday with Tim Scott, the Senate's only African-American Republican, who had concerns about the president's rhetoric on race. There was some disagreement afterward about how their chat went.

Regardless, common sense suggests Trump would want to leave these self-inflicted wounds behind him, but his sense of personal grievance is plainly overwhelming his judgment -- and not for the first time.

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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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